Mongolia’s ‘Third Neigbour’ foreign policy made me wonder who Rwanda’s first or second neighbour is.
Like individuals, countries too need friends for those times when they a helping hand. That is the nature of international politics; where relations are forged on alliances in order to safeguard geo-political and economic interests.
Take Syria as an example, President Barrack Obama was eleven seconds away from pressing the attack button when Russia rushed in with an eleventh hour proposal that has saved President Assad’s regime thus far.
During a recent interview with CCTV-news in Beijing, Mongolia’s foreign minister explained that under their third neigbour policy, they tell other nations to understand that the first and second place are already taken by China and Russia respectively.
“So anyone else is free to be our third neigbour (friend) but not first or second,” the minister explained.
It’s understandable because Mongolia is sandwiched between Russia in the North and China down South—both wealthy countries with deep voices on the UN Security Council.
Both China and Russia have ruled Mongolia in the past, China for 200 years under the Qing dynasty until 1911 and later Russia, during the glory days of the Soviet Union.
Economically, Mongolia is rich in copper, gold, uranium and coal and both China and Russia are eager customers.
But other states too want a share of these minerals and Mongolia’s third neigbour approach could be seen as a balancing act of international relations—making new friends while firmly keeping the old ones.
Julian Dierkes (2011) writes that Mongolia’s most prominent third neighbours include Canada, the EU (especially Germany and UK), South Korea and the US.
Since the liberation victory in 1994, Rwanda has practiced what you could call ‘open hug diplomacy,’ by embracing everyone that’s willing to be part of the country’s renaissance project.
In 2009 when Rwanda joined the EAC, it sought to benefit from the competitive advantages of integration but even in such a situation, Rwanda must know its closest friends for a rainy day.
There are probably three factors that would guide Rwanda’s choice of its two closest regional neigbours; political history, geographical proximity and trade relations.
It appears that by accepting to be part of the EAC’s ‘coalition of the willing,’ Rwanda anointed Uganda and Kenya as its two best friends in the region with whom they could expedite mutually beneficial projects such as the railway.
Yet based on the three factors cited above its Uganda that scores highly on all especially given its inside role in the liberation war that toppled the Genocidal regime.
Geographically, Uganda also enjoys more proximity with Rwanda than Kenya a factor which makes it score more points when it comes to trade.
In fact, Uganda is Rwanda’s biggest regional source of imports according to the Ministry of Trade and commerce.
Recently, when Tanzania expelled Rwandan nationals in that country, many went to Uganda where they have relatives. Actually, the Ugandan constitution recognises Banyarwanda as one of the country’s tribes meaning Uganda can be a second home to many Rwandans.
So under third neigbour diplomacy, there’s little argument that Uganda would scoop the first slot but the second slot is rather tricky.
Kenya’s biggest attraction to Rwanda is in trade. As a landlocked country, Kenya’s port is important for Rwanda, accessible via a direct road route through another friendly country, Uganda.
Kenya is also Rwanda’s leading source of Regional Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) providing hundreds of jobs, paying revenue and helping grow the economy.
It scores very little in terms of political history besides the fact that Nairobi is where the Rwandese Alliance for National Unity was first formed in the early days of the liberation project.
The other nominee is a controversial one, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Trade wise, DRC is a very vital market for Rwanda’s exports buying over 50% of non-commodity exports in 2010. According to the Trade Ministry, Rwanda export volumes to DRC grew by 81% in 2012.
Trade aside, DRC is a prominent player in Rwanda’s political history and just like Uganda; Congo is a second home to many Rwandans. Between 2009 and 2010, relations between Kinshasa and Kigali had warmed with the two governments cooperating on how to eradicate the FDLR problem, before the M23 saga erupted.
Given the trade, political history and the close geographical distance between Kigali and Goma, Rwanda’s interests in a peaceful DRC are indisputable for a peaceful DRC could return as much benefits for Rwanda as the entire EAC combined.
It’s quite possible that besides Uganda, DRC has the potential to be Rwanda’s closest ally if the former fixed its political and governance problems.
Kenneth Agutamba is post graduate student of Communication at the University of China, Beijing.