President Paul Kagame said Friday that people living in Rubavu district, which borders directly with Goma in DR Congo, have a large market across.
Mentioning “Congo” by name, Kagame said relations with Rwanda’s neighbour have improved and it is now time for ordinary people to benefit.
“You are fortunate to be located at the border with our neighbour,” he said.
“When there are good relations with our neighbour Congo, it is an opportunity we can leverage to grow yourselves as well as develop your area and the country,” added Kagame.
Since 1994, up until recently, Rwanda and its massive neighbor have had an on-and-off relationship.
Rwandan militia group the FDLR, whose members took part in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, and crossed to Congo, remain based in its forests. They have regularly attacked border regions inside Rwanda.
There is also another group born in 2017, calling itself “P5” which is associated with former RDF Chief Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa.
He is based in South Africa, but Rwanda alleges Uganda and Burundi are helping him recruit fighters that are delivered to training camps in Congo.
Eastern DR Congo remains lawless, with many rebel groups roaming the region.
Following the arrival of current President Felix Tshisekedi, who was in Rwanda last month, indications are that Kigali and Kinshasa are working on their fragile relations.
However, in Rubavu today, Kagame said the local people need to first satisfy themselves before supplying elsewhere. He also said the quality of exports across should be paramount.
But even as Kagame was encouraging cross border trade, it emerged during the interactive session that a local cooperative had been blocked from supplying milk to Goma by Rwandan officials.
The leader of the cooperative told the Head of State that they had invested millions to procure vehicles and setup a factory for the milk.
The group has been forced to sell their equipment to pay back bank loans.
In their defense, the Rubavu mayor Gilbert Habyarimana and Agriculture Minister Gerardine Mukeshimana said the cooperative had been blocked to prevent them from sending poor quality milk to Congo.
Kagame directed that this particular cooperative and all the others should be supported to ensure they do not export anything without the required certification.
During the same interactive session, a Congolese woman narrated that she had been refused documents by local officials which could allow her children to get Rwandan nationality.
She has been living in Rwanda since 2004, did marry a Rwandan man, with whom they had three children. The husband, however, left the woman and the kids.
“I want Rwandan nationality for my children but the sector is not helping me,” she said in a mixture of French and Swahili.
Kagame directed the Rubavu mayor to help the woman get documents for the children, and caused long applause when he added that the mother should also be given the nationality if she wants it.
The woman could be seen dancing and clapping following Kagame’s directive.
Meanwhile, before the Q&A session, Kagame repeated the message on security, which he has been emphasizing since Wednesday in his tours.
“Those who threaten Rwanda’s security should think twice,” he said. “They are all talk and no action. It is only noise. No one can destabilize us and steer us in the wrong direction. We are building our country, living in unity and we know where we come from and where we are going.”
Kagame also touched on issue of some Rubavu residents unable to view state funded TV and Radio Rwanda, and no phone signal for Rwanda telecoms.
“This issue remains unsolved for many years, I wonder why,” he said, promising he would seek answers from concerned officials.