Rwanda was in 2009 admitted into the Commonwealth Group of Nations, a community of 52 advanced and developing independent states with about 2.4 billion people.
Rwanda was the second member to be admitted into the Commonwealth without any direct British colonial connection or constitutional link after Mozambique.
At the time of admission there was general excitement of the opportunities the membership presented for the country in aspects such as trade, expertise among other issues.
The New Times’ Collins Mwai had an interaction with the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Patricia Janet Scotland, to understand the impacts and ongoing interventions.
Below are excerpts:
It’s about 8 years since Rwanda became a member of the Commonwealth, what would you say the country has to show for it after the period?
One of the most important things is that Rwanda shared common values with the 52 Commonwealth nations. The community has a total of 2.4billion people 60 per cent of who are under the age of 30 and in Rwanda you have a population which is 70 per cent under the age of 30. It is a very young population.
If we are looking at our future, global problems that face us from wealth creation to climate change, employability among others are things we have in common.
The Commonwealth Charter embodies in 16 clauses the sustainable development goals which was committed to by the entire world.
If you look at the trajectory that Rwanda has been on for its future, developing dynamic and holistic systems, it very much reflects what the commonwealth has been doing. We have created a number of new opportunities. The best for Rwanda is what has been done about women empowerment to have about 64 per cent of those in parliament as women.
We have been promoting women empowerment and women inclusion. We have also been promoting the development in terms of young people. We have the youth development index which I know Rwanda is using as the development index in relation to young people.
There are also issues in relation to trade. There is a trade advantage being a member of Commonwealth. It is 19 per cent easier, faster and better in many ways to trade within the Commonwealth. We are looking at how to put the ‘wealth’ back into Commonwealth and sharing best practices as we are a network of networks. Our next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is going to be in the United Kingdom in April 2018 and we are going to have four forums looking at women, business, youth and civil society. This will give us a chance to look into issues that are important things to all member countries.
Speaking of trade, what are the current levels of trade within the community and what are some of the opportunities that we can tap into to increase access to international market?
We have been producing a lot of information about how to access markets. For instance, Rwanda and the East African market have been doing a good job producing leather and leather goods. That has not penetrated the wider market as well as it could have done. We in the Commonwealth have come together with the East African region, including Rwanda to see how we can design and add value in leather production.
In the trade aspect, some people are referring to us as “match dot com” because we are looking at markets that are needed and producers and putting the two together. At the moment, intra-Commonwealth trade is quite low at about 17 per cent bearing in mind that we have the 19 per cent advantage.
There is an opportunity for us to see what we can do to enhance that market. Which is largely about trade facilitation. As you may be aware, the World Trade organisation has issued an important new approach to trade facilitation.
In the Commonwealth, we are taking that to say how we can create the tools to make it possible and easier for our countries to trade with one another be it interoperable measures, regulations, rules, standards among others.
If we were able to enhance the facilitation, we would be able to increase trade from the current 17 per cent which is quite low. I would like to increase that to about 30 per cent or more. The facilitation and sharing of best practices is going to help us to increase the facilitation. We have six different regions across the world which gives us a platform to be in position to achieve that.
To be able to access a bigger market, what is expected from countries like Rwanda?
I am delighted in the way Rwanda is developing its digital economy. I am delighted with say how Rwanda is rolling out its healthcare to make access to service easy. I am delighted that women have been empowered.
What Rwanda has done, invested in human capital and to drive innovation. At the Commonwealth, I am at the cusp of launching an innovation hub to ensure that innovation happening at the commonwealth is available all across. Rwanda is one of those innovators. If you think about what Rwanda has done in terms of aspects such as health care, it is using E-assisted healthcare.
Already Rwanda is being a very innovative partner. What I would hope that we have is a better platform for inter-connection to allow for networking between member states so that we can copy each other. We will also be able to learn from some of our failures to further help each other. Rwanda has already been generous to welcome countries to learn from them how they have rebuilt the economy, the country and development.
On admission into the community, among ways the country expected to benefit from was better expertise and input in issues of development financing beyond aid and assistance. What is Commonwealth doing in this regard?
One of the things we have been looking at is how we can take advantage of the diaspora investment. All developing countries are in receipt of remittances from the diaspora living elsewhere. As you mentioned, the world’s economy has been fairly stagnant, until this year, we were growing by about 2 per cent. Recently the World Bank said that we are growing by about 3.7 per cent. If you look at countries that are growing well. It is countries that are investing in human capital. We are looking to see if there is interest in creating a diaspora investment bond to enable people living in the diaspora invest in infrastructure among other areas in their own countries and see if we can get a good return. We are also looking at seeing whether there is an appetite to create a vulnerability index because the other thing that developing countries suffer from is the threat of climate change.
You can see some countries like mine in Dominica which have been devastated by Hurricane Maria but then Bermuda which is also on the Caribbean had been earlier devastated by a hurricane. We would like to see how as international community can help countries that are struggling with challenges in climate to respond more quickly. The digital divide is going to be hugely important if we look to the future that may be one of the catalysts to have development going on quickly so that we can have a situation where no one is left behind.
Human rights is an aspect covered by the Community. In previous months, there have been a number of negative reports which have emerged to be untrue on the human rights situation in the country. What are your thoughts on this evaluations and reports?
I think you put your finger on it when you said, people who do not come here. It is important for people to come but also come and see everything. Knowledge is a very powerful thing. It is also very important for us to accept that all countries in the world without exception have challenges. It is also very important to understand that we all are striving to do better. None of us have created heaven on earth, it is important for us to be open and be willing to learn about each other.
Considering the role of the United Kingdom in Commonwealth, what is likely to be the impact of Brexit to member states and any chance we can mitigate negative impacts?
We have done a huge amount on Brexit, we have tried to look at the impact on East Africa among other regions. Generally there are opportunities created by Brexit should the United Kingdom be able to negotiate more freely with its partners on trade deals. There are also risks because most of our countries have used the United Kingdom as a bridge to access the European market. The United Kingdom is very sensitive and wish to do everything they can to make sure that countries who deal with them for that purpose are not disadvantaged or undermined in their trade position because of it. Change happens, there are good things that come out of it and there are things which will be more challenging, the most important thing from a Commonwealth point of view is that we should go forward together so that we can take advantage of the positive opportunities and hopefully the most difficult issues.
You are in the country for the inauguration of the international cricket stadium, why is this significantly important to you?
I think cricket is one of those games that is attached to the Commonwealth and is about fairness and community engagement. It is not something solely for men and boys, it is also for women, girls and grandparents all of whom can participate. In Rwanda, it has been used as one of the vehicles for peace and enabled people to deliver real change. It is important that we are here to support the launch of Rwanda’s First cricket stadium, it is amazing development for Rwanda and Alby Shale who took in on after the passing of his father. I think that it is emblematic of what can be done.