As a cool drizzle wetted the streets of Kigali during the evening rush hour, news trickled in that the British Prime Minister, Theresa May had announced that Rwanda will host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting commonly referred to by its acronym, CHOGM. The light chats around cold drinks and sizzling meats now moved to what this will mean for Rwanda besides another bout of terrible traffic and another feather in the MICE tourism hat.
But first things first, the Commonwealth of Nations or simply the Commonwealth is one of the most interesting interstate groupings. It is essentially a family of former territories of the British Empire. Some say it was Britain’s way or retaining control of lost colonies. Others have wondered why some countries would still want to fraternise with their former coloniser.
Ultimately the Commonwealth is a voluntary membership body and some have opted not to be part of it while others have applied to join even when they had no colonial links with Britain. Some have been there, left and then came back while others have been suspended and readmitted a couple of times. Mozambique was the first country to be admitted without direct historical links with Britain. In 2009, Rwanda became the second country to join the Commonwealth with no British history attached.
Rwanda joined soon after joining the East African Community and switching to English as the language of instruction in schools. As a member of the Commonwealth, Rwandan athletes also now get the chance to participate in the Commonwealth games which is a great platform for them to do their thing at a big stage before embarking on the Olympics and the paid ranks of the athletics calendar.
Now Rwanda will also have the privilege of hosting the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2020. This is no doubt a huge opportunity for Rwanda, a country that has placed huge bets on conference tourism and invested a lot in terms of infrastructure and branding in order to attract the same. Imagine hosting 53 heads of government in this Kigali that we have all grown to love. Many will immediately think of the trauma to endure when the roads are borrowed by our important visitors.
I just pray that by that time the good people at Traffic Police and those charged with protocol will have devised smoother ways of handling the traffic situation. They could even declare a public holiday or two if that helps the rest of us. Overall more sensitisation on what such large meetings mean for the country in general and to the average person will be crucial. As a teacher I also hope that we can now make an effort to find out more about the Commonwealth, a body that includes countries like Tuvalu that has a population of about 10,000.
In the meantime I hope those concerned will start on the preparations and not wait for the last minute to place grass and flowers where they think our visitors will be looking as they move between the airport and the main venue for the event. We have had other events like AU summits to rehearse and CHOGM should be smooth sailing. Oh, and by the way, Prince Charles will be the chief guest now that he is taking over as the Head of the Commonwealth.
Before Prince Charles flies into Rwanda, we should expect another guest in the form of the flamboyant Nairobi Governor, Gideon Mbuvi aka Mike Sonko. Sonko was one of the Kenyan leaders that accompanied President Uhuru Kenyatta during the inauguration of President Paul Kagame. I was privileged to attend the event at Amahoro Stadium and I remember Sonko moving around with a note book after saying he had come to literally take notes on what makes Kigali tick.
It now appears that he must have lost his notebook and all its notes. As one who still relies on notebooks to curate random ideas and take notes I can imagine the anguish. And so now he has decided that he will be visiting Kigali again and bringing with him 100 matatu drivers, 100 boda boda drivers and 100 small scale traders/ hawkers. They are coming over to see and learn for themselves and take the lessons back home. I just hope that when they come, they keep their notebooks safely. I don’t want to debate the cost implications of flying in 300 people for this class on efficient city management but I do know that hotel owners will be happy to host these Nairobians.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.