Regional Integration: Emerging Opportunities in East Africa

sizedEASTAFRICA_UP_2016_LRW-2905In a visit hosted by the Elliott School of International Affairs on Monday, Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation H.E. Louise Mushikiwabo highlighted the importance of regional cooperation and integration in the East African Community. The event, moderated by Former Ambassador to Burkina Faso and Ethiopia David Shinn and introductory remarks by Former Representative of the U.S. to the African Union Reuben Brigety II, bolstered the case for Rwanda’s recent reforms to interact more heavily with regional partners and the international community. Minister Mushikiwabo touched on the successes of recent Northern Corridor infrastructure projects including the construction of rail lines between Kigali, Mombasa, and Kampala as well as renewable energy projects with Kenya.

The Minister cited that Rwandan regional integration is not just an isolated policy but a “way of life both politically and economically.” Mushikiwabo discussed the importance of promoting global integration even at a civilian level. By encouraging foreign nationals to come to East Africa through liberalized visa programs and the development of a Rwandan airline, RwandAir, the Minister hopes to breath new ideas that will lead to further economic and social developments. The Foreign Minister is confident in the success of these programs citing record high levels of tourism and significant development in the Rwandan banking industry.

As a landlocked country, regional integration is an economic necessity for Rwanda because foreign port authorities in Mombasa and Dar es Salaam heavily control the flow of goods into the country. By driving strong and cooperative relations within East Africa, Rwanda hopes to grow as a regional leader and to tackle some of the region’s most pressing challenges. Following a question from an audience member, Mushikiwabo discussed regional concerns of al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate operating in Somalia, and how many Rwandan nationals are worried about security in wake of globalization. Rebuffing these concerns, the Foreign Minister remained optimistic that regional cooperation is the only way that the East Africa can continue to grow and by focusing on cooperative economic development Eastern African states can reduce the incentives for violence.

Aaron Hedquist

Author: Aaron Hedquist

Aaron Hedquist is a senior in the Elliott School studying International Affairs concentrating in Global Health in Development. His work in photojournalism, specifically his documentation of the Seventh Annual Issan Human Rights Festival – a human rights conference that brought together Ambassadors and Representatives from around the world to express concerns about human rights violations in Thailand – has been featured in several international newspapers.