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Rwanda: Kagame plays franco-anglo balancing act

Damien Glez
By Damien Glez

A French/Burkinabé artist and editorialist.

Posted on Wednesday, 29 January 2020 09:14, updated on Tuesday, 10 November 2020 17:29


At the UK-Africa Investment Summit, Rwanda’s president announced his plans to exempt from visa requirements foreign nationals from member states of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) and the African Union.

The move allows him to play the African integration card while also keeping British and French powers finely balanced.

Just because pink flamingos sometimes sleep on one leg does not mean they forget their other leg. And just because Rwanda supplied the OIF with its secretary general, Louise Mushikiwabo, does not mean the country forgets to look after its relations with English-speaking countries.

Next June, Rwanda will host the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Paul Kagame chose the country of Queen Elizabeth II, who serves as the head of the Commonwealth, as his preferred place to once again keep the English- and French-speaking parties sweet.

In London for the UK-Africa Investment Summit, which focused on the global impact of Brexit, the Rwandan president spoke on 21 January at the International School for Government of King’s College London.

In his highly diplomatic speech on the “community of values” and the opportunity to “re-imagine […] global trade and investment arrangements,” Kagame left a mark on the audience when he reached his core message about his desire to exempt citizens of the Commonwealth of Nations, the OIF and the African Union from paying visa fees when entering Rwanda.

Urgency, unity and self-reliance

With four official languages – English, French, Swahili and Kinyarwanda – Rwanda is working towards African integration while maintaining the British and French powers, with which it has had vastly different historical experiences, equally within reach.

Although OIF statistics report that in 2014 French was spoken by only 6% of Rwanda’s population, the country has been a member of the organisation since 1970. In 2009, Rwanda decided to join the Commonwealth as well.

Kagame understands that his landlocked country can only survive if it facilitates cooperation with other countries in the region and on the rest of the continent, at a time when the African Continental Free Trade Area is fully taking shape. Making Rwanda more accessible to businesspeople, investors, students and tourists is the right move for the future.

Last November, the 2019 Visa Openness Report for Africa indicated that the continent is making unprecedented strides.

For the first time in history, Africans can travel on average to more than 27 countries without a visa, or more than half of the continent.

Expanding the visa exemption measures to non-African Commonwealth countries and OIF countries is part of the Rwandan government’s strategy to improve the flow of trade in harmony with the three-part principles touted by President Kagame: urgency, unity and self-reliance.

It is not the first time that Kagame has balanced partners. Back in 2018, both China and India paid state visits to Rwanda, within a few days of each other.

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