Three days after the departure of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, another strong friend of Israel, will begin a two-day visit to the country on Sunday.
Kagame, who has been president since 2000, has been to Israel several times in the past and was last here in 2013. He is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, as well as with President Reuven Rivlin. Netanyahu last met him in Rwanda when he traveled to four East African states last July.
Kagame has in recent years been a key ally for Netanyahu in his attempts to build closer ties with Africa. Significantly, Rwanda was just elected to the presidency of the African Union in 2018, something that may help Israel in its bid to win observer status on that body.
In 2014, when it was one of the 10 rotating members of the UN Security Council, Rwanda was essential in preventing the Palestinians from passing a resolution calling for Israel to withdraw to the pre-June 1967 lines by late 2017, and the establishment of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital. Rwanda, as well as Nigeria, abstained on the vote, depriving the Palestinians of the nine votes they needed to pass the motion.
Like Modi, Kagame will not be traveling to the Palestinian Authority during his visit here.
In March, the Rwandan president was the first African leader to address the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington.
During his comments, Kagame said his message was simple: “Rwanda is, without question, a friend of Israel.”
The Jewish state, he said, “has the right to exist and thrive.
As a full member of the international community, this is not an infringement on the rights of any other people and it should not be seen as such. It makes our world more secure and peaceful for Rwanda and many other countries, in Africa.”
Kagame’s visit comes just a day after Rwanda’s election commission gave the green light to two opposition candidates to run against Kagame in elections scheduled for August 4, but ruled out three other challengers, drawing criticism from some human rights activists. Kagame is expected to win the elections easily.
Kagame has led the country since 1994, when he became Rwanda’s vice president and de facto leader. He was the head of the rebel army that ended the Rwandan genocide, during which some 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus were killed in 100 days in 1994, in what the UN has officially called the “Genocide against the Tutsi,” during a civil war that ravaged the country.
The president has been credited for bringing stability and vastly improving life in the country.
Rwanda, despite its small size, has emerged as a key force in Africa in recent years, largely because the country’s military is strong and its economy is robust and growing rapidly. At the same time, critics have accused Kagame of authoritarian tendencies.
Last year, Rwanda’s Ambassador to Israel Joseph Rutabana told The Jerusalem Post that as a country where genocide was committed just over two decades ago, Rwanda looks to Israel as a model of how to build a modern country out of the ashes of racial extermination.
Rwanda and Israel established diplomatic relations soon after the former Belgian colony gained independence in July 1962, but those ties were severed later in 1973 after the Yom Kippur War when most African states – under Arab pressure – broke relations with Israel. With the reestablishment of ties in October 1994, Rwanda sent an ambassador to Israel, but had to close the embassy because of budgetary constraints some six years later.
The embassy was reopened with Rutabana’s appointment as ambassador in the summer of 2015, and is one of its 35 embassies around the world (21 outside of Africa). Israel is served in Rwanda by a nonresident ambassador operating out of Addis Ababa.