Remarks for Ambassador Peter Vrooman
Nebraska-Rwanda State Partnership Program Virtual Workshop
Thursday, January 14, 2021
« as prepared for delivery »
Good afternoon to everyone joining in Rwanda and Germany, and good morning to everyone joining today’s workshop from the great state of Nebraska in the United States.
I want to convey special greetings to the Honorable Lt. Governor Foley and the Honorable Minister of Defence, Major General Murasira. I would also like to thank General Kazura, Major General Bohac, and Deputy Director Get for being here today.
It is great to see so many influential leaders participate in this type of bilateral engagement, and it emphasizes the importance that both Rwanda and the State of Nebraska place on this partnership. I hope Governor Pete mentions the SPP in his State of the State!
As we enter the second year of this partnership, I look forward to seeing tangible benefits to both the Rwanda Defence Force and the Nebraska National Guard. Lt. Gov Foley mentioned the impact of floods on highways and rivers in Nebraska. The RDF also plays a major role here in Rwanda during times of torrential rains – itumba – and keeping vital lines of communications open.
There is no doubt that the past year has been more challenging than we imagined when the partnership was formalized just over a year ago, in December 2019. The very real dangers posed by COVID-19 have prevented many of the engagements that were planned for 2020.
However, we have all learned a great deal during the past year about how to work outside of our traditional roles to engage on many fronts in the global fight against this virus.
Both Rwanda and Nebraska share world-famous canopy walks, the top-rated Nyungwe National Park Canopy Walk “Ikiraro” in Rwanda and the new Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure in Nebraska. Whether we are in Rwanda or Nebraska, we need to use these virtual canopy walks to safely scan the horizons where we live and, importantly, to avoid the dangers posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both the RDF and the National Guard have been very involved combating the spread of this disease in their local communities, and have many lessons to share with each other. From mobile testing teams, logistical support, and patient care to vaccination planning, distribution, and administration, both organizations have been critical to their respective governments’ ability to respond to this crisis.
This year has also forced us all to learn to better communicate in a virtual setting, and until conditions allow for international travel, we must continue to engage virtually. This is more challenging for some engagements than others, but I encourage you to think creatively and continue the important work that we began a year ago.
To Lt. Gov Foley’s comment about the Ag economy of Nebraska, I want to highlight that Nebraskans are making a huge impact here in Rwanda through the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and the Rwandan Institute of Conservation Agriculture. Rwanda like Nebraska is an ag economy. Two hundred Rwanda students have studied at UNL – and this has grown into the University Partnership Exchange fellowship that will help expand connections between Rwandan and American universities.
I encourage you to begin to plan for the eventual resumption of in-person, bilateral engagements during this workshop. Although we don’t yet know when this will occur, our future engagements will have to be designed to gain the maximum benefit in order to meet our shared objectives. This means we must have the right people engaging the right audience with the right material.
As you plan future SPP activities, focus on providing value-added engagements to areas where AFRICOM and the RDF have existing partnerships. The Nebraska National Guard is uniquely qualified to provide reoccurring engagements that will help sustain the great investments that Rwanda and the United States have made to train and equip peacekeeping forces, which are deployed in some of the toughest operations in the world, including South Sudan, Darfur, and the Central African Republic (CAR). I want to extend my condolences on the death of a Rwandan peacekeeper in CAR yesterday.
As a final note, thank you to all of the commanders, staff, and participants that will engage in the panels and discussion groups. These discussions will serve as catalyst to plan future security cooperation engagements, and I am confident that these will be a great benefit to both the RDF and the Nebraska National Guard. These conversations present opportunities to refine skills as military professionals, and more effectively address the challenges we will face in the ever-changing world of national, regional, and global security.