Central Africa: Biruta Briefs Parliament on Why Rwanda Sought to Rejoin ECCAs

Members of Parliament on Wednesday, June 24 adopted the law approving the ratification of the revised treaty establishing the Economic Community of the Central African States (ECCAS).

The revised treaty was signed in Libreville, Gabon, on December 18, 2019.

Rwanda pulled out of the regional bloc in 2007, but in 2015 it confirmed its interest to return to the bloc, which has a population of over 158 million and GDP of $257 billion.

Explaining to lawmakers why Rwanda sought to rejoin the bloc nearly a decade after it pulled out of it, Vincent Biruta, the Minister of Foreign Affairs said that a country makes decisions based on its current circumstances.

"Rwanda joined the organisation at its inception in 1983, but we had to leave in 2007. Later, based on the country's interests, the orientation of international diplomacy, African economy and that of the world in general, we found it necessary to join it again," said Biruta.

"When you have an airline like RwandAir that needs to fly to various countries across Africa and elsewhere, it is helpful to subscribe to such organisations because there are treaties that can ease the free movement of people and trade," he said.

Biruta added that membership to such blocs is crucial for fostering bilateral ties with individual member states to the bloc.

Most importantly, Biruta told the legislators that the bloc that brings together 11 countries made reforms that made it more robust than before.

The bloc brings together Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Rwanda and Sao Tome and Principe.

The Minister told lawmakers that the economic community made reforms which are expected to start being implemented mid-July 2020.

"Choosing the leaders of [the bloc's] commission has also started and Rwanda nominated its candidates. So, for those candidates to stand a chance of being approved, we should meet the agreed requirements including the ratification of this agreement," he said as he requested the chamber of deputies' plenary to pass the bill.

Paying contributions

MP Diogene Bitunguramye said that being a member of the economic bloc is important as it can help expand the market for Made in Rwanda products.

However, he wanted to know how much contributions Rwanda has to make, and the general state of how countries have been contributing to the organisation to ensure its effective functioning in the long-term.

Talking about contributions to the bloc, Minister Biruta said that current performance is not good since there are countries which did not remit their contributions on time.

He said that Rwanda also outstanding arrears that accrued mainly over the period when it ceased to be a member of the organisation.

"Until June 4 [2020], we had $5.9 million overdue in contributions, but we have so far paid $1.27 million, and $1 million more will be paid by the beginning of the next month.

That will be equivalent to 40 percent of the contributions we have to cover before our candidates can be allowed to vie for commissioner positions at the organisation," he said.

MP Fidèle Rwigamba said that Rwanda could get many benefits from the bloc in terms of trade or air transport by RwandAir, but expressed concern about its strength.

"This Economic Community has historically been characterised by weaknesses," he said, asking about strategies that can make it more robust.

Minister Biruta said that part of the new reforms include making countries more accountable such that a country which will not comply with requirements including making timely contributions to it will not be entitled to any support from ECCAS.

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