Kenyan Foreign and Diaspora Affairs Minister, Alfred Mutua, says that Rwanda should continue acting the same way it has been reacting – with restraint – to several acts of provocation from DR Congo, including shelling on Rwandan territory and recently a fighter jet violating Rwandan airspace.
In an exclusive interview with The New Times’ journalist, Edwin Musoni, Mutua spoke at length about President William Ruto’s government priorities, trade relations between Rwanda and Kenya, his commitment to addressing issues of Kenyan diaspora and EAC having a common currency, among others.
Below are the excerpts;
TNT: This happens to be your first visit to Rwanda as Cabinet Secretary (Minister). Considering that the two countries have good trade relations, what more are you bringing on the table to further these relations?
Minister: This is not my first visit as cabinet secretary; I’ve been to other countries on duty with the President. But to come specifically on a one-on-one official visit, this is the first country I’ve chosen to come to and this sends a signal of what to expect as a country in terms of our relations.
The current government of President William Ruto has a lot of respect and looks up to President Kagame’s leadership. President Kagame is a senior leader in this region, we believe in his focus and motivation. He has turned around this country and initiated developments, so we are in sync in terms of where we want Kenya to be and where Rwanda is.
We also collaborate well in terms of peace and security matters, so I found it easier for me to make my first visit as minister to Rwanda.
TNT: You came into office with a strong ambition to fix the diaspora situation, how do you plan on doing that?
Minister: There are two things about the diaspora situation. One is to take care of the frustrations when they are dealing with many issues and the second one is to strengthen their positions where they are so that they can be able to remit more monies to our country.
Currently in Kenya, the number one foreign exchange currency comes from our diaspora, we get more money from the diaspora than marketing and selling our tea or coffee or tourism. They are important and I would like to grow what we are receiving right now to three or four fold from our diaspora.
To us Kenya, diaspora is a source of income to our country and we want to empower it to actually invest in Kenya, for them to return and turn around Kenya the way Singapore and China’s diaspora turned around their countries- that is my mission – to empower diaspora take care of the problems they have so that they can focus on enhancing the relationship with other countries and friendship.
It is also important to note that in Kenya, we are not inward looking and have this economic concept that if I am doing well and my friend is doing badly, we are both doing badly. But if I am doing well and my friend is doing well or even better, we both tend to rise even faster, so we’re looking at Rwanda nationals to invest more in Kenya. We want them to come and work in Kenya and get into the Kenyan industry system as we also increase the Kenyan workforce here in Rwanda. Both of us have a vibrant economic interaction and relationship that is good for both countries as we grow rich together.
President Ruto likes saying that you cannot share poverty but you can share prosperity. We want Kenya and Rwanda to be very rich countries and by working together with the diaspora, we can make our countries to be very rich; it’s good for our people.
TNT: With trade, Rwanda and Kenya are among the piloting countries for the AfCFTA. Beyond just the two countries, how can the region benefit from this?
Minister: We want to use this process as an example and show people that, look, it has worked, look at the benefits. Once you show them the benefits, then it’s easier to sell and that’s where we’re going. As I said, we see eye to eye, we are able to solve a lot of things together and when you look at the East African Community, we are now more aligned in terms of leadership; in terms of processes, I don’t think there will be any better alignment than this and our interaction so far is very good.
TNT: Regional MPs (EALA) recently took time debating a single currency for the region. The EU has one, are we able to have one? Do we need it? Why don’t we have it?
Minister: For you to have a common currency, you also need to have economies that are more at par. Otherwise what happens is that when we introduce a new currency, you can have the currency of another country totally devalued and that can have shock effects in the market in those countries. So, these trade agreements that we are trying to put into place will align the way we work.
TNT: Should Rwandan freight operators be worried about the move to return the operations to Mombasa port from Naivasha?
Minister: Well, it is not moving. They tried moving the operations and we reversed them. What we want to create in Naivasha is a system that enables goods to be cleared faster and make it easier so that trucks don’t have to go all the way to Mombasa for goods destined here. We can use the SDR which is our train system to bring them to Naivasha and Rwandan trucks pick them up from there. It’s good for trade. We want to enhance trade.
TNT: Let me take you back a bit, what are President Ruto government’s priorities on matters of regional integration?
Minister: The President believes that we need to enhance and harmonise our trade and business laws and rules. We need to have really a free trade area whereby the taxes that you are paying, the duties and levies are all the same. If we have duty-free inKenya, it needs to be duty-free in Rwanda, Uganda, and others. We need to harmonise the movement of goods to make it easier. We also need to have that free flow of people. I want to be able to wake up and walk in with my business and continue my business. I wake up in Nairobi, do my business in Kigali, sleep in Kampala and the following morning have breakfast in Dar es Salaam and I am back to Nairobi and everything moves smoothly.
We really need to harmonise our tax regime, trade regimes, movement regimes and that will sort out everything else.
TNT: Kenya is at the centre of mediating warring parties in the Eastern DR Congo, how is the progress on the mediations so far?
