From Washington, to Beijing and finally the Vatican, March, we can safely say, was a month of diplomacy and also confirmed that Rwanda has a very good foreign affairs agenda.
The visit to the Vatican was an absolute historic moment between the Catholic Church’s spiritual General, Pope Francis and President Paul Kagame, who successfully led Rwanda’s liberation army against the Genocide to which the church is culpable.
For 23 years, Rwanda has been patiently waiting for an elaborate Papal pronouncement on the role of the church in the death of over one million people; with the Vatican meeting, can we say that the victims of the Genocide finally have an apology?
The statement issued following the Pope’s 30-minute closed door meeting with President Kagame, while remorseful, didn’t amount to a straight jacket apology worth the 23-years of painful waiting; however, it can be seen as a precursor to a formal apology, hopefully to follow soon.
In my view, this appears to be a carefully planned three-step strategy to the Church’s formal apology and the Vatican visit was step-two, coming after a statement that was issued by the Rwandan Catholic Church Bishops at the conclusion of their recent ‘Holy Year of Mercy.’
What is step-three likely to be?
Naturally, when you wrong your neighbor, you don’t invite them to your place to receive an apology for your wrongdoing; instead, you go to their house; however, before making the visit, you must send all the right signals to broadcast goodwill to make-up.
Under Pope Francis’ government, the Church has been broadcasting strong signals of goodwill around the world and this appears to be the case regarding Rwanda-Vatican relations.
Last year, Catholics here watched with consternation as the Pope tiptoed in the neighborhood, visiting Uganda and Kenya even when his Visa allowed him entry to a third country, Rwanda. But the timing wasn’t right. It finally is. The mood is right.
The Pope can now visit Rwanda. After the Vatican visit, the exchange of gifts between the two principals and the remorseful press release from the Holy-see, Rwandans can now receive the Pope with lighter hearts and straighten the mangled relationship with the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis knows that to apologize to Rwandans, he must actually come to Kigali, visit the Genocide Memorial and while there, pray for and ask the victims resting in the mass graves for forgiveness; of course they won’t talk back but that is what it will take.
As to when the Pope will be coming to Kigali, we can’t say with certainty but it certainly will be the climax to the three-step strategy to presenting the Church’s formal apology for its failings during the Genocide against the Tutsi, 23 years ago, this April.
Before President Kagame’s Papal meeting, he had held another high profile meeting, over 8000 kilometers away from the Vatican, in Beijing where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. This was the President’s second visit to Beijing since 1995.
Although Sino-Rwanda relations have been in place since 1971, it is fair to note that the country’s post-liberation international interaction (whether positive or negative) have largely been dominated by the West with China largely remaining in the shadows.
But before flying to China, Kagame addressed scholars at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government during which he acknowledged that ‘our world is changing rapidly and profoundly to a destination still unclear.”
He noted the current ‘global uncertainty’ in view of Donald Trump’s rise in the United States and other international developments such as Brexit.
The President noted that the ‘arrival of new administrations in United States have always meant a moment of ‘recalibration’ as governments, especially in Africa, realign themselves to the ways of the new US administrations.
“The policy of the United States on Africa has lacked strategic consistency for some time now,” said Kagame noting that these inconsistencies in policy should incite Africa to take the lead in defining the continent’s interests and positions on international developments.
How can Africa take the lead in defining its position in international debates? A good place to start is the United Nations General Assembly and how Africa votes during its key debates.
At the Kennedy School, Kagame spoke as an African Statesman under his mandate of giving the African Union a new image and if Africa is going to become bolder in international relations, it will need a consistent ally and one can’t look beyond China for a candidate.
Unlike USA, China’s policy on Africa has maintained strategic consistency of ‘mutual partnership, and non-interference in local politics’ throughout the various administrations of the Communist Party. When it comes to UN Politics, China wields a Veto vote which it has rarely exercised to influence key global decisions, instead, choosing to abstain from key votes.
In his bid to reform the African Union, Kagame will need China’s policy consistency especially as a strategic Veto ally in pushing through key resolutions that affect Africa’s interests, during UN debates; this is the right time to recalibrate the continent’s international alliances.