The Queen of England in a group photo with heads of states that are members of the commonwealth community
The Queen of England in a group photo with heads of states that are members of the commonwealth community

Jacques Chirac, former French President, must have been laughing at what he imagined were ‘les imbéciles’. Why not?

For starters, France had been Rwanda’s master for three decades. Frankly, France had paid for the piper, and so it called the tunes.

The French held the people and leaders of the land of a thousand hills in utmost contempt.

A day came November 2009 – ‘les imbéciles’ defied their supposed master. They had had enough.

The master had engineered the most despicable massacre on planet earth, genocide against the Tutsis in 1994. Millions became refugees. The country descended into abyss.

Rwandan leaders continued to be humiliated internationally. After all, in Paris, they were regarded as a bunch of rag-tagged-power-hungry rebels. For Rwandan officials, this was hurting gravely.

It was time to end the humiliation. Leaders began discussing how to dislodge the Frenchman and set themselves free from among the Francophonie ‘children’.

Rwanda was desperate for new friends and neighbours who valued mutual respect and sovereignty. First in mind? The 53-member Commonwealth family!

Paul Kagame, then the Vice President and Minister of Defense, plus some senior officials, went to the drawing board.

There were fierce debates. There were questions of course; should we join? What is the process? Would we make it? How much long would it take us to get in anyway?

Mozambique had just joined the bloc, yet it had never been a British colony. Mozambicans spoke no English and had no traces to British culture.

For Rwanda, the whole checklist mirrored it, according to people familiar with the process at the time.

The country was only recovering from unimaginable destruction. There were too many problems to fix; democracy, prisons packed with hundreds of thousands of genocide suspects, survivors nursing wounds – above all, no business environment to speak of.

Stability alone was an issue, and then wars in neighbouring Zaire.

Rwandan diplomats began traversing the globe; from London to Lagos, Johannesburg to Sydney. At this point, lobbying was at its best. It went on from 1995 to1997 and onwards.

The Secretary General of the Commonwealth was a Nigerian, Chief Emeka Anyaoku. While in London, he lost count of times Rwandan negotiators were in his ears.

President Paul Kagame Interacts with England's Queen Elizabeth II
President Paul Kagame Interacts with England’s Queen Elizabeth II

In comes the British Council

The negotiators never got tired of listing the advantages Rwanda had to whoever they met. Notably, the 1992-1993Arusha negotiations had been conducted in English.

Many of those on the delegations had studied in from Uganda, Kenya, and Nigerian universities, all of which use a copycat from the British curriculum.

Also, Rwanda had a seat at the UN Security Council in 1995. Everything was also excellently presented in English.

Back in the region, maneuvers were easier. It was now in the early 2000s. The country was already part of the East African Community, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, all traditional partners and members of the Commonwealth network.

Rwanda had already shifted from French to English as a medium of instruction in schools.

The British Council in Kigali was very busy offering free consultancy and financing the transition, both directly and indirectly.

It hasn’t stopped. Millions of MacMillan textbooks and Oxford English dictionaries not only piled in schools, but on desks of French speaking civil servants.

The British Council has gone as far as offering free tutor English to every single French speaking teacher, and has offered them I-pods installed with English courses.

Street names, such as Avenue Paul VI, have been replaced with Kinyarwanda names and numbers.

The parliament at some point discussed shifting from Right Hand Drive to Left Hand Drive, but agreed it was too costly and made no economic sense.

Now, more importantly to consider, all Rwanda’s exports and imports transit through East Africa. Plus the fact that people are the same across borders. The rest was an artificial divide; Francophonie.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy listens as President Paul Kagame responds to Journalists during a joint press conference in Rwanda's capital Kigali
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy listens as President Paul Kagame responds to Journalists during a joint press conference in Rwanda’s capital Kigali

In 2005, government invited the World Bank to independently monitor the country’s ambitious business reform process. No one could bet on Rwanda’s bid. It was becoming very obvious.

As negotiations intensified, Chirac had already retired, and it was Nicolas Sarkozy, but all of them were taking note.

They finally discovered, ‘les imbéciles’ were serious. Things were happening fast, and spontaneously.

Rwanda was just one step closer to exiting the Francophonie family and joining the Anglophone family.

France’s leaders stopped the laughter. They intensified a complicated smear campaign – questioning human rights records, and that the prisons were full of innocent suspects. Indeed Rwanda could not qualify by that alone.

Progressively the country was able to show steadiness – education, business reforms, and judicial changes. The death penalty was scrapped.

Tens of thousands of genocide convicts were released. The list of good happenings was getting too long – democratic elections, gender balance –and the economy was booming.

“For us, it was a strategy,” one of the officials involved told KT Press. “We did not want to be monopolised and dictated upon by the Francophonie through Paris …” he said in the interview.

“We lobbied Canada, Australia, Nigeria, South Africa and others! Most of them were friendly to us. Other things like media, and democracy we were on the right track,” the source narrated.

