Who would have imagined, just a year ago that a Rwandan official would run for election to head the organisation of French Speaking Countries leave alone win overwhelming with the support of France?
But it happened.
Louise Mushikiwabo, the country’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, run for the position of the Secretary-General of the Organisation International de la Francophonie and was elected by acclamation on October 11.
Remarkably, French President Emmanuel Macron was Mushikiwabo’s earliest endorser even before Rwanda officially announced that it would front her.
A few days to the election of Mushikiwabo, offices in high places started tweeting in French for the first time. Two days to the vote, the President’s office started tweeting in French.
Senior government officials who had never tweeted in French and weren’t known to speak the language started tweeting in Macron’s language. Some social media groups that normally use English were also “speaking” French.
As one Rwandan remarked on twitter, it’s telling that people, including those who are known to dislike French or France were suddenly praising La Francophonie and France.
A colleague at the university excitedly told me: “I’m going to start a French television station. I think French is going to become the main language of transacting official business again.”
Language of power
Of course, French can’t regain its status since English isn’t only the language of international business but also the language of power in the land.
That said, the sudden embrace of French by almost everyone that matters is a teachable moment. It reminds us that whether for good or otherwise, the public, particularly the elite always talk the talk of officialdom.
This propensity to talk and be seen to speak the language of officialdom has sociological and political explanations; but for now, we look at what Mushikiwabo’s election tells us about Rwanda’s foreign policy and its relation with France, which has been beleaguered for 24 years.
To pinpoint the exact gameplay behind Mushikiwabo’s election, it would help if we knew who first came up with the idea! Was it Mushikiwabo or the government?
Was it France? So far, none of the parties involved has volunteered the answer; I won’t belabour either.
Regardless of who generated the idea, there is no doubt that France’s support for Mushikiwabo is now considered a goodwill gesture and a sign that France is interested in normalising relations with Rwanda.
That Rwanda also welcomed this surprising gesture is a probable consequence of the uncomfortable realisation by both countries that they need each to thrive in the changing international environment.
France must have concluded that in order to continue having influence in Africa, it needs Rwanda whose President is the current AU Chair and reform mastermind.
Rwanda too must have concluded that while France is yet to acknowledge its role in the genocide, its better off cultivating collaboration with President Macron as a way to provide space to talk about the difficult past.
This means that Mushikiwabo’s election will be used as a springboard to quiet diplomacy that could lead to the normalisation of relations.
That said, Mushikiwabo’s election reconfirms that hardball diplomacy pays. For if Rwanda had caved to France’s pressure and claim that it didn’t have any role in the genocide, the country would neither have caught the imagination of the elite in France nor President Macron’s respect to support the move.
In that sense then, in order to understand why Mushikowabo won, we need to comprehend the double pronged foreign policy strategies Rwanda has deployed since defeating the genocidal regime in July 1994.
In my view, since 1994, Rwanda has used hardball realism in dealing with its enemies while deploying open-arms-internationalism to cultivate friendships with powerful individuals, nations and institutions within the global system.
It’s this an “eye-for-an-eye” policy that the country has consistently used to deal with France’s attempt to isolate the RPF government, which was also deployed against Mobutu’s regime that was habouring genocidal forces in the 1990s.
Likewise, it’s the “open-arms- internationalism” that allowed Rwanda to warm up to the idea of supporting Mushikiwabo to head La Francophonie.
This internationalism and regionalism policy also explains why the country strongly backs EAC and African integration; is a member of the Commonwealth and seeks to be a member of OECD countries.
Broadly, this internationalism not only reflects President Kagame’s worldview, but is now part of a broader strategy to make Rwanda a regional hub for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibition adopted in 2014.
That’s the beauty of taking the long view, acting strategically and having interest driven leaders; nothing happens by chance.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR, Lead Consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter account: @Ckayumba