The several foreign missions Rwanda has been engaged in over the last three months have seen the country strengthen its relations with countries across the globe.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs Louise Mushikiwabo, yesterday, hosted a news conference where she briefed journalists about the various diplomatic activities.
“In the last few months, President Kagame had multiple engagements around the world to share his views on international affairs.
“From Beijing to Boston, via London President Kagame shared thoughts and Rwanda’s position on issues pertaining to our interests,” Mushikiwabo said. “Our engagements abroad are backed by the tremendous citizen-led achievements at home.”
She added that the President’s invitation to address the top US-Israel policy Forum AIPAC in Washington DC, last month, was in recognition of the excellent ties Rwanda enjoys with Israel. President Kagame is the first African leader to address the Forum.
The minister further disclosed that the engagements are on-going with the President scheduled to visit Djibouti within two weeks while the Ethiopian Prime Minister is expected to visit Rwanda end April.
Another prominent foreign engagement addressed by the Minister was the President’s visit to the Vatican and the acknowledgement by Pope Francis of the failings by the Catholic Church and its members during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The minister reiterated that the show of remorse by the pontiff is a giant step that will significantly improve relations with the Vatican.
For over two decades after the end of the Genocide, the Catholic Church’s silence about its role in the pogrom was considered by Rwandans as unacceptable.
But that resentment was somehow appeased by Pope Francis’s words when he met President Paul Kagame at the Vatican City last month.
After meeting the President, the Pope issued a statement in which he asked for God’s forgiveness for the failure of the Church and its members who participated in the Genocide.
“He implored anew God’s forgiveness for the sins and failings of the Church and its members, among whom priests, and religious men and women who succumbed to hatred and violence, betraying their own evangelical mission,” the Vatican said in a statement after the meeting.
Despite criticism by some Rwandans and other observers that the pope’s apology was not enough to calm spirits in Rwanda, Mushikiwabo said that the move is laudable given its potential to mend ties between the Church and Rwanda.
She said that the relationship between the Church and Rwanda has been very difficult since the end of the Genocide and the pontiff’s move can only be welcomed as a significant step in the right direction.
“We are a heavily Catholic population. For the Church to say ‘we have absolutely failed as a Church’, while all along what was recognised by the Church was individual responsibilities, I don’t think this should be qualified as nothing,” she said.
The role of the Catholic Church in the Genocide, which claimed more than a million lives, dates back to the colonial era when Catholic institutions and missions worked with the colonial administration to entrench divisions among Rwandans, sowing the seeds for genocide ideology.
But the Church’s role became more evident during the Genocide when some clerics became active perpetrators and some of them were convicted of the crime after the slaughter by both Rwandan and international courts.
While some Genocide survivors welcomed the pope’s recognition of the Church’s role in the slaughter with further requests for the Vatican to take part in paying reparations to survivors, the foreign affairs minister called for calmness.
“It’s important to understand that in relationships between countries, nobody gets 100 percent of what they want. Relationships are about give and take. What is clear to this government is that out of that very important discussion between His Holiness and the President was an element that is going to positively change the relationship between Rwandans in general and the Catholic Church. There is no question about it,” she said.
In line with advancing relations between Rwanda and the Vatican, Mushikiwabo told journalists that President Paul Kagame has invited Pope Francis to visit Rwanda.