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Up close with Rwanda’s Ambassador to the UAE, His Excellency Emmanuel Hategeka

- More on his country Rwanda - The land of a Thousand Hills -

1. Who is Ambassador Emmanuel Hategeka? How do you think your family, friends and colleagues would describe you if asked?

Such a difficult question to describe oneself. Perhaps we can tackle this one by my describing what I love doing. I derive my motivation to keep doing what I do from the difference my contribution within a broader team makes to the lives of the people we serve. In this case, it is the fellow Rwandans we serve and seeing the progress Rwanda has made over the years. Knowing that I’ve played a role makes me happy.

On a more personal note, I believe in empowering those I work with and doing my best to always challenge them to be the best they can be. This equally applies to my family members. Needless to say, I get challenged in equal measure by my superiors and this has been a huge part of my journey.

During my free time whenever there is, I enjoy spending time with my family, connecting with friends, following current affairs in literature and the news. I also spare time for sports to keep fit.

2. Share with us what the journey has been like for you in representing Rwanda as the Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates so far? What have been some of your highlights, especially as it comes to representing Rwanda in the Middle East's most prolific destination?

It’s been one year since I arrived in UAE on October 14th, 2019 as Rwanda’s first Ambassador to UAE. It is almost a year since I presented my credentials on 12th of November 2019 to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum the Vice President, Prime Minister of UAE, and Ruler of Dubai.

That one-year journey so far has been marked by excellent collaboration and support from the host country in the promotion of good bilateral relations and cooperation between our two countries.

Exchange of high-level visits is of great significance in diplomacy. Early on in January 2020, Abu Dhabi hosted His Excellency President Paul Kagame (my President) at the invitation of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, to participate in the 2020 Abu Dhabi Sustainability week. This was followed by a private visit to Rwanda of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum the Vice President, Prime Minister of UAE, and Ruler of Dubai beginning March 2020.

As the COVID-19 pandemic struck, with most countries closing borders around mid-March to control the spread of the virus, with collaboration by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, we were able to repatriate close to 70 Rwandans stranded in Dubai mainly on visit visas. The Government of Dubai through ICD also provided material support in the fight against COVID-19 in Rwanda – for which the people of Rwanda are grateful.

With this unprecedented pandemic, we have embraced the new normal way of conducting business and diplomacy virtually meaning despite the disruption, work continued in a well-coordinated fashion and I am grateful to my host country.

3. What’s your take on economic relations between the UAE and Rwanda and how they are strengthening ties between the two nations?

Economic relations have also flourished with increasing trade and investment flows between the two countries. Today, UAE is among the top five trading partners of Rwanda in terms of exports to UAE and imports from UAE to Rwanda.

UAE has also invested in two high end hotels close to two national parks the Virunga national park in the north and Nyungwe National park in the west both operated by One&Only luxury hotel brand. The modern dry port and ICD in Kigali was developed and is operated by DP World. We have also registered sizeable investments in mineral processing as well as in communication technology.

To facilitate trade and Investment, two important agreements were signed in 2017; one on double Taxation Avoidance and the other on promotion and reciprocal protection of investments. To further strengthen our bilateral cooperation, an MoU on the Establishment of a Joint Committee for Cooperation between Rwanda and UAE was signed in February 2020 by Rwanda’s Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Cooperation in UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

We continue to develop relations in the fields of technology, Healthcare, Agribusiness, Logistics, Private investment, Renewable energy, and Education and Human capital development. Rwanda continues to enjoy support in the sector of education with scholarships offered to Rwandan students to study in UAE’s best Universities, mainly in science and technology disciplines.

4. From your experience looking at your previous roles in the Government of Rwanda as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry and then the Deputy CEO of the Rwanda Development Board before your appointment as Rwanda's Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates; take us through the journey of curating Rwanda's tourism strategy and positioning the nation as an investment and tourism destination to watch in East Africa.

Rwanda's tourism strategy is informed by its vision to position the country as a world-class and high-end ecotourism destination. It is anchored in the country's broad development strategies, such as National Strategy for Transformation (NST1) and Vision 2050. This strategy makes Rwanda stand out as a destination in the region. It will enable the country to double its tourism revenues to USD 800 million by 2024 from close to USD 400 million in 2018 and create thousands of jobs along the value chain.

To achieve this, our government has invested heavily in infrastructural development to spur investments in tourism and other sectors. The country's road network is arguably the best in the region, making access to the different tourism destinations seamless. Additionally, the country has invested in the development of the hospitality industry, which is critical to the realization of the vision to make Rwanda a world-class and high-end ecotourism destination.

Also, as part of this strategy, Rwanda has invested in accelerating MICE tourism growth by attracting big events and conferences and developing cultural and religious tourism through working with the private sector. In Africa, Rwanda enjoys 2nd ranking by the International Congress and Convention Association as a MICE destination. This is consistent with its aspiration to become a world-class conference destination.

Finally, Rwanda has strengthened its diplomacy and international cooperation to support the promotion of investment, tourism, and expansion of the market for products made in Rwanda as part of this strategy.

5. The Rwanda Development Board as well as Rwanda Tourism have been on an active campaign to showcase opportunities available for tourism and investment in Rwanda, leveraging such significant initiatives as the sleeve partnership between Rwanda and Arsenal Football Club, as well as us witnessing the entry of global hospitality players/brands such as Marriott International, the Sheraton, Radisson Blu and others. To investors and travelers - why Rwanda?

