In her work,‘the secret life of bees’ Sue Monk Kidd observed that, “if you need something from somebody, always give that person a way to hand it to you”. I couldn’t think of a better statement to aptly describe Rwanda’s diplomacy in 2018.
Towards the end of October, it’s not too early to begin analyzing the year and for Rwanda’s diplomacy, it’s not an exaggeration to assert that this will go down as one of the country’s best, both at home and away, especially from the international relations front.
Rwanda’s post-1994 diplomacy template is one that international relations scholars need to study closely, as one of the areas where the country has arguably performed best, tactfully managing to navigate through powerful players to safeguard its own national interests.
For this commentary’s case, we can track that record from November 2009, when Rwanda was admitted into the Commonwealth becoming the first non-formerly British colony, after Mozambique, to join the 50 plus Anglophone grouping of former British colonies.
As a former colony of the Belgians, the move to dine with the Queen’s party was not only brave but also a strategic way of giving, in Sue Monk Kidd’s words, the British, a way to extend Rwanda with substantial development aid at a time when it was most needed.
With just nine years of membership in the Commonwealth, Rwanda was in April 2018, announced the host of the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) slated for 2020.
In the same year, on October 12, 2018, Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, who was fresh in the role when the country became a Commonwealth member, was unanimously confirmed the 4th Secretary General of Organization Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF).
Mushikiwabo’s unanimous victoryas Africa’s and Rwanda’s candidate of choice, was yet another major highlight of the country’s ability at the art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations.
President Kagame’s ability to convince and influence his counterparts to front Rwanda’s candidate as Africa’s, was aided by his own election as Chairperson of the African Union in January, at the 30th Ordinary Session ofthe Assembly of Heads of State.
The OIF is a big deal; probably bigger than the Commonwealth as it comprises of 84-member states and governments compared to the latter’s 53 members. The two groupings, led by two European powers, in UK and France, are naturally competing to retain influence on African states.
But Rwanda has managed to secure its interests, winning big from both sides, getting the honours to host the CHOGM 2020 and leading the OIF for a four-year term. No wonder, one of the definitions of diplomacy is, the ‘skill of handling affairs without arousing hostility.’
On its admission into the Commonwealth in 2009, analysts pointed to the frosty bilateral ties between Rwanda and France and saw Kigali’s dining with the Queen’s Anglophone party as an act of breaking ties with the France’s Francophonie grouping.
When Ambassador Mushikiwabo’s candidature for the OIF was first revealed, early this year, that history immediately popped up, with early analysts pointing out that Rwanda’s move to join the Commonwealth would mar her otherwise solid profile, especially as a fluent French speaker.
Those factors were fair enough, yet they didn’t stop Mushikiwabo’s October victory which became eminent the moment Canada withdrew support for its own and incumbent, Michaëlle Jean. So, the question is, what was the swinging factor in her campaign?
President Paul Kagame’s charisma and the respect he enjoys among his counterparts made it possible for him to unite Africa behind the Rwandan candidate. But credit also goes to Mushikiwabo who has built an appealing brand of a diplomat, in her decade at Foreign affairs.
The other factor was the May Meeting between French President Emmanuel Macron and Paul Kagame at the Élysée Palace as Paris sought to improve bilateral ties with Kigali, following years of tension. The meeting ended with Macron endorsing Mushikiwabo’s candidature.
In a nutshell, 2018 has been a defining year for Rwandan diplomacy. It has proven that an African country can navigate the influence of international super powers to pursue its own interests. Without a doubt, Rwanda has stepped on many a toe, in the past, in pursuit of its interests.
But victories of this year have shown that, Rwandan diplomats have mastered the tact stepping on a man’s toes without messing up the shine on their shoes.”
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