Since you became African Union chairman, what are you most proud of [and] any regrets?
When I became chairman, some work was easier because I was building on some of the things that were already decided by the African leaders. The reforms we were to carry out came from the leaders when they were meeting here (in Kigali) in 2016. I was tasked and there was the team that supported me.
The achievement of the continental free trade area has been significant. Forty-nine countries have signed up. That is followed by ratification. To put it into effect requires 22 countries to ratify. So far we are at 18 or 19 countries, and we are hoping that the three or four countries might [sign soon].
We have also created a unified air transport market across Africa — opened the skies for airlines to operate from country to country across our continent
East African countries have problems implementing regional protocols. How will they implement continental ones?
We know there are problems. Those challenges should not discourage or hold us back because there are no other ways that you are going to apply where you will not meet challenges…you still want to push against them and see what progress you make.
What did you do to convince the rest of the African leaders to rally behind you on this free trade area?
Apart from applying all my personal efforts — and we had a very good team that we were working with — matters of trade and the African Continental free trade area were the responsibility of the President of Niger (Mahamadou Issoufou). He was the champion. I have been lucky in the sense that I have built on other people’s efforts
You have said the AU must benefit African people. How will the free trade area benefit the low of the lowest?
The continental free trade area allows seamless interactions and transactions. Of course, bigger companies will benefit more, but it really starts with these small companies, which represent the majority of our people on the ground.
So, this free trade area in a way answers to that problem for it touches the ordinary people who are trying to make ends meet through small business.
Do you think things are getting worse or improving between Uganda and Rwanda?
Yes, there is a good foundation from which we should be building a very good relationship. There is no question about it. Therefore, it is very intriguing, to find that, even with that history and a good foundation, we have something like this going on. And it goes on every day, even as we speak.
It is hard to just put it in one word or even a few words. All I can say is that it’s a matter that can be resolved. That must be resolved. Because the alternative is not something that we should even be thinking about, or entertaining; that we can stand in the way of our own progress or the progress of all East Africans.
Because we have made so many pronouncements, we’ve made statements. When it comes to optics, to the microphones, we are saying the best things and the right things. But we should make an effort to do those things, not just say them.
It doesn’t hurt anyone to keep on trying. What hurts is keeping quiet. And of course things are not improving because of that. Because we’re not doing much. We have had discussions over this for two years, we can resolve them whether it is egos or just wishing that things should be bad.
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Credit image/google images/Paul Kagame.