President Paul Kagame and South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa have held bilateral talks in Japan this Thursday.
They met on the sidelines of the 7th Japanese government-organised Tokyo International Conference on African Development, taking place in Yokohama.
While President Kagame also had bilateral meetings with other leaders like Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the one with Ramaphosa has its own significance.
Since Cyril Ramaphosa became South Africa’s leader in February 2018 after his predecessor Jacob Zuma resigned, he has met President Paul Kagame at least 6 times so far.
For the latest meeting, like previous ones, Kagame’s office posted update accompanied by a photo on its Twitter account, but did not give details.
The Kagame-Ramaphosa talks come after Kagame signed memorandum of understanding with Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni in Angola on August 21.
The MoU is borne from issues directly involving South Africa. It is the home for ex-Rwandan army chief Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa, the key individual around whom Rwandan dissidents in different countries have rallied.
According to the government of Rwanda, whose information has been corroborated by a report of the UN Group of Experts on DR Congo last year, Uganda and Burundi are providing money, recruits and safe passage for “P5” rebel force in South Kivu.
This force is remote-commanded by Gen Kayumba from South Africa, say the government and UN, which has one of the largest peacekeeping forces in Congo.
Uganda, in particular President Museveni himself and his brother Gen Caleb Akandwanaho aka Gen Salim Saleh, are also hosting Rwandan wealthy businessman Tribert Ayabatwa Rujugiro – a financer of Kayumba’s activities, according to Kigali.
President Kagame has personally insisted that Rwanda has no strategic problem with South Africa, apart from it hosting Gen Kayumba and his Rwanda National Congress (RNC) group elements.
In 2014, South Africa expelled several Rwandan diplomats after Col Patrick Karegeya, a founder member of RNC, had been killed earlier that year. Rwanda also responded with similar action.
However, South Africa went farther: it banned visa for ordinary Rwandans. Since then, apart from Rwandans holding service passports, no others travel to South Africa – a move which has affected many.
In all the Kagame-Ramapphosa meetings, though the RNC is issue is not addressed publicly, the visa one is what comes out.
Judging from how Rwanda has reacted in media interviews, it is clear no significant progress has been made between the two sides.
In March, Rwanda’s anger all exploded into the public domain. President Kagame said “someone in South African government” was sabotaging efforts to solve Rwanda-SA issues.
The comments were directed at SA top diplomat at the time Lindiwe Sisulu. Kagame spoke following weeks of a ferocious campaign in alleged Rwandan websites, one of which called Sisulu “Kayumba Nyamwasa’s whore”.
This particular tag came a few days after Sisulu had, at a press conference, said that RNC was willing to hold talks with the Rwandan government. It was the first time a foreign government had raised such publicly. Rwanda does not tolerate anyone making that suggestion, as it considers RNC leaders as individuals with personal grudges, not legitimate opposition.
Sisulu was moved to another ministry after Ramaphosa was elected in June. Dr Naledi Pandor is the current minister for International Relations and Cooperation and has herself met Kagame since she took up the docket.
What is clear from Kagame’s meetings with South African leaders, even with Jacob Zuma, they always display beaming smiles. It is virtually impossible to tell if there is any problems between SA and Rwanda, because of the jovial laughter witnessed at Kagame-Ramaphosa public encounters.
The diplomatic affection is so powerful, even when Ramaphosa was still vice president. Ramaphosa has referred to Rwanda’s progress twice in his speeches to his own people since he became president.
For example, on March 6, Kagame was in SA for the Young President’s Organization forum, an international action platform. In his speech, Ramaphosa said SA would work harder to improve ranking on the World Bank’a annual doing business index. SA has set target of being within the top 50 countries within 3 years from position 82 today, Ramaphosa said.
He then added: “Within 6 years, President Kagame, we are determined to have caught up with Rwanda. It is wonderful to have a top performing country, like Rwanda, in our continent as it affords us an opportunity to emulate them but also inspires us to catch up.”
Kagame’s numerous engagement with South Africa is also part of his offensive covering the Southern Africa region as we have reported recently. In the past year, Kagame has met leaders of 10 out of the 16 members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
However, its not Rwanda alone that needs South Africa. MTN, the biggest telecom in Rwanda, and a large taxpayer, is South African. The sole cement producer in Rwanda CIMERWA is owned by South Africa’s Portland Pozzolana Cement (PPC Cement).
For any threat to these businesses, and several other small firms, it has been demonstrated previously that SA will do anything.
Kagame has also not been targeting the President alone. Ace Magashule, Secretary General of the ruling ANC party, essentially one of the key decision makers in SA, was in Rwanda for about a week in July.
Rwanda-South Africa Timeline
February 2018: Cyril Ramaphosa replaces Jacob Zuma as President
March 1, 2018: President Cyril Ramaphosa paid a courtesy call on President Paul Kagame at Village Urugwiro in Kigali ahead of the 10th Extraordinary Summit of the AU Heads of State and Government.
June 30, 2018: President Kagame meets with President Cyril Ramaphosa on the sidelines of the 31st African Union Summit, Mauritania.
February 10, 2019: President Paul Kagame meets South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on the sidelines of the AU Summit.
March 6, 2019: President Paul Kagame is hosted in SA for the Young Presidents’ Organization, as keynote speaker. Also met with President Ramaphosa. And during the main YPO event, Ramaphosa’s comments about Rwanda and Kagame turned out to be the highlight.
June 25, 2019: President Kagame attends the Inauguration Ceremony of President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa in Pretoria. The leaders met informally, and Kagame sat next to Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni. Diplomatically, this could not have been accident.
August 29, 2019: President Paul Kagame meets South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on the sidelines of Japan-Africa Summit in Yokohama, Japan.