Focus on Rwanda as Commonwealth summit gets underway

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Paul Kagame. (Photo: Gallo Images)
Paul Kagame. (Photo: Gallo Images)
  • Zimbabwe is seeking readmission to the Commonwealth, while Togo is expected to make a formal application.
  • The DRC called on the UK to rein in Rwanda over its alleged support for M23 rebels.
  • Journalists critical of President Paul Kagame were denied accreditation to the summit.

Over 35 heads of state and government are expected to attend this year's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda's capital, Kigali. It gets underway on Monday.

The week-long summit runs under the theme: "Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming."

Rwanda is the newest member of the 54 nations gathering, having joined on 29 November 2009.

The country was due to host the CHOGM in 2020, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the meeting was postponed twice.

Before Mozambique in 1995 and Rwanda in 2009 joined the grouping, it was limited to former British colonies.

Togo will officially submit its bid to join the group and Zimbabwe has renewed interest to rejoin the group after the late former president Robert Mugabe withdrew its membership in 2003.

In a statement, the Commonwealth said: "The official opening of CHOGM takes place on Friday, 24 June, and is followed by the main high-level meetings of Heads on Friday, 24, to Saturday, 25 June. They are proceeded by four Forums, ministerial meetings, side events and other activities."

The Commonwealth's secretary-general, Patricia Scotland, noted that conflict, climate change and Covid-19 had changed the way people lived since the last CHOGM meeting in 2018.

As such, the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 target had been compromised.

This succession of events has changed lives, livelihoods, communities and economies. We know that, in times of crises, the poor and most vulnerable are disproportionately affected. Many development gains, likewise, have been thrown off track, while others have regressed.

"That's why, with eight years to go until the Sustainable Development Goals' 'endgame', leaders at CHOGM are committed to harnessing lessons learned, working together and taking inspiration from the innovative solutions that we've seen emerge over the past few years," she said.

Focus on Rwanda

Rwanda was due to host the summit, and were set to receive a group of refugees who were deported from the United Kingdom.

However, a last minute European Court of Human Rights ruling reversed the deportations on 14 June.

Before the reversal, rights groups and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees raised concerns about Rwanda's human rights record and capacity to handle refugees.

But, for President Paul Kagame, an Anglophone leader who has gone to great lengths to paint a good international image of Rwanda, it's about time the world experiences his achievements.

This, despite an ongoing fallout with Rwanda's neighbour and biggest trading partner, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

While not a Commonwealth member state, the DRC has called on the CHOGM to rein in Kagame over his alleged support for M23 rebels operating in the DRC.

We have the right to demand that our neighbours respect our territory. The people of DRC want peace, and seek security in their homeland. Eastern Congolese civilians are innocents under brutal attack from our neighbour.

"We ask our international partners, in Africa, the US and especially the UK to condemn this invasion, and pressure Rwanda to withdraw its troops from our land. Given the UK's recent $150 million immigration deal struck with Rwanda, we hope that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be able to leverage his influence," said DRC President Felix Tshisekedi.

Press freedom

The Commonwealth Secretariat was accused of denying the accreditation of two journalists, Benedict Moran, a Canadian, and Anjan Sundaram, the author of the book, Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship.

The two are known critics of Kagame's administration. Their accreditation applications we declined on grounds that they were not working for "recognised media outlets".

"It's disappointing, but not surprising, that my application to cover the forum was rejected. In Rwanda, any critical voices are locked away or scared into silence," Moran told the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"So many Rwandans have fled, or died, trying to uphold the values upheld in the Commonwealth Charter, not only from past Rwandan governments, but from its current one," he said.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.  

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