5 June 2008

Rwanda: Country Under Commonwealth Scrutiny

Kigali — A group of officials from the Commonwealth are in Kigali to assess the country's eligibility to join the voluntary association of the 53 independent sovereign states, most of which are former British colonies.

The New Times, a national daily news publication quoted Rwanda's Minister of Foreign affairs Rosemary Museminali as saying that she met with the Commonwealth team of experts in Kigali on Monday.

According to The New Times, Ms Museminali said there was an aura of optimism that Rwanda would pass the test.

The delegation is also meant to hold talks with other senior government officials, political party leaders, Members of Parliament and the civil society.

Rwanda, along with six other countries, have since 2003 mooted her interest to join the Commonwealth but her admission will be considered at the next Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (Chogm).

Chogm 2009 is to be held 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.

Even without considering any applications, the issue of criteria for admission has always been a sensitive one. Among other things, member countries must have had historical ties as colonies of Britain.

Rwanda is a former Belgium colony previously with strong French ties. Madagascar and Algeria are both former French colonies. All the three used French as the official language. This leaves Mozambique as 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.

Ms Museminali is quoted as saying that new membership regulations require, "the Secretary General of the Commonwealth should carry out an informal assessment of the ability of the country concerned to meet the membership criteria".

The Commonwealth team in Kigali will therefore assess the election system, the level of democracy, governance and the judiciary, among others.

The assessment is the first of a four-step process.

The team will make a confidential report to Kamalesh Sharma's office.

Mr Shama is the new Secretary- General of the Commonwealth.

Once his office is satisfied with Rwanda that the country has broad-based domestic support, he will then inform member states and seek their comments.

One of Rwanda's interest in joining the Commonwealth is to target the economic benefits of joining the purely Anglophone bloc.

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 application was not considered last year at the Chogm in Kampala mainly because new requirements for applicants to join were undergoing review.

The requirements included, being a fully sovereign state, recognising the monarch of the Commonwealth realms as the Head of the Commonwealth, accepting the English language as the means of Commonwealth communication and respecting the wishes of the general population vis-à-vis Commonwealth membership.

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