“It took a while but eventually the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, this time an Indian, (Kamlesh Sharma) was the one who got the process through.”

Regional allies also played a major role, say other sources. It “was a revolt against the French who had insinuated that we couldn’t survive without them”.

The date was November 29, 2009. The Commonwealth welcomed Rwanda. It was a beautiful Sunday morning.

Louise Mushikiwabo – then Rwanda’s information minister, now Foreign Affairs Minister, spoke joyfully about the announcement at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting taking place in Trinidad and Tobago.

“My government sees this accession as recognition of the tremendous progress this country has made in the last 15 years,” she said.

ONLY 0.3% French investments!

Many in the European mainstream media, NGOs, and the academia were up in arms against Rwanda’s Membership into the Commonwealth. But above all, France was on the receiving end of humiliation.

The plan in Kigali however, was to keep one foot in the French maiden grouping – La Francophonie. It was a double-deal, if you like to call it that way.

Ties between the two countries ruptured in 2006 when Rwanda expelled France’s ambassador, Dominique Decherf and 29 of his staff, after a controversial French judge, Jean-Louis Bruguière, issued arrest warrants for nine high ranking Rwandans alleging that they shot down former President Juvénal Habyarimana’s jet.

Rwanda was mindful of the fact that only a few months before acceptance into the Commonwealth; there were only two French investments worth $3 million.

After securing membership into the commonwealth group, businesses from Paris dried away.

Coincidentally, in what was clearly a planned fit, Claude Guéant, Elysee’s Secretary General, arrived in Kigali and met Kagame, on the same day of Rwanda’s acceptance into the Commonwealth.

President Sarkozy flew to Kigali to mend the ties; a few months later after Rwandans stopped saying Bonjour and began saying Good Morning. In reciprocity, President Paul Kagame flew to Paris too.

Six years down the road from commonwealth entry, one would ask; was the painstaking shift worth it? Can Rwanda smile with the Frenchman off their back?

Exclusive investigation by KT Press shows if Rwandan leaders had not taken the risky strategy, there would be little to show for the past 21 years since the mass slaughter of 1994.

KT Press analyzed a massive trove of data from multiple sources. And the findings may leave many breathless.

Between 2009 and 2014, Rwanda has attracted about $3 billion from 340 companies, a figure equivalent to 40% of the current country’s GDP.

This foreign investment is distributed in agriculture, telecommunication, construction, mining and quarry, energy, manufacturing, hospitality, transport, education – and spread across the board.

From the former colonial master however, investments barely count – a meager $9.6m or 0.3% of Rwanda’s total investment since then. Seventy per cent (70%) of this investment portfolio is in a gambling venture ($5million) and construction.

Belgium on the other side, has invested only $34 million (1% of total investments) during the same period.

Before Rwandan diplomats flew back home with the Commonwealth certificate, Minister Mushikiwabo told the world that; “Rwandans are ready to seize economic, political, cultural and other opportunities offered by the Commonwealth network.”

Without a doubt, Rwanda has ripped big from the Commonwealth, but also from widening its hunting horizons.

Just recently, in 2011, Turkey, a country that Rwanda had no previous ties with, set in. By the time KT Press was conducting research on this project, 2014; Turkish investments had reached $370 million, 12% of Rwanda’s total investments since 2009.

Turkey has vastly invested in Rwanda’s energy sector and made substantial injections in the mining, construction and hospitality sectors.

That is not all. Turkish Airline flies to Kigali everyday to take hundreds of African passengers to Europe and elsewhere, all flown in by Rwanda’s national carrier; RwandAir that picks them from different cities of West, Central and Southern Africa.

A few months after setting up shop in Kigali, the Turkish Airline’s Rwanda Country Manager, Burcin Isler, was all praised for the country.

“We trust the Rwandan economy and its stability,” he said at the time. “Important to note is that 70% of world airline traffic floats over Turkey, this offers a good environment for long term investments.”

According to Isler, Rwanda being in the heart of Africa serves as a strategic point of connection to the rest of Africa and since Istanbul is a strategic position in the world airline traffic, and being a major connection point to different points on the globe, opens Rwanda to the world.

“For us, it makes economic sense and increases our global expansion to serve the airline industry the best we can,” Isler said.

Yet, a decade ago, the country had no functioning airline. Rwandans had no clue what was happening from the outside world, not even as near as Nairobi or Dar-es-Salaam.

At the moment, RwandAir flies to major cities in African regions and an additional one in Dubai and has just bought more fleets to enter the European and Asian markets.

The airline has facilitated a conferencing industry the country has began focusing on, where Rwanda earned $170 million last year alone.

President Kagame Greets Queen Elizabeth II
President Kagame Greets Queen Elizabeth II

When the wealth came, so did the social benefits

The line of investors grows bigger by the day. The United States is not only Rwanda’s biggest ally, but also a source of the largest junk of foreign investment.

