Rwanda will, in June, host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, popularly commonly known by its acronym CHOGM. The event brings together politicians, businesses, and many other personalities from over 50 countries. As the build-up to the event gains momentum, The New Times’ (TNT) Jade Natacha Iriza spoke to the British High Commissioner to Rwanda, Omar Daair on what the Commonwealth means, tips for delegates and who is expected to attend, among other topics. CHOGM is only 3 months away, and you are part of the preparations, how are those going? Preparations are hard work for any of these big events. The UK recently did the climate summit and that was a lot of work. I know this will be too, but I have a lot of confidence in the government of Rwandas ability to pull these events off. Weve seen them do big conferences before and they worked really well. I think what its going to mean is all of us working together to make sure we get the programs in place, that the events are strong, that were using a diverse range of organizations to help us. One of the things I think that is also very helpful is that we have done some of this planning before. The CHOGM summit was postponed from last year because of COVID. So we had a bit of practice last year, but Im very confident now that it is going to happen this year and that the government is going to host it very well. Who should we expect to attend the summit? Prince Charles, the Royal highnesses will be coming so we are excited about this. The prince is the future head of the Commonwealth. We will also expect world leaders from around the Commonwealth to come, including our own. So we would expect the UK prime minister to attend, were waiting for final confirmation of that. But well also be expecting numbers of foreign ministers, perhaps ministers of trade or environment to come…Its going to be a really huge event. What does hosting CHOGM mean for Rwanda, the youth? In June, the eyes of the world are going to be on Rwanda. I think thats a really exciting time for us to show off the country. People are going to come here and see what an ambitious, dynamic, beautiful country it is, but its also a chance for Rwanda to help shape the future of the organization. Talk about how we can use the Commonwealth to big challenges that we all face like global health and climate change. I think the government of Rwanda is going to do a really good job on that. Therell be three forums as part of the run-up to CHOGM, a youth forum, a business forum, and a womens forum. There are also other organizers that are attached to the Commonwealth such as a Commonwealth youth council, a Commonwealth youth forum, which are ways that we seek to get engagement from young people and how the organization should change. How would you explain the Commonwealth to a young person? The Commonwealth is a family of nations of 54 countries that are bound together by a number of things; by history, by shared values, by our commitment to supporting trade and investment across the community. Its an organization that spans the globe, it goes from America, through Europe, Africa, Asia, Australasia. Its a really diverse group of nations. A lot is said about the Commonwealth being about shared values; in a nutshell, what are those values? Support for prosperity across the Commonwealth, and an overriding sense of equality of all people in the Commonwealth. It doesnt matter what your gender is, what colour your skin is, how much money you have, who you love. The Commonwealth values are that we are all equal and were all working together in this family. Democracy is a very important value that we all share, and respect for human rights. How did the idea of the Commonwealth come about? The origins come from colonial days, from the relationship between the United Kingdom and colonial countries, but it has evolved into something much more modern. Its a partnership of equals who share values, who want to increase cooperation amongst that group, and who support the same ideas of democracy of peace and prosperity. Rwanda is a good example. We had no colonial relationship here, but Rwanda saw the benefits of joining and we were very happy that they did. There are other countries, for example, Mozambique that have done the same thing. Commonwealth Day was celebrated on March 14, what were the highlights of the day? We had a number of events. We had the final of our Commonwealth debates competition between schools across Rwanda. They were talking about how the youth can contribute to the future of the Commonwealth, which was really exciting. We also had an event with the government of Rwanda talking about a similar issue and talking about how we can all contribute to the values that CHOGM is going to put forward in June later this year. We wanted to raise the awareness of the Commonwealth amongst the youth. Across the Commonwealth, 60% of the population is under the age of 30 so its a very young organization. I think its important that young people, including students, know what it means. What it can do for them and how they can influence the future of the organization. What was your take from the school debate? There were some interesting discussions, including how you encourage more women to be in scientific stem programs, which I thought was really interesting. We had discussions about what the balance should be between the youth and the older people in terms of how you influence this organization [Commonwealth]. And when we were talking to the young people about what they learned from debating, they said things like skills of listening to each other, skills of critical thinking, and skills of self-confidence… So for me, it wasnt just the benefit of sharing the understanding of the Commonwealth, but also of building those skills amongst the young. Which activities would you recommend for visiting delegates? Kigali is going to be quite busy in the month of June, but there are many I could recommend. There are the Nyandungu wetlands, which is a beautiful place. I think given how busy Kigali is going to be, it will be great to have that escape to somewhere where theres nature and beautiful birds. There are also opportunities to take around the country. I know theres Akagera National Park, which is beautiful, there’s the visit to the gorillas, as well as visiting Lake Kivu. The other thing that I would recommend people to do while theyre here is to get out and meet non-governmental elements, to meet civil society organizations, to talk to young people at universities and so on, because I think to really understand the country, you have to talk to all members of that society. Any food or drinks particular to Rwanda you would recommend? I recently tried making banana beer or a non-alcoholic version of banana beer, which was fun and I could recommend to people to try that. I have become a big fan of ‘dodo’ since Ive been here and I have tried it in a lot of different recipes, so I think thats also good. In Nyamirambo you can do the womens walking tour, which is another good event to do in Kigali, you can finish that with a cooking session and taste some local food from one of the really great cooks that they work with. Final thoughts to add? One of the things that people are going to learn when they come to Kigali, is how dynamic the young people here are. I have done a lot of events with youth since I arrived in Rwanda July last year, and Ive been really impressed by the range of things. Theyre doing business, the ideas they come up with. I think thats exactly what we need to tap into for the Commonwealth and to drive it forward.