Rwanda’s bid to join Club
by East African
Rwanda will have to wait another two years to hear if it will be admitted into the Commonwealth following news that this week’s heads of government meeting will not admit new members to the group.
Rwanda, a former French colony, has been applying to join the Commonwealth since 2003. Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary James Mugume, told The EastAfrican last week that the Kampala summit will only deal with criteria of joining the Commonwealth.
“There is only one report on membership and it’s about criteria. What CHOGM 2007 will discuss is the criteria for joining the Commonwealth,” said Mr Mugume. “The report on who will join will be tabled and adopted at the next summit.”
Rwanda, along with six other countries, has mooted plans to join the 53-nation group, but its admission can only be determined at the next CHOGM, to be held in 2009 in Trinidad and Tobago.
Besides Rwanda, there are applications from Madagascar, Yemen, Algeria and Sudan. Israel and Palestine have also been mentioned as potential members.
But even without considering any applications, the issue of criteria for admission is expected to be a sensitive one. Among other things, member countries must have had historical ties as colonies of Britain.
Rwanda, Madagascar and Algeria are all former French colonies and the latter’s official language is French. Mozambique is currently the only non-English speaking country that has been admitted to the Commonwealth.
However, Rwanda’s recent history has swung the country away from its French ties and strengthened its anglophone connections. The country has officially adopted English as the second official language in the post-1994 genocide period, with a good number of its citizens having lived in English-speaking countries as refugees.
But according to sources within the Commonwealth, there are economic benefits that attract non-members. With its present membership of 53 countries, the Commonwealth constitutes over 40 per cent of the World Trade Organisation, making it influential in global trade.
Commonwealth countries handle trade worth $2.8 trillion annually and with foreign direct investment outflows of $100 billion, which account for more than 20 per cent of international trade and investment.
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is one of the key speakers at this year’s Commonwealth Business Forum, which is running alongside the main summit.