DON'T MISS : Talking Africa New Podcast – Zimbabwe's artisanal mines: 'There's no real form of law and order' - Piers Pigou

Why we want to join the Commonwealth

By Gideon Kayinamura
Posted on Friday, 20 November 2009 09:32

In the Know features an interview, opinion or analysis from the people making the news in Africa each week.

Rwandan eyes will be focused on the Caribbean at the end of November, when the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Trinidad & Tobago will consider the country’s application for membership. The decision hangs in the balance, with human rights groups criticising Rwanda’s record on human rights and the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative calling for any decision to be postponed until after Rwanda’s next presidential elections in 2010.

Here, Rwandan MP Gideon Kayinamura puts the case for Rwanda to be admitted, arguing that the country would bring along its own valuable post-conflict experience to the Commonwealth family.

Rwanda’s application to join the Commonwealth dates as far back as 1996, when it realised that the geographical, historical, cultural and trade relations it enjoyed with Commonwealth countries would require a stronger and more formal type of cooperation.

Although Rwanda has no historical and constitutional association with other Commonwealth member states, it considers membership to be justified in the context of an era of increasing political and economic interdependence of nations. Rwanda joined the East African Community in 2007, but sits alongside Burundi as the only non-Commonwealth members of the regional bloc.

One of the characteristics of Commonwealth member states is the use of the English language. Rwanda introduced English as an official language in 1994, and English, French and Kinyarwanda are the country’s official languages. In October 2008, the government decided English would be the medium of instruction in all schools from primary to tertiary levels of education. It’s also a requirement for all civil servants and government officials to start using English as a matter of priority.

The Commonwealth is made up of a family of 53 member states. Its objectives include good democratic governance, the respect of rule of law, socio-economic and cultural cooperation as well as respect for human rights. These objectives are no different from the fundamental principles enshrined in Rwanda’s constitution. For example, Articles 10-25 of Rwanda’s Constitution are exclusively devoted to the respect of human rights. Indeed, Article 10 states: “The human person is sacred and inviolable. The state and all public administration organs have the absolute obligation to respect, protect and defend him/her.”

In the diplomatic and political context, Rwanda’s relations with all Commonwealth member states have been excellent. Joining the association would contribute greatly to the furtherance and strengthening of these relations.

A Commonwealth of nations with a population of close to two billion people is an invaluable family. Commonwealth countries share a body of rich experiences and history. It is Rwanda’s desire to both learn from Commonwealth member states and contribute its own experience. The rebirth of Rwanda and its socio-economic and political transformation in a post-genocide situation could provide useful lessons for Commonwealth member states, especially those in post-conflict situations.

The transformation was possible because of Rwanda’s indigenous innovations, coupled with best practices drawn from Commonwealth and other countries. After the 1994 genocide, Rwanda was able to consolidate peace, security and stability in a relatively short time. The fact that the country has managed to achieve unity, reconciliation and economic recovery in a post-genocide situation is due mainly to its leadership and the innovative democratic governance model, which is unique to Rwanda but could be shared with others.

In many Commonwealth member states, a political party that wins a general election takes all cabinet positions. In Rwanda, the winning political party shares cabinet positions with other political parties on a 50/50 basis. This is a constitutional requirement in Rwanda. This model of governance would greatly help in preventing conflicts.

Rwanda has also emerged as the only country in the world where as many as 56% of its MPs are women – another indicator of good democratic governance which other countries might wish to learn from.

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has already been associated with the Commonwealth, and was at the CHOGM that took place in November 2007 in Uganda. Some members of Rwanda’s parliament have also been attending meetings of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) as observers. It is hoped that a CPA chapter will soon be set up in Rwanda’s parliament in order to promote closer cooperation between the Commonwealth parliaments.

More importantly, in a joint session of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies in September 2009, Rwanda’s parliament unanimously decided to endorse Rwanda’s application to join the Commonwealth. Senators and members of parliament undertook to sensitise the population about the importance and the benefits that will be brought to them from Rwanda joining the Commonwealth.

I am and I have always been an advocate of Rwanda joining the Commonwealth.

Ambassador Gideon Kayinamura is a Rwandan MP and former Rwandan ambassador to the United Nations and to the United Kingdom.