Rwanda and Commonwealth revival
I dropped by a lunch held by Rwanda’s envoy to India today and was struck when a Rwandan diplomat said, “Last year we were the embassy of Rwanda. Today we welcome you as the high commission of Rwanda.” In other words, this bloodied African country had joined the Commonwealth. For those who don’t know, because they originally shared a head of state commonwealth countries have high commissions rather than embassies with each other.
This was passing strange. The Rwandans greeted each other with “bonjours” and I was pretty sure that never in Britain’s chequered imperial history did it ever rule Rwanda. (Britain ruled, for short periods of time, places like Sumatra, Somalia and many other bits of the planet.) They definitely don’t play cricket.
But given that Mozambique, a Portuguese colonial product, joined some years ago, perhaps there was a precedent. There are no formal requirements about joining the Commonwealth other than being an elected government and winning the support of other members.
Rwanda, I gather, joined because its present rulers lived much of their early lives in exile in English speaking Uganda. They overthrew the earlier Hutu regime responsible for the infamous massacres. Because they believe France is complicit in those massacres, joining the Commonwealth was also a way of distancing themselves from “Francophonie.” Today Americans and Britons represent the two largest non-African numbers of visitors.
But the Commonwealth, because it is the only multilateral organisation that insists its members must be democracies, also provides a badge of legitimacy for countries that are opening their account with the world.
This is happening, ironically, at a time the British, Canadians and Australians are disinterested and apathetic about the Commonwealth. A survey showed that some two-thirds of the public in these countries say they could care less if the Commonwealth dissolved.
What is required to revive the Brit Band? I have an idea. Invite the United States to join. It’s a former British colony, a democracy and it has a growing number of cricket players (kind of).
But just think: the High Commission of the United States of America to India. That will take some getting used to.