RWANDA – Qatar Airways is solidifying its aviation presence in the African market by purchasing shares in Rwanda’s national airline, RwandAir, to counter its current problems with its Gulf neighbours.

This is after its airline was banned from flying over neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain in mid-2017 due to a political dispute between the sides.

They were key markets for the airline and so buying a stake in RwandAir will support its expansion into Africa as an alternative market.

Kigali’s decision to sell shares in its national carrier to Qatar Airways is expected to shake Rwanda’s aviation industry and beyond, the East African reported.

The details of the deal between the two countries are sketchy with RwanadAir’s chief executive Yvonne Makolo refusing to comment on the development which is believed to be at an advanced stage with institutions from both carriers fast-tracking all the necessary processes to conclude it.

RwandAir has been making losses. However, it has still been expanding over the past decade due to financial injections from the government.

Aviation experts say the move by Qatar to buy shares in RwandAir could enable it to solidify its presence in the African market given its current woes with its Gulf neighbours.

Although it is still making losses, RwandAir has been expanding over the past decade, due to financial injections from the government, many of which are from external loans like the Eurobond.

RwandAir and Qatar are upbeat about the deal, which should be a win-win situation for both parties. For instance, RwandAir is looking forward to Qatar handling maintenance and other technical aspects of its operations, which have been weighing down the carrier.

President Paul Kagame has in the past said that the country was open to privatising RwandAir at the right time and if it made business sense.

With the carrier’s current expansion plans and the key role, it is expected to play in the country’s growth trajectory, it was just a matter of time before it sought a strategic partner.

In April, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was in Kigali on a three-day state visit and the two leaders held bilateral talks.

They also signed an agreement to bolster aviation investments and co-operation, with Qatar promising to become a major investor in Rwanda’s new Bugesera Airport.

The governments also signed an air service agreement; agreement on the Reciprocal Promotion and Protection of Investments; and a memorandum of understanding on economic, commercial, and technical co-operation.