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Rwanda: Qatar Airways acquires 60% of the new Kigali Airport

The Government of Rwanda has signed an MoU for Qatar Airways to take a 60% stake in a new $1.3bn international airport in Rwanda.

Less than a week after Rwanda signed a partnership with Paris-Saint-Germain (PSG), Qatar Airways has become the owner of the new Bugesera airport, still under construction. An investment in RwandAir is also under discussion.

Qatar’s African investment strategy is accelerating. The Rwandan government and Qatar Airways signed an investment partnership on 9 December, whereby the airline will take 60% of the new Bugesera International Airport (East of Kigali), a project worth nearly $1.3bn, initially scheduled for completion in 2020.

The airport partnership has three components: construction, ownership, and operation of the infrastructure. Qatari officials went to Kigali to discuss the project in March.

Last year, the government suspended the work begun in 2016 by the Portuguese company Mota-Engil to resize the project, which was initially valued at $818m.

An air route from Doha to Kigali

While Kigali welcomed 977,631 passengers in 2018, the new terminal has greater ambitions. It will be designed to accommodate up to 7 million passengers per year (well above the 4.5 million planned with the previous Portuguese partner) and 14 million by 2032.

Bugesera airport is likely to be only a part of the air alliance that is being formed between Kigali and Doha. An investment in RwandAir is also under discussion. When asked about the project in November, RwandAir executive director Yvonne Makolo refused to comment.

The alliance looks good on paper. With losses of nearly $50m each year since its creation in 2003, RwandAir would see a solid technical and financial partner able to support its development and hub strategy.

Bypassing the Saudi blockade

On the Qatari side, a future rapprochement would allow Qatar Airways to bypass the embargo that forces all its flights to Africa to avoid Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.

The new Kigali airport could thus attract everyday air traffic from African countries to Doha, where Qatar Airways’ aircraft could fly under RwandAir flight numbers. Inversely, those of Rwandair could be code-shared with Qatar Airways.

All this without fear of flying over Saudi Arabia.

This will allow RwandAir to increase its range and Qatar Airways to reduce flight times to West and Central Africa… and possibly catch up with Emirates and Ethiopian Airlines on the continent.

Indeed, the rapprochement between Rwanda and Qatar Airways has wider aims.

In particular, it will give Doha access to Rwandan arable land, to diversify its sources of supply and to buy Rwandan agricultural products and transport them by air. Qatar currently depends heavily on Turkey and Iran, two capricious partners.

This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.

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