Someone has remarked that Rwanda is becoming a country of firsts and maybe he has a point.
In fact, the acquisition of these firsts is happening at such a dizzying speed that people no longer notice when the country has bagged yet another one! For instance, how many people noted that “Rwanda has made history by becoming the first country in the world to be declared free from landmines”? Yet, early this week the declaration was made by Ben Remfrey of the Mines Awareness Trust, the organisation that supervised the clearance.We may dismiss the achievement as making no significant contribution to the betterment of the lives of Rwandan citizens, but that would be ignoring the havoc that landmines wreaked on the citizenry during and after the war with the defeated Force Armée Rwandaise (FAR). I doubt also that many still remember that Rwanda holds the world record as the country with the highest rate of reforestation. As to knowing that Rwanda is the first developing country to introduce mass vaccination for pneumococcal diseases to its children, most likely everybody, save the health minister, will plead ignorance!
And pleading ignorance to some or all of the above may be understandable when you consider that they are overshadowed by two landmark achievements. One, that of clinching the number one position in reforming doing business procedures, may be significant but it has not attracted much attention.
The second, that of having the highest number of women legislators, still reverberates around the world to this day. And with reason, for it will be quite a while before any other country can equal Rwanda’s effort. Bearing the above in mind, therefore, it would not be surprising that Rwandans were not overly excited when it was announced that the country had gained entry into the club of Commonwealth countries. Cynics even pronounced it a waste of the country’s time – and resources, if any expenditure is to be involved.
However, there is no doubt that it is a major coup for Rwanda to join the club of Commonwealth countries. For a country that was to all intents and purposes deleted from the map of the world only fifteen years ago, it is a gargantuan task to achieve the democratic credentials that Rwanda presented.
Excepting the negative-minded, all Rwandans know that the country has been in a marathon race of wide-ranging reforms that have earned it world acclaim. The country has gone a long way in consolidating overall security, as well as fostering democratic principles and human rights. Even then, given the persistently negative foreign reports we see all the time – even if getting increasingly fewer in number – no one was sure that a high-profile organisation like the Commonwealth would acknowledge that Rwanda made a strong showing in all the areas it was examined on. The conditions for acceptance set by the Commonwealth officials included democracy, an independent judiciary, protection of human rights, equality of opportunity, good governance and transparency in government. These are elements that today still challenge even the so-called ideal democracies of the West.
Yet, in the final analysis, what matters is what Rwandans do with this membership. Last Wednesday in this paper, Alex Twahirwa gave us an elaborate exposé of the benefits of joining the organisation – as well as the contributions Rwanda can make to it. The benefits are definitely many, so Rwandans should get to work and take advantage of them.
You may say this entry is not exceptional, since Rwanda is not the first member that has joined the Commonwealth without any historical connection with the British Empire or any constitutional link with the Commonwealth countries.However, it should be noted that Mozambique was admitted to the Commonwealth as a reward. Other considerations apart, the principle reason for admitting Mozambique was to ingratiate its efforts in helping the liberation movements of the whole of southern Africa. Helping these movements was a big factor especially after Robert Mugabe was elected leader of Zimbabwe in 1980 and Nelson Mandela leader of South Africa in 1994. Apart from helping the southern African countries achieve their freedom, Mozambique had helped Britain save face.
Of course, the fact that Mozambique is completely immersed in the midst of Commonwealth countries contributed in no small measure.
Rwanda, with only a partial border-link with Uganda and Tanzania, did not field an equally strong case in that regard. In fact, Mozambique’s entry before Rwanda did not help the case for the later, for it only served to stiffen the conditions for entry. This was so especially for countries without traditional links with the Commonwealth members. Apart from including rule of law, respect of human rights and the other conditions not included before, the condition of being first and foremost English-speaking was re-enforced.
Rwandans, rise to the occasion and get this latest first to serve you!