While perhaps a trite observation, it is important to remind ourselves that Rwanda is, and always will be, an African country located in the Great Lakes Region. This fundamental geopolitical reality, which could be seen as a handicap in the world of international relations, must be central in framing our foreign policy, an area where geography matters.
Since geography matters in international relations, the challenge for states like Rwanda is to continually search for, and create, our political, economic and diplomatic relevance which will ensure our continued well-being and survival. To do that, we have to be that much more agile and nimble; indeed we have to be extraordinary. We must not only be a successful country, but we must stand out.
Therefore, it is imperative for Rwanda to continue seeking a maximum number of friends, while maintaining the freedom to be a sovereign and independent nation. Both parts of the equation – a maximum number of friends and freedom to be ourselves - are equally important and inter-related.
Friendship in international relations is not a function of goodwill or personal affection. Rather, it is an imperative tool in building our relevance so that other countries have an interest in our continued survival and prosperity as a sovereign and independent nation. To make these friendships work, though, Rwanda must differentiate itself from others in the neighbourhood and have a competitive edge. Doing so across a wide variety of indicators has allowed Rwanda to rise above geographical and resource constraints, and be accepted as a serious player in regional and international fora.
However, despite Rwanda’s success and its ability to stand out as a sovereign, independent, and successful country, we can never forget that we are a part of the unpredictable Great Lakes Region, which has its own special features. No matter our level of independence and sovereignty, the region’s unique character will always affect us, as we also will on the rest of the region.
Therefore, in our quest to make as many friends as possible, we must differentiate ourselves from our neighbours in order to compete and survive, while simultaneously getting along with them. This is a perennial foreign policy challenge.
Working together under the East African Community (EAC), the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL) and other joint initiatives has also helped. Rwanda is now more established, internationally and regionally. We have a strong economy, a developed civil service with integrity and ability, a mature and capable foreign policy team, and we have institutionalised our systems. We have strategic relationships with the major powers. We have a credible defence capability. The RDF is insurance in an uncertain world.
Each generation of Rwandans must build on these assets and create their solutions to new problems, seize new opportunities to forestall possible disasters in an ever-changing world.
The challenge is to remain competitive. To do so, we must remain a cohesive and tolerant nation based on meritocracy. We must strengthen our national consciousness at a time when the forces of globalisation are deconstructing the very notion of nationhood. And all the while, we must retain our strategic relations with an ever-growing number of friends around the world.
All countries face this challenge. So long as the succeeding generations of Rwandans do not forget the fundamentals of our vulnerabilities and remain alert, cohesive and realistic, Rwanda will survive and prosper.
Ultimately, our foreign policy will mirror the trajectory and profile of our domestic achievements, which in turn, will boil down to the quality and diligence of our people. In the end it all comes down to the quality of our people