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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.

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Moving beyond the genocide

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Diplomatic recognition by France and inclusion in the Commonwealth both give Mr. Kagame and Rwanda a measure of legitimacy and political protection. While Rwanda and France may continue to play "the blame game" over who bears the most responsibility for the Rwandan genocide, diplomatic recognition means that the two nations will tone down their disagreement, and will almost certainly expand their business ties.

"This is a very significant breakthrough for Rwanda," says Greg Mills, director of the Brenthurst Foundation, a South African think tank, and former advisor to President Kagame. "This puts to bed, finally, the ghosts of genocide. I think this helps to normalize relations with France and allows them to deal with the issues of genocide pragmatically."

French to English: It's all about business

Rwanda's inclusion in the Commonwealth – only the second non-British former colony to be selected, after Mozambique – reflects Rwanda's growing ties with its mainly English-speaking neighbors in the Great Lakes region of East Africa, such as Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya. Rwanda portrays its official shift from French to English as matter of economic necessity, a needed tool in the business world, rather than a rejection of the language of its former French-speaking colonial master, Belgium.

As for Rwanda's relations with France, few expect that diplomacy will actually equal friendship. As Grignon says, "Normalization does not mean love."

Even so, the restoration of diplomatic ties between two countries who just months ago were accusing each other of mass murder is a significant turn of events.

"I think this is a very important step in overcoming an awkward situation for France," says Princeton Lymon, an Africa expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. "France for some time has been moving from its trade focus on Francophone Africa to a more broad policy. I think you're going to see a more pragmatic approach on France's part. There will always be an economic competition [with other rich nations], but it will also mean more cooperation with the US and more closeness with the European Union in matters of trade with Africa."