Rwandan traders should take advantage of the bilateral cooperation agreement signed between Rwanda and Equatorial Guinea recently to exploit the business opportunities the Central African country presents, John Mirenge, the RwandAir chief executive officer, has said.
Mirenge told The New Times in an interview that Equatorial Guinea has huge opportunities in agro-processing, mining, tourism and wood processing, as well as in the coffee and oil sectors that Rwanda's private sector could tap to boost trade between the two countries.
A fortnight ago, Rwanda and Equatorial Guinea signed a general cooperation agreement in different areas, including air transport, trade, investment, tourism development, security, energy, mineral and agriculture development, health and ICT. Operating regular flights between the capitals of two countries by RwandAir was one of the key components of the agreement. Mirenge said the national carrier was looking to ride on the back of this agreement to expand its operations into the Central African country.
"The agreement opens yet another opportunity for our expansion programme. The fact that we are already flying to Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo, and Equatorial Guinea is about 30 minutes from Brazzaville, will make it easy for us to enter that market. However, we are still studying the route and we will inform you when we are ready to start flights to Malabo," he said.
Tony Barigye, the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority communications officer, said the deal opens the Equatorial Guinea market for RwandAir and Rwanda's private sector. "Also, the agreement means that national carrier can sign open sky policies to fly to Equatorial Guinea without limitations," Barigye said.
RwandAir has increased its presence in West Africa in the past few years, with scheduled flights to Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria and the Republic of Congo.
Both Rwanda and Equatorial Guinea are members of the Economic Community of Central African States (Eccas).
Meanwhile, RwandAir is preparing to start plying the Entebbe-Juba (South Sudan) route. "Uganda's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requested us to operate the Entebbe-Juba route, from Entebbe. This is a welcome development that gives us an opportunity to consolidate our position," Mirenge said.
RwandAir and Ethiopian Airlines were permitted to fly to Juba and Nairobi to increase passenger and cargo capacity on these routes under an arrangement referred to as "fifth freedom rights," which allow an airline to carry revenue traffic between foreign countries. The move sought to fill a vacuum left by the suspension of Air Uganda's licence last month after a review by the International Civil Aviation Authority.
The airline, which is currently processing its re-certification, said the move was unfair.
Mirenge said the airline was working out a strategy on how to run the route. He, however, was cagey on the exact date the airline would start operating the route.
RwandAir currently operates three direct flights to Juba.