Chronic. Hitherto rather shy in terms of large-scale investments in Africa, Qatar has just hit a big blow in Rwanda. The visit of Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Monday 9 and Tuesday 10 December, crowns months of discussions to announce one of the largest Qatari projects on the continent. The emirate gas has committed to finance no less than 60% of the future airport of Bugesera, estimated at 1.3 billion dollars (nearly 1.2 billion euros). Located 40 km from Kigali, it will accommodate up to 7 million travelers, accompanying the dream of Rwanda to become a great country of tourism. Qatar Airways, which already serves Kigali every day since 2012, has also signed a partnership with RwandAir.
This construction contract foreshadows a much broader partnership at the crossroads of politics and business. Rwanda, whose president, Paul Kagame, is a big fan of football, has just become one of the patrons of Paris-Saint-Germain (PSG), property of Qatar since 2011. In exchange for a few million dollars per year, the mention "Visit Rwanda" will appear on the billboards of the Parc des Princes. A few weeks ago, Rwanda and Qatar also opened diplomatic missions on both sides. Rwandan Ambassador Francois Nkulikiyimfura, who arrived in Doha in September, is a former economist with the African Development Bank (AfDB).
Fight for influence
The intensification of these relationships does not go unnoticed. Especially since most African countries having opened an embassy in Qatar – almost thirty – feel a little forgotten, in terms of economic and political investment, by the largest producer of liquefied gas in the world. It is with Paul Kagame, Qatar seems to have finally found his privileged interlocutor in Africa. The Rwandan president fascinates in Doha. His activism during his presidency of the African Union (AU), in 2018-2019, impressed. Through him, the emirate believes he can gain influence in Africa, where he remains relatively unknown, especially in the AU, where Paul Kagame has forged strong relations with many heads of state.
Qatar's charm offensive can also be seen in the light of the tensions that have pitted it against the United Arab Emirates since the blockade put in place against it in June 2017. The sworn enemy of Doha, Abu Dhabi has signed, since a few years, important contracts with Kigali. The main Emirati investment in Rwanda remains the construction by Dubai Ports World of a huge logistics base at a cost of $ 35 million. Inaugurated in October, the Kigali Logistics Platform will eventually be linked by road to the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam. The United Arab Emirates opened their embassy in Kigali in 2018 and named the highly volunteer Hazza Alqahtani as its head. Paul Kagame, who has hardly missed a single Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix since 2011, opened a diplomatic representation there in 2009.
Some argue that the two best enemies of the Gulf, Qatar and Emirates, will continue to compete inventiveness to seduce the Rwandan leader. Which one should try to intelligently exploit this struggle of influence for its benefit.
Benjamin Augé is a research associate in the Africa and Energy programs of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI).