The excitement of welcoming Rwandan President Paul Kagame into the highest office on the continent is over. The African Union Chairperson has now pulled up his sleeves and gotten to work.
He is attending meetings, receives dignitaries, lobbyists and reviews reports on the goings-on.
Mark you, revelations of hacking into AU by China, terrorism, land grabbing and coups plus growing scramble for the African pie by both old and emerging powers will definitely place Kagame in a situation totally different from his office back home at Village Urugwiro in Kigali.
In the past three decades, the world has watched Kagame evolve from a guerilla rebel commander in combat wear to a head of state in a corporate suit, to a panelist at the World Economic Forum.
He will equally readjust further to fit in the African Union Chairperson office to confront challenges cobwebbing Africa on a global and grand scale.
However, it is still very early to assess whether Kagame’s team back home will swiftly adjust to conduct national business through a much wider lens to match their leader who will regularly oscillate between Kigali and Addis Ababa and further for continental interests.
Rwanda will once again have to realign her foreign policy and lead by example on most reforms that Kagame, as AU chairperson, will be convincing other countries to adopt.
For example, visa policy, trading, protectionism, youth and gender, refugees, asylum seekers, agriculture, technology and mobility of goods and services among others.
But there is more than meets the eye inside the office of the African Union Chairperson and most interestingly in the person of Kagame.
Expect a shift in how Super Power countries and organisations have been negotiating, instructing or lobbying in the AU corridors.
France which has for many years preferred to remain non repentant and non-remorseful for its role in the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda will once again meet the man who beat them on a deadly and humiliating battlefront and stopped a genocide.
Kagame will have to strike a balance and carefully weigh every move fronted by the French lobbyists to maintain ties with Franco-Africa states.
Definitely France has all reasons to be very skeptical about Kagame’s tenure at AU just like Kagame has to be very skeptical about the French using this platform to annoy him or sabotage his decisions as AU Chairperson.
For example, supposing France sends to AU a delegation comprised of French officials that have previously undermined Kagame’