Rwanda’s admission into the Commonwealth is almost inevitable considering the existing bon and shared practices between the country and many members of the 53-nation club, the State Minister for Cooperation Rosemary Museminari has said.
She observed that Rwanda’s geographical location and trading patterns demonstrate the legitimacy of its bid to join the group, which is largely composed of former British colonies, and the UK itself. Rwanda applied to join in 1995.
Formerly an exclusive Francophone nation, Rwanda was colonised by Belgians before independence in 1962, a development that instead ushered the country into decades of anarchy and public mismanagement.
However, following the independence, France took the centre stage in Rwanda’s politics gradually replacing Belgium in a country that would later suffer one of the worst genocides in human history in 1994, which claimed at least one million lives.
The country’s post-Genocide administration blamed France for involvement in the 100-day killing spree, and introduced ambitious socio-economic and political programmes aimed at opening up the landlocked nation to the outside world, and to build its economy around human resources.
And in order to make Rwandans competitive on the international market, the government immediately introduced English as a third national official language besides Kinyarwanda and French, thus a number of positive Anglophone practices gradually started to find their way into this formerly French-dominated society.
In June this year, Rwanda joined the East African Community (EAC), a regional community initially composed of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. All these countries use English.
“We believe we can share many useful things,” Museminari says of the country’s bid to join the Commonwealth which is due to be considered at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm), which gets underway tomorrow in Kampala, Uganda.
Kagame who addressed a Commonwealth Business Forum in Kampala on Tuesday is also expected to attend Chogm which will be chaired by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.
She denied that Rwanda’s move to join Commonwealth was intended to shut out Francophone practices and French as a language.
“There is no such plot at all; we have a right to do what we want. Rwanda applied in 1995 for admission and this was long time ago before we severed ties with France,” Museminari said in a recent interview before she left for the Chogm conferences in Kampala. Rwanda will attend as an observer.
Museminari said that the country’s policy is to remain a multi-lingual nation whose nationals speak English and French besides the native Kinyarwanda and Swahili.
She added that Rwanda’s membership into the EAC and its cordial relationship with Britain makes it eligible to join the group. Among admission conditions is the requirement for a country seeking membership to have a historical constitutional relationship with a Commonwealth member or substantial relationships with the group.
Commonwealth is believed to constitute over 40 percent of the World Trade Organisation, making it influential in global trade.
Member states handle trade worth $2.8 trillion annually with foreign direct investment outflows of $100 billion, which account for more than 20 percent of international trade and investment. “We are looking on the Karisimbi project which will help to revolutionise ICT communication in the region. Such projects would not be realised if we were not working with our regional partners,” Museminari added.
“The fact that we are already in EAC gives our candidature more chances to be accepted. Our business community and other sections of the society are already reaping from our membership to such larger communities,” she said. Claire Akamanzi, the Deputy Director General of Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency (Riepa) said: “Commonwealth is not about trade integration only. The Commonwealth will help in sharing good practices and values.”
Rwandans say their economic and political challenges are also shared with a number of Commonwealth members, particularly the developing countries.
They say they are all victims of unfair trade on the world market and exportation of unprocessed products.
For Rwanda, the benefits of joining the Commonwealth can be massive, as the country’s service industry has a lot to learn from their counterparts in member countries.
Rwanda’s membership to organisations like EAC, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) and probably eventually Commonwealth would enhance the country’s economic and political influence to embrace market economics, which could result into a more vibrant economy.
Rwanda’s membership to the Commonwealth will also open many opportunities in the education sector and increase sharing of development information between Commonwealth member countries.
Museminari says: “The reason we applied to join (Commonwealth) is because our country has strong links to the Commonwealth. Once we join, we would share with others several things like infrastructure and trade because countries join forces as a team. Of course we would be very happy to join the Commonwealth. We are waiting hoping we will be admitted.”
Where as some doubt the powers of Commonwealth to influence national and international politics arguing that the body has more to do with the British colonial interests, some say the group has the potential to influence international diplomacy and trade.
Analysts argue that Rwanda’s bid to join the Commonwealth is also a sign of her increasing effort to break away from France’s political influence.
A Rwandan cricket board was recently created. The game is popular in the UK and its former colonies.
Last year’s severing of relations between Rwanda and France climaxed years of bad blood between the former arch allies.
However, Museminari said: “I think for us, we have problems with the Government of France not the people of France. Our joining the EAC or the Commonwealth has nothing to do with language. It has much to do with trade, commerce and shared economic interests. Not because in those countries’ transactions are not in French.”
“Rwanda needs better education for our people and much more benefits. These benefits have begun bringing fruits to the country. The British Council is coming soon to Rwanda to train our teachers. We are certainly not going to the Commonwealth to speak better English, but to improve the economical, social and community benefits. French as a language is a tool of communication not a tool for fighting each other.”
A Commonwealth team led by former Jamaican Prime Minister Percival Patterson is to consider Rwanda’s application to join the Commonwealth in this week’s Chogm in Kampala.