Exclusive figures from the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) indicate that a total 111 projects worth $390.6 million were registered in 2014 alone.

Of this, Symbion Power, an American energy investment firm, accounted for 40.2% ($157 million), which was injected into extraction of methane gas from Rwanda’s Lake Kivu.

Early this year, Rwanda signed a deal worth $75 million with Kigali Water Limited, a Rwandan-registered company owned by Metito, a water management company based in the United Arab Emirates, to treat water from Nyabarongo River.

Mid November, this year, President Kagame was in Africa Global Business Forum (AGBF2015) at the Atlantis in Dubai and signed another big multimillion dollar deal for hotels and hospitality.

Mauritius, S. Korea, China, Netherlands, India and more than a dozen others have also wired millions of funds to Kigali.

Mauritius has invested roughly $112 million and S. Korea with over $250 million, largely in the telecommunication industry.

Now 85% of the population is connected to mobile phones with 35% of the subscribers accessing 4G internet.

Sadly though, the total investment from Mauritius, S. Korea and Turkey alone ($732 million) is bigger than what France and Belgium invested in Rwanda since they began colonising the country half a century ago.

The average Rwandan had never spent a dollar per day. Today, a Rwandan spends averagely $755 a year (~$2.5 a day). Life expectancy has gone up from a miserable 26 years in 1992 to 65 years now, according to the World Bank records.

Maternal Mortality rate stands at 268/100,000, and Infant Mortality rate is at 28/1000, as per Millennium Development Goals data. Over 90% of Rwandans have healthcare insurance, perhaps why 95% of children are immunised.

The same source indicates that 97% of children are attending primary school and 80% of them manage to complete that level.

Only five countries in the world treat women better than Rwanda, none of them is African, but at least Rwanda leads in women representation in parliament (64%) and a mandatory of 30% in other government positions.

Queen Elizabeth II shares a light moment with President Kagame
Queen Elizabeth II shares a light moment with President Kagame

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Finance says Rwanda has serviced all its debts and the government has been able to provide one dollar per day as stipend to the vulnerable and the poorest under a scheme called Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP).

Prior to throwing the French sphere boots under the table, Rwanda had to consult and seek permission from the Elysee whenever the country wanted to engage any other country for ties.

A researcher on Rwanda, Dr. Fredrick Golooba Mutebi, spoke to KT Press from South Africa where he was presenting a paper on Rwanda.

He had just come from another conference in USA for the same. Until today, he said, “the world is ignorant about what Rwanda has achieved.”

This, he explained, like many other observers, was a result of chocking under the discomfort the country had been subjected to.

Today, Rwanda has expanded its wings. President Kagame is Rwanda’s top salesman. He easily picks a phone and calls Dubai, Washington, Moscow or Beijing. He meets anybody at the touch of a button.

Howard Homan Buffett is putting $500 million into Rwanda to transform the country’s agriculture. There are no strings attached. “Partners shouldn’t pull out the rugs from each other,” he told Times Magazines two years ego.

Meanwhile, a $400 billion Argentinean firm, POSITIVO-BGH has set up an electronics factory in a special designated zone for industries, planning to produce electronics for the African market, and has already released 150,000 computers into the market with 600,000 units expected to be produced per year.

The $10 million Chinese H&M garments factory located in the same industrial zone has trained 200 Rwandan youths to produce clothing on contract for big Western trademarks such as Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein.

But this is not where Rwanda wants to be yet. The country hasn’t tapped well into the predicted $14 trillion combined GDP and $680 billion of trade between the Commonwealth member countries.

It is not yet time to sing ‘Look at Eureka, we have found it’, says General Caesar Kayizari, who has been sent to Turkey as Ambassador to strengthen the new friendship.

For Kagame, whom four million Rwandans signed petition forcing the parliament to amend the contention and pave way for another mandate, has a signature word known to him, “the struggle continues.”

But wait a minute! Who can stand there without being part of the good happenings? France wants to bury the hatchet and get a portion too.

Recently, a consortium of French investors announced they will be investing some €250 million.

Nevertheless, it is clear now that, irrespective of a superficial supremacist point of view, France seems to need Rwanda more than Kigali needs Paris.

At least French investors don’t want to be the ones missing out on opportunities others from elsewhere are dying to exploit.

And by the way, Rwanda is still member of the International Organization of La Francophonie (IOF) and participates in its summits.

However, you should have seen the joy and sense of belonging Rwanda’s Prime Minister had during the just concluded Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta.

Whenever Rwandan officials are reminded of whatever retribution for showing France an exit door, and opening the other for the Anglo-Saxons, they shrug shoulders, sigh and possibly retort, “On s’en fiche!” (Who cares!)

President Paul Kagame and former French President Nicholas Sarkozy
President Paul Kagame and former French President Nicholas Sarkozy



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