Rwanda scores coup with Commonwealth entry, renewed France ties
Former Belgian colony Rwanda was accepted this weekend to the Commonwealth of former British colonies and re-established diplomatic relations with its long-time arch-nemesis, France.
Johannesburg, South Africa
For Rwanda, Saturday may come to be seen as the day the tiny central African nation came out of the diplomatic wilderness.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
On the very same day that Rwanda was accepted as a member in the club of former British colonies, the Commonwealth of Nations, Rwanda also managed to re-establish diplomatic relations with its long-time arch-nemesis, France, the nation that many Rwandan politicians blame for involvement in the 1994 genocide.
It's a turning point of sorts for the tiny landlocked nation of just 9 million citizens, reflecting both Rwanda's aspirations of becoming a regional economic powerhouse like Singapore and its Israel-like penchant for pushing around larger, weaker nations in the region.
"This is a paradigm shift for both countries [France and Rwanda]," says François Grignon, Africa program director for the International Crisis Group in Nairobi. "I think this reflects Rwanda's shifting from the instrumentalization of guilt over the genocide toward its aspirations of becoming a Singapore of Africa."
As for France, under the leadership of President Nicholas Sarkozy, it will make decisions based on its business interests, rather than mere preference for French-speaking nations.
A coup for President Kagame
This pair of diplomatic victories is a major coup for Rwanda's pro-business, authoritarian President Paul Kagame, who broke off relations with France three years ago after a French judicial inquiry pointed blame at him for the 1994 downing of a plane that killed Rwanda's former President Juvenal Habyarimana. The shooting down of that plane – which Kagame denies having anything to do with – sparked the genocide by provoking Hutu extremists to murder some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
The news comes at a time when Rwanda's ambitious economic policy of connecting the entire country with fiber-optic cable is showing signs of paying off, with foreign investment starting to increase. Earlier this year, an undersea broadband internet cable finally reached the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa, and Rwanda's fiber-optic network has the potential for making the densely populated country into a business and information center for East Africa.