Investors show confidence in a destination with their capital. Rwanda has created an enabling environment for doing business. Before COVID19 struck, Rwanda’s economy had been growing at an average of 8.5% per year for a decade. Highly rated as the cleanest, safest and corruption free country on the African continent, we have worked hard to put in place investor-friendly laws, policies and tax regimes that encourage FDI. Today Rwanda is the second easiest place to do business in Africa. It is 2nd in MICE destination ranking by the International Congress and Convention Association. The creation of RDB as a one stop center for business was done to make the investor journey faster and smoother. We have teams responsible for each step of the investor journey - from visas and registration to aftercare. This system has enabled us to increase investment in the country dramatically, and we are pleased with the feedback we receive from investors.

Rwanda has taken a similar "open doors" approach for tourism. It's now easier to visit Rwanda than ever before, thanks to a visa on arrival policy for all citizens of the world. Indeed, citizens of the AU, Commonwealth and La Francophonie receive free visa on arrival. One can say investment in tourism infrastructure, the national airline RwandAir, open visa policy, the tourism marketing campaigns with Arsenal football club and others are all part of the bigger plan to develop our tourism industry.

We have also put in place robust health and safety measures because the well-being of visitors is our number one priority. Since we reopened our borders on August 1st, the system we have set up has served us well.

6. Recently during a tourism webinar, you organized for UAE along with Rwanda Development Board and other stakeholders, it was announced that Rwanda has reopened for Tourism. Take us briefly through the diversity of nature-focused, historical, cultural, and contemporary travel and leisure experiences an upwardly mobile traveler coming from the UAE can expect to experience?

Rwanda reopened to international tourism on Aug 1st, 2020, with the resumption of commercial flights. The reopening was made possible by the swift government response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The population was supportive of measures put in place to contain the spread of the virus. In recognition of these efforts, Rwanda received the world's first-ever global safety and hygiene stamp launched recently by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). The safety stamp is a form of accreditation for the country which recognizes the efficiency of the global standardized health and hygiene protocols. Rwanda has adopted protocols that are based explicitly on guidelines laid out by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

An upwardly mobile traveler from the UAE would be spoilt for choice on Rwanda's remarkable leisure and recreational experiences from adventures in the mountains, to memorable excursions in serene landscapes, as well as a taste of our lively cities. The unmissable attractions include an opportunity to observe endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the recent arrival of Singita Kwitonda Lodge and One&Only Gorilla's Nest on the edge of the Volcanoes National Park makes seeing the gorillas even more special.

For those looking for a more traditional safari experience, the relatively warm and low-lying plains of Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda comprise savannah, woodland, wetland, and a dozen lakes which makes for ideal game viewing. Wildlife species that can be seen here include lions, leopards, eastern black rhinos, buffalo, elephant, antelope, zebra, giraffe, baboons and an incredible 490 different bird species. A boat trip on Lake Ihema is also a highlight of any visit to Akagera, with its large pods of hippos, Nile crocodiles and abundant water birds who inhabit the island in the middle of the lake.

Part of Africa's Great Rift Valley, Lake Kivu in Rwanda’s Western region is also a must visit! Magnificent mountains surround Rwanda's largest lake (and the sixth largest in Africa) while its deep emerald green waters cover an area of over 2,700 km2. On the lake's northern shore lies Rubavu, once a popular colonial beach resort, its waterfront is lined with old mansions, hotels, and trendy bars ideal for sundowner cocktails after a day spent gorilla trekking. It is from Rubavu that the famous Congo Nile Trail extends south 227km through breath-taking hills and mountains beside the lake to Rusizi. For the more adventurous traveler, a kayaking tour on Lake Kivu, or mountain biking or hiking one of the six off-the-beaten-path stages of the Congo Nile Trail is worth the spectacular views!

Beyond our most popular national park – the Virunga National Park, we would also recommend visitors experience our newest national park, Gishwati-Mukura opening later this year 2020. Gishwati is one of the most stunning areas in the country where visitors will find undulating hills and idyllic tea plantations which dot the edges of the reserve. The newly created National Park gives both these areas official protected status. It is also one of the best spots for birdwatching in Rwanda with 232 species spotted at Gishwati and 163 species sighted in Mukura, and not far from the spectacular Nyungwe National Park, which is home to 13 primate species including chimpanzees.

7. What about time spent in Kigali, the nation’s capital. What are the must-visit destinations for a guest to Rwanda add to their itinerary when in Kigali?

No visit to Rwanda would be complete without exploring our capital city Kigali, which was founded as an administrative outpost in 1907 and became the capital at independence in 1962. The Kigali Genocide Memorial is a powerful educational experience for visitors which, through education and peacebuilding, honors the memory of and pays tribute to the more than one million Rwandans killed in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. Visitors can also stroll down the city's wide tree-lined boulevards and discover its burgeoning art scene, as well as a growing number of dining options. The Kigali Cultural Village also offers a dedicated space for local artisans and food vendors to exhibit and trade their goods.

8. It is quite clear that Rwanda offers so much for every type of traveller with a myriad of preferences to experience. Any parting words for our readers Mr. Ambassador?

Rwanda is truly a dream destination – Its safe and clean, you get to see the Big Six including Mountain Gorillas, the perfect experience with rich fauna and flora - from the savannah to the great lakes and mountain rain forests. I would say it is one destination that one must experience for themselves to truly appreciate what the nation offers. The Land of a Thousand Hills is open and welcomes travellers from across the globe to experience a loving people, and to explore breathtaking landscapes that bring you in complete harmony with nature!

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