Minister: So far, so good. As you know, there are two negotiations; there’s one led by the Angolan President who is visiting Rwanda today, and there is one that is led by the East African Community.
Rwanda is fully involved and so is Kenya. We want to harmonise both processes so you can have one process for peace in DR Congo. We do believe that the only solution to war, the only solution to disagreement is people being able to sit together and talk.
Kenya is ready and we’ve committed ourselves. Our former president Uhuru Kenyatta is in charge. We’ve asked him to be a peace envoy and he’s in charge of the negotiations that are going on.
From the Kenyan point of view, we want to include all players. Let everybody come to the table and let us agree that we need peace and stability and then sort out those issues of equality that people want. Because even if you go and fight, it doesn’t matter how long you fight, you will still need to sit at a table and agree. So, why don’t you sit at a table and agree before spilling blood, before causing so much havoc or destruction. Why don’t we sit down and sort the problems at the beginning not at the end.
We do believe that the violence has gone on long enough, we do believe that the divisions that are there have gone long enough, we are all brothers and sisters.
Kenya follows very closely the principles that we have by the African Union, and we appreciate the statements by President Kagame when he says that African problems will require African solutions. And that’s where we are, so we are taking the lead in terms of ensuring peace and stability in our region.
Kenya is very optimistic that we will be able to get a breakthrough and we’re going to have peace and stability because we are dealing with people who are brothers and sisters, and we can be able to talk to them and convince them and get everybody to understand that at the end of the day peace, sitting and negotiating in boardrooms is better than killing women and children. That has never solved any problem.
TNT: Rwanda has persistently expressed concerns about the existence of the Genocidal FDLR force in DR Congo. It’s now almost three decades, how best do you think this issue should be handled?
Minister: I think one of the issues that you need to deal with is that, people will need a form of healing that is based on getting people who are suspects to go through a clear judicial process, and I think this is an issue that will be on the table for discussion.
It’s an issue that the government of Rwanda has brought up with Kenya and other countries that might have suspects who deserve to go through judicial process, and if found guilty, to be jailed or whatever action needed to be taken according to the rule of law.
I think that’s an issue that will also be on the table for discussion, but I see that issue cannot be discussed if people are taking ‘hot shots’ at each other. So, it needs to be taken when people can see eye to eye and it needs a give and take from all parties that are involved.
TNT: How should Rwanda react to provocation, like DR Congo fighter jets violating Rwandan airspace, bombings on the Rwandan territory, and so on?
Minister: Rwanda should continue reacting the same way it has reacted – with restraint because you have to look at the bigger picture. As Kenya, we commend the Rwandan government for looking and seeing the bigger picture because any retaliation or any adverse action would just be playing into the hands of people who don’t want to stay at peace. There are people on the side-lines watching us who want us to fight because when we fight, we are divided. When we are divided we fall. When you’re divided you are easier to rule and to control so a United East Africa and a United Africa is not necessarily a good thing to some people. We want to show people that we are reasonable.
We’re going to call those people who provoked and bring them to book. It is unacceptable but we don’t want to escalate an already heated situation.
TNT: Following your appointment, you expressed concerns over labour migration and abuse of migrants, you even made your first trip to Saudi Arabia. This is not an issue to Kenya alone, how best do you think the region can have a synchronised approach to it?
Minister: We need to ensure that people who go to these countries from Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania or Kenya are sent through agencies. We need to make sure that the agencies that send our people to these countries operate on a similar protocol, and that those protocols are fully monitored and make sense.
There are some agencies that are very good. They are sending out people there to work and you find that they are professionals in the Middle East. They are teachers, nurses and they’re okay but that domestic market is where the problem is. People are sent down there to work as domestic workers.
We’ve got a lot of cultural work and legal work to do. The governments of the Middle East have now ratified new laws that are in sync with international labour practices, so what is remaining is to get these agents to work well.
TNT: On a lighter note, during your vetting, you said you are Ksh420 million rich, you are a rich hustler, right?
Minister: I’m an example to all hustlers; that you can be born in the slums, you can live in the slums and by hard work and God’s blessing, make something out of yourself. I’m saying that I’m lucky but I don’t have to be the only the lucky one, why can’t there be majority of us to be like me, why can’t we transform Kenya to be a country of dreams not only for the ones who are born rich or those who work hard like myself and get a lucky breakthrough.
I could have been anywhere else but God blessed me and I was lucky. But we don’t want people to depend on luck, we want to set up systems so that people know it doesn’t matter where you’re born, that you can work hard, you can invest in the right way and you can live a comfortable life.
TNT: What is the difference between Mutua the (once) journalist and Mutua the politician?
Minister: I’m the same man. I still have the same principles and still have the same beliefs. I believe that since I was young, that we are put here for a purpose and our purpose is to make the life of other people better. It’s not about ourselves, it’s about others. When you’ve been given an opportunity to serve, the job is to make the life of other people better, it’s an opportunity to serve humanity and I do believe we are doing God’s work and God expects us to do the best for his people and that’s my resolve and my philosophy. Let’s make the world better for all of us.