The love-hate relationship between Zimbabwe and Rwanda

Chris Mahove

Zimbabwe and Rwanda have had a swing in relations, at one time fighting on opposing sides in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between 1998 and 1999; and later forging economic ties and sharing notes on how both countries can achieve an Upper Middle Income Economy.

Relations soured when Zimbabwe under the late President Robert Mugabe, was accused of harbouring fugitives who had been involved in acts of genocide in Rwanda, including Protais Mpiranya.

Mpiranya was one of the world’s most wanted genocidaires indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for spearheading the 1994 genocide which led to the death of almost 1 million ethnic Tutsis in April 1994 and had a US$5 million reward on his head.

Before this development, Rwandese had always respected the late former president as a luminary in terms of empowerment of black Africans.

However, when President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over as President of Zimbabwe, he introduced a re-engagement policy, which culminated in a new relationship between the two African countries.

As a show of the strengthening of ties between the two countries, Rwanda President Paul Kagame attended President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s inauguration in 2018, with President Mnangagwa attending Rwanda’s Independence Day celebrations in Kigali last year.

Rwanda now has an embassy in Harare while Zimbabwe has also opened its embassy in Kigali represented by Charity Manyeruke.

The relations, however, are more inclined towards commercial diplomacy rather than on political issues.

With Rwanda having become a key investment destination over the past few years, Zimbabwe is keen to take a leaf from the East African country as it seeks to grow its economy which has been on a downturn.

The two countries have penned several deals through their respective agencies, ZIMTRADE and the Rwanda Development Board, some of which will cover areas such as energy, agriculture, horticulture and food processing as well as building and construction.

Reciprocal trade investment conferences saw trade agreements worth over US$5 million signed at both government and private sector levels, with the latest conference having been held in Harare from March 28 to April 1 this year.

The two countries signed three MoU’s in Economic and Commercial Relations, Energy as well as Trade and Investment.

Both countries have set themselves targets to achieve an Upper Middle Income Economy status, with Zimbabwe hoping to achieve the feat by 2030 and Rwanda by 2035, hence the trade agreements are expected to go a long way in contributing to the realisation of those goals.

Zimbabwe has a lot to learn from its counterpart, which has made considerable progress in realising sustainable economic growth and inclusive development.

The Southern African country is hoping to leverage on the lessons from Rwanda to stimulate its exports growth in both goods and services as a vehicle to achieve its goals as enunciated in the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1).

The two countries have agreed on creating opportunities for each other in areas of trade and development and exchange ideas on best business practices that will enable them realise their economic goals.

Among the deals signed between the two nations is the power deal between ZESA and Rwanda Energy, which will see Rwanda will construct solar plants in Masvingo whose electricity will be added to the national grid

Zimbabwe will, on the other hand, supply center pivots to Rwanda which will cover approximately 70 000 hectares, which is expected to boost that country’s agriculture production.

But now, at a time when the two nations had embraced each other in pursuit of their goals to achieve Upper Middle Income Economies, fresh allegations of Zimbabwe having harboured the fugitive Mpiranya appear to be putting a dent on the otherwise strong relations nurtured since 2017.

The fresh allegations could jeopardise investment projects in mining, tourism and Chilli production which have been under discussions between the two nations.

Earlier this month, a United Nations investigations team said they had identified Mpiranye’s grave in Harare and requested the exhumation of his body following an investigation by its investigators led by the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), which was tasked with investigating fugitive criminals.

They said they had positively identified his body, buried in Zimbabwe under the alias Ndume Sambao, after it was confirmed by DNA analysis.

The UN investigators are reported to have acted on a hand-drawn design for Mpiranya’s tombstone from ma confiscated laptop which they used as a lead identify his body.

The latest development has rattled Rwandan authorities, who now accuse the Zimbabwe government of harbouring him and burying his remains in Harare.

The Zimbabwean government, through Foreign Affairs Minister Fredrick Shava, has however, denied harbouring the former commander of the Rwandan Presidential Guard and concealing his whereabouts.

They said that they cooperated with the investigation by the IRMCT and had actually joined a task force to coordinate the investigation.

Despite last week’s statement denying Zimbabwe’s involvement in the harbouring and later burial of Mpiranya, Shava has since been summoned by the Parliament of Zimbabwe to explain the circumstances leading to the final discovery of his remains in Harare.

Harare East Member of Parliament, Tendai Biti, raised the issue in Parliament last week demanding that Shava clarifies the issues being raised, saying it was of national interest in terms of Standing Order No. 62.

“We learnt with sadness that the UN has excavated the body of a wanted genocidaire known as Protais Mpiranya here in Zimbabwe.   Mpiranya was responsible as one of the main perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandese genocide. 

“So, we kindly ask the Minister of Foreign Affairs to come to this August House to explain why he was in Zimbabwe, why he was using the false identity and why he was buried in Zimbabwe and why he was not surrendered to the UN Commissions on Rwanda,” he said.

However, as debate over Mpiranya raged in the public domain in Zimbabwe last week, with some observers saying relations between the two countries had become frosty, a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services delegation was reporting to parliament on its benchmarking visit to Rwanda held from 10th to 15th October, 2021.

The visit was mean to enhance Members of the Committee’s understanding of ICT laws in Rwanda with a view to adopting and recommending best practice in the crafting of Zimbabwe’s own laws and to expose Members of the Committee to diverse ways of enhancing the ICT sector in line with keeping up with the ever changing technologies.

 The visit also sought to accord the Members of the Committee an opportunity to discuss the legal impediments and enablers towards improving ICTs in the country during the COVID-19 era and the role that Parliament could play in enhancing the same. 

The seven member delegation, comprising five Members of Parliament and two officials from Parliament, had engagements with its counterparts from the Committee on Education, Culture and Youth in Rwanda.

The committee also met with the Rwanda Minister of ICT and Innovation, and parastatals such as the Rwanda Information Society (RISA); the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and the Rwanda Post Office. 

The visit by the committee is sign of the commitment for cooperation between the two countries, despite the differences that now exist as a result of the Mparinya issue.

The only issue that seems to be creating differences between the two governments appears to be a semantics issue wherein the Foreign Affairs Ministry referred to the  ‘1994 Rwandan Genocide’  instead of the ‘1994 Genocide against the Tutsis,’ which could be dealt with in a cordial manner without necessarily damaging relations that have so far, proved beneficial to both nations.

The Rwandan Embassy in Harare only corrected the statement through its micro-blogging site Twitter and did not object to Zimbabwe’s plea of innocence in the whole debacle.

“The Embassy wishes to advise the correction of ‘1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda’ as opposed to the way (it) is mentioned in the statement,” the embassy wrote.

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