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United Kingdom And Rwanda Are Working Together On Important Commonwealth Issues: Joanne Lomas UK’S Envoy To Rwanda

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Photo: Joanne Lomas, British High Commissioner to Rwanda.

Ms Joanne Lomas is the British High Commissioner to Rwanda and non-resident Ambassador to Burundi. She was appointed in November 2017. Prior to this appointment, she previously served as the British High Commissioner to Namibia (September 2015 to November 2017). She has had previous postings in Geneva and Damascus and has a degree in Political Science from the University of Bristol.

Ms Jo Lomas joined FCDO (Foreign Commonwealth Development Office) in 1993 as a desk officer in the United Nations Department. The seasoned diplomat later led International Communications and headed the Global Response Centre of the ministry.

The French and Arabic speaking, seasoned diplomat who commenced her career as a Desk Officer in the UN Department from 1993 to 1995; has had diplomatic stints in Baghdad, Iraq (1997); Damascus, Syria (1997-2000); Geneva, Switzerland (2001-2006); Sarajevo, Bosna and Herzegovina (2011-2015); Windhoek, Namibia (2015-2017).

In this interview with Dolapo Aina; Ms Joanne Lomas touched on several areas including relations with Rwanda, Brexit, climate change and COP26 (United Nations Climate Change Conference), CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting). Do read the excerpts.

What has been the level of cooperation between the United Kingdom and Rwanda?

We have had a very strong partnership particularly in development since 1998.

I saw the President yesterday (Thursday) for a meeting and whenever we see him (the first part of the meeting and the last part of the meeting), he acknowledges and thanks the United Kingdom for the long-term support that we have given. That support is continuing now but also, we have an increasing number of shared projects that we work on; we are working very closely on the Commonwealth Summit. It was due to be held this year 2020 in Rwanda but it would be held next year 2021. We are working closely on climate change. We sort of have similar views on free and fair trade. So, there are many areas we are working with the Government of Rwanda.

If you could expand further, what is the current state of the bi-lateral relations between both countries?

The current state of bi-lateral relations with Rwanda is very good. As with every relationship, there are things we agree to disagree on but majority of our relationship is really important. We have a strong relationship which means we could have some difficult discussions sometimes but we share many priorities and we work very closely with Rwanda in a number of areas.

How are preparations for CHOGM 2021 ongoing from the United Kingdom’s perspective?
Rwanda announced the new dates some days ago (and I am really pleased we have got that agreed.) Both Rwanda and the Commonwealth countries would now begin to ramp up our work again, having had to leave six months off. But when we went into lockdown in March 2020, Rwanda was doing very well and very well prepared. Rwanda has got excellent conferencing facilities which you would have seen. A big part of it most importantly; is that Rwanda is very keen to have real tangible outcomes coming out of CHOGM. It is not a talking shop. There are real discussions and policies and funds for things like trade, climate change and other important issues as I have earlier mentioned.
As people know, Brexit is the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

What is the current state of affairs with the United Kingdom leaving the EU?

Brexit has happened. We left the European Union earlier this year (2020). This year is what we call the transition period. While not a member of the European Union, we are still bound by the various laws and regulations. That would stop on the 31st of December 2020. We are in the process of negotiating a trade agreement with the EU and we very much hope that we would come to an agreement within the next month or so. Otherwise, we leave transition deal with no deal which would have a different impact. But we are hoping to reach a mutually attractive deal for both sides.

Yes, Brexit has happened and in the process of happening. What does it portend for business relations between the United Kingdom and the African Continent and in this context, Rwanda?

This is a really important question. We have been determined all along that Africa and other particularly low-income countries should not have their trade disrupted. That has been our real priority. United Kingdom has long been in support of free and fair trade. And this is really part of that much longer policy. What that means in practise is that we are working with the regional customs unions or trade unions to agree deals. In the first instance, we are to transition those deals that have been agreed with the EU just to avoid disruptions. Long term, we are looking at perhaps even more ambitious deals but for the moment, not having disruption is a priority. We are in discussion with the EAC (East African Community) on that.

On the diplomatic front, those who are keen observers of diplomacy and international relations would wonder why did the Foreign Office change its name to Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office? In a nutshell, one could use an analogy by saying, still the same engine but different body covering?

Yes. And I would say perhaps, a more joined up policy.

What are the current preparations for COP26 and is there a likelihood it might be a virtual event?

We could have held a virtual event in November 2020 but we took a decision. There are two reasons for the postponement for a year.

It is partly about wanting to host something physically but also about wanting this to be an ambitious summit. The risk of the world’s attention is taken up by COVID19 understandably so.

We want countries to come with real ambition. We decided that the policy side as well; it would be better if we delayed it to give countries the opportunity. For example, to publish National Determined Contributions, so that they can really help drive the fight against climate change. And we have seen that Rwanda is really setting a good example. Rwanda published her NDC (Nationally Determined Contributions) in the middle of the lockdown which is very ambitious and I think Rwanda is really showing countries what can be done.
You have been in Rwanda for a while.

What has been your experiences of the country in general?

Rwanda is very impressive. When anyone comes here and sees what they have achieved in the last twenty-six and a half years, it indicates there is huge amounts for us to learn. I am constantly impressed both by the progress being made but also by the openness of Rwanda to new things, to innovations, to technology, to different ways of doing things. If there is an international expert who can bring something to Rwanda, they are invited with open arms. I think that has helped Rwanda maintain momentum. I have really enjoyed travelling round the country seeing the conservation efforts in Akagera National Park or when you see the gorillas in their natural habitat. Again, fantastic story about how a disaster of the National Park has transformed and you now have very high-end tourists coming to see Rwanda which is on top of the list. I really have to comment a lot of what they have done.

What is the title of the book you are currently reading?

I can tell you the one I just read and concluded; it is the tenements (published in 2019) by Margaret Atwood. It is a sequel/follow up to The Handmaid’s Tale (published in 1985).


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