Africa/Middle East | Monocle

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Me and my motorcade no. 56

Behind the wheel

President Paul Kagame — RWANDA

Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s 57-year old president, is renowned for his ascetic austerity and personal probity. He spurns the trend for the well-armed, top-of-the-range motors that typically constitute an African presidential motorcade. Instead he opts for a downsized presence: just two or three Mercedes-Benzes and a couple of Toyota Landcruisers.

Were it not for the sirens and the plain-clothed officers leaning out of the window to wave vehicles to the roadside you might not even notice Kagame passing by. At times the president even drives himself, although some wags suggest this is only when the cameras are on him. Kagame’s exceptionalism – like much else in his country – is carefully cultivated.

It is said that lengthy presidential motorcades in Africa have a dual purpose: to intimidate the impoverished masses and protect despised despots. In Rwanda, Kagame has little need for either as his grip on the country has been unrelenting since his rebel army ended the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people, mostly from his own Tutsi ethnic group, were murdered.

Now there is talk of changing the constitution to allow Kagame to run for another seven-year term when his current mandate expires in 2017. Kagame insists he is not behind the movement but nothing happens in Rwanda without his word. When it comes to both cars and country, Kagame likes to be in the driving seat.

Fleet expansion


France has been rolling out buses and launching boats to bolster its influence in the Middle East. The French Development Agency (afd) has funded a new network in Amman at a cost of $166m (€150m), which will put 150 high-capacity buses on the streets of Jordan’s capital.

In Egypt the afd is eyeing an expansion of Alexandria’s blue tram network. France’s transit push gathered steam in 2013 when the agency funded two projects in Turkey: an extension to Istanbul’s metro and the purchase of 15 new vapur ferries in Izmir. Greener policy may be the result but it’s the blue-white-and-red tricolour that’s making it happen.

Making waves


In the south of Iran, several new ports are vying for supremacy as the prime shipping route into the country. The newest contender is Qeshm, a sleepy but gas-rich island in the Strait of Hormuz, which has allowed foreigners to enter without visas since last year. It now plans to expand its port, restarting construction of an ambitious bridge to the mainland, and even has designs on a Formula One circuit. Qeshm’s announcements come in the wake of a contentious deal between Iran and India to build the Port of Chabahar, which will give India the land-sea route to Afghanistan and Central Asia that it has long sought.

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