‘Turkish schools in Africa important for strong relations'

The first-ever Rwandan ambassador to Turkey, Lt. Gen. Caesar Kayizari, has said that Turkish schools in Africa play an important role in strengthening relations between African nations and Turkey, adding that Turkey has a lot to offer Rwanda in terms of education.

Turkey's building of schools in Rwanda in particular, and in African countries in general, is of great importance. Education is significant for establishing strong relationships. Turkey for a long time was absent in Africa. Now that it has opened to the continent, education could be one of the tools that the Turkish government can use, as education builds the future,” Kayizari said.

The policy of opening up to the African continent, which was initiated in 2005, occupies a special place in Turkey's foreign policy. Turkey's Africa initiative, an expansion project to which the country has attached great importance in recent years, is moving full steam ahead.

Turkey's Africa initiative isn't limited to political and economic goals; rather, it aims to contribute to the development and growth of Africa in diverse fields, including health, education, agriculture and, most importantly, the preservation of peace and stability.

In the field of education, Turkish schools attract attention. In Rwanda's capital, Kigali, Hope Kids Academy, an international Turkish school, was officially opened in February.

In an exclusive interview with Today's Zaman, Kayizari noted that Turkey has lot to offer in terms of education. He went on to say that education is the only tool for development, adding that his country has invested much in education. “We cannot achieve our 2020 vision without improving our position in education. Turkey also provides scholarships for Rwandan students. This is important as these students will further develop bilateral relations and work to create a positive image of Turkey. Education is the biggest investment for humanity,” Kayizari said.

The ambassador said that the Turkish school in Kigali plans to expand and build a larger facility that will accommodate 500 students next year. “As a new school, it is growing fast. First it was constructed as a small building, but with the increasing number of the students now they are building a greater school,” Kayizari said.

Kayizari added that Turkish universities have promised to offer more spaces for Rwandan students, of which there are currently 40 in Turkey, and that the two countries have agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in the field of education soon.

The MoU would further strengthen bilateral relations and promote mutual understanding and good will between the people of Rwanda and those of Turkey.

‘Turkey important partner with very active policy in Africa'

Praising Turkey's proactive foreign policy in the African continent, the ambassador noted that Rwandans have become more aware of Turkey's presence on the international scene.

I am impressed with Turkey's role in the diplomatic sphere in the last years. It is an active partner for us,” Kayizari said.

The African ambassador welcomes Turkey's belated engagement in Africa, lauding Turkey's commitment to the continent as a strategic partner to the African Union since 2008. The number of Turkish embassies on the African continent, 12 in 2009, rose to 31 in 2012.

“Turkey is in Africa at the right time. Why I say ‘right time' is that maybe 20 years ago Africa was not ready as it is now. Twenty years ago Africa was in turmoil due to the presence of dictatorial regimes. But today, Africa is a destination and it has many opportunities to offer Turkey. We should not look at yesterday. It is passed. Today it is the right time,” he added.

When asked how Rwandans perceive Turkey, the ambassador said: “One day, I was watching a documentary and a man in Rwanda was asked about his opinion on Turkey. I was impressed with his answer. He said Turkey was a developing country having a strong economy. Today, for the people of Rwanda, Turkey is visible on the map,” the ambassador said.

‘Turkish Airlines flight to Rwanda catalyst to growing relations'

Turkey sees Africa as a strong partner, and the Africa initiative was born of a desire to open embassies in African countries and encourage Turkish Airlines to follow by launching flights to link Africa and Turkey.

Kayizari said that the direct flight to Kigali operated by Turkish Airlines (THY) is an important indication of the growing ties between Turkey and Rwanda, adding that the flights have boosted the countries' relations.

THY's launch of direct fights to Kigali last March is considered another catalyst to strengthen bilateral ties. Previously, Turks traveling to Kigali had to spend hours in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi waiting for a connecting flight.

According to THY, their entry into Rwanda is important because Rwanda is a county with many opportunities and an environment conducive to business.

Kayizari said that the bilateral relations between the two countries were growing day by day.

In October, Kayizari, as Rwanda's first ambassador to Turkey, presented his letters of credence to Turkish President Abdullah Gül at the Çankaya presidential palace in Ankara. Kayizari was previously the chief of staff of the Rwandan army.

“The Turkish ambassador accredited for Rwanda is responsible for three countries, including Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. Of course, I am sure that Turkey will be opening an embassy in Kigali soon. We are waiting,” he said.

‘Rwanda fertile ground for Turkish business'

Rwanda was ranked the second best place to do business in Africa, beating all of its neighbors in the rankings, according to the newest edition of the World Bank's “Doing Business 2014” report.

The annual World Bank report, which assesses performance in ease of doing business country by country, indicates that, overall, Rwanda moved 22 places, to 32nd out of 189 countries, since last year. Rwanda was also named the most improved country worldwide since 2005.

Rwanda is looking to attract long-term foreign investments; the country hopes to achieve this goal and become a regional hub for business.

“Turkey can also use Rwanda as a gateway to reach eastern and central African countries. Rwanda can provide many opportunities to Turkey. There are opportunities in the infrastructure, agriculture and energy sectors. Rwanda has identified energy as an important sector for the 2020 vision of the country. Turkey has a 2023 vision; we have 2020 vision to raise Rwanda from a poor country to a middle-income country,” Kayizari said.

In May, Turkish Deputy Economy Minister Mustafa Sever said Turkey attached importance to African countries and aims to increase investment and trade in the region, adding that Rwanda was a growing country and that the trade volume between Rwanda and Turkey is expected to reach $100 million in 2023.

“Appropriate environment for trade is available in Rwanda and there is will for doing business. With the Turkish Airlines, there is more chance for business,” Kayizari said.

A delegation of 15 Turkish investors visited Rwanda in May to explore business opportunities between the two nations. Turkish investment in Rwanda has been increasing in the aviation, real estate, education, mining, energy, tourism and manufacturing sectors.

Turkey is also looking to enter into a free trade agreement with the East African Community, a customs union between Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda, by 2019.

Rwandans took lessons from genocide, look forward to future

The people of Turkey don't know much about Rwanda, and there are very few people who have heard of Kigali. Rwanda, a country that has experienced great sorrow and tragedy, is moving quickly to overcome the destructive impacts of the 1994 genocide.

Rwanda was first colonized by Germany in 1884 before becoming a Belgian colony in 1916. It won independence in 1962. In 1994, Rwanda experienced a terrible tragedy that resulted in the deaths of a staggering number of people, a genocide that was a consequence of Belgium's policy of reinforcing the rift between the Tutsis and the Hutus.

“Twenty years ago, Rwanda went through a bad period. There was a war and genocide. We lost 1 million people and after that the entire infrastructure was destroyed. But since then, Rwanda has been curing itself. Today, Rwanda is the most peaceful country and it is developing very fast socially, economically and educationally,” Kayizari said.

The ambassador noted that Rwandans have taken lessons from the mistakes of the past, saying that rather than being stuck in the past, Rwandans are moving forward to overcome the consequences of the genocide.

“People remember those times because it is part of our history. You cannot run away from your own history. Rwanda has reached a consensus on what happened and has put on the table what could be done to not repeat the same mistakes. Rwandans want to cover this shame,” Kayizari said.

The ambassador said, with sorrow: “We adopted a policy of remembering the past, but not [dwelling on] genocide. We want to remember our achievement of how we have come to this point. When you face fire, unless you are stupid you should run. That's why Rwanda is running to develop!”

Turkey, Rwanda discuss cooperation on training of security forces

Kayizari noted that a delegation from Rwanda is scheduled to visit Turkey to discuss cooperation between the two countries on the training of security forces.

Turkey has stepped up its efforts in training police and intelligence forces in some African countries after recent terrorist attacks in Somalia and Kenya.

“Terrorism is an international problem. No country is immune to this act. As long as you are not with the terrorists, you are their target. So, Rwanda is also the target of terrorists. We put security mechanisms to minimize such acts. Terrorism will never stop the wave of development,” Kayizari said.

The ambassador also noted that there was good enough cooperation among states in the region to fight terrorism collectively. “What happens in a country happens to all of us,” he added.

Rwanda is a Central African country bordered by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Tanzania and Uganda.

Touching on Rwanda's relations with its neighbors, particularly the DRC, with which tensions flare up periodically, the ambassador said that relations between the two neighbors are a mix of “conflict and cooperation together.”

“Sometimes we don't understand why. Despite having problems with the DRC sometimes, we always maintain a diplomatic and trade relationship. The intention of Rwanda is to have peace with the DRC because peace with the DRC means development for Rwanda. It is a big neighbor and we can have strong economic relations. But maybe we are an example that they don't want to see because we are developing with small resources very fast. Rwanda is a very outgoing country, but people misinterpret our uprightness. For instance, we recently had a national dialogue where people with diverse opinions participated,” the ambassador added.

Fingers crossed for Syria in Geneva II

When asked whether the United Nations was doing enough to solve the conflict in Syria, the ambassador pointed to the ineffectiveness of the international community, particularly the United Nations, during the conflict in Rwanda in 1994, and said that the UN may be not doing enough; he added, however, that the real responsibility for the future of the country belongs to the Syrians themselves.

“Like everybody, Rwanda is also concerned about the situation in Syria. The situation in Syria is worrying. Is UN doing enough? Maybe not. But the responsibility is in the hands of the Syrians. In Rwanda, we lived genocide and we overcame by ourselves,” the ambassador said.

He said we should keep our fingers crossed for the upcoming international conference on Syria, known as Geneva II, which aims to bring the Syrian opposition and the regime to the negotiating table.

When asked whether he believes that a positive result would come out from the conference -- if it takes place -- Kayizari replied as follows: “Well, I don't have reason to doubt. Where there is a will there may be a way.”