There are certain moments that define a nation; none are more defining than the founding of that particular nation. In the case of Rwanda one can look at two moments that are truly definitive.
In the 1500’s the Mwami Ndoli established a centralised monarchy; until then Rwanda had been a loose conglomeration of autonomous kingdoms that fought and cooperated in equal measure.
He established a centralised court where all chiefs were required to be resident and his enduring legacy was a standing army.
The result of the centralised court was to unite Rwanda but it also made it isolationist and it turned inwards.
Nearly 350 years later in the 1840’s the usurper Rwogera turned away a caravan bound for Rwanda and banned any foreigners from entering Rwanda; thus a caravan of traders bound for Rwanda was diverted to the kingdom of Buganda.
Buganda was then a client-state of the dominant force in present-day Uganda Bunyoro-Kitara but Buganda was able to use outside trade to break free.
At a time when Rwanda’s regional power was slipping Buganda was ascending the arrival of colonial Britain cemented that power. It was not until the mid1890’s that the White Fathers came to Rwanda and found a kingdom in flux, still wary of foreign influence.
There are so many questions we can ask ourselves with regards to our history and future; what if Ndoli had opted for a devolved system of government? Or what if Rwogera had allowed that trade caravan to enter Rwanda?
Rwanda would have definitely become a different nation. As a result of this isolationism the only option was to turn inwards. The East African Community in its modern guise is an economic lifeline to Rwanda as well as being a chance to break out of our isolationist leanings.
It was 100 years after the arrival of Western civilization in Rwanda that a situation arose that brought a fundamental change in our collective mentalities. After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis, Rwandans from exile arrived and along with them came the different cultural outlook and customs they picked up for their places of exile.
In this respect Rwanda is truly East African, with large numbers of citizen who were born or grew up in this region. As with all questions of integration the main question is the extent to which we want to integrate.
Should it be political or merely economic? Should we have a single currency or single government? In the EU this question has divided the member-states, with Germany wanting full political union while other nations are lukewarm on the idea.
Firstly economic integration is paramount; it is already a reality on the ground, because, as a land-locked country, we rely heavily on our neighbours. The Kenya crisis one year ago showed us that even political problems affect other nations and therefore our President justly spoke out against the violence as it had an adverse effect on our economy.
Regional blocs are plentiful in Africa at the moment with SADC, ECOWAS, COMESA and the EAC. All these blocs have had varying degrees of success in integrating but the EAC has the best chance of success provided it remains realistic.
The original EAC broke down in the late 60’s because of lack of unity of purpose and the differing ideologies of the member-states; Nyerere wanted a socialist outlook, while Kenyatta was more capitalistic and Idi Amin merely psychopathic.
Now all member-states see the need for integration as essential for increasing efficiency, harmonising institutions and having free movement of goods and labour; all of which are essential in global trade.
The lesson to be learned from SADC is not to over-extend your reach; right now the SADC extends beyond its logistical limits which extend from Cape Town to Northern Congo.
The EAC is a tighter conglomeration based on reality and not mere aspirations, the common colonial history of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania; as well as the eagerness of Burundi and Rwanda make it easier to make the EAC prosper.
I urge Rwandans to travel around the region and see how our regional cousins live so we can better understand each other and just gain a worldlier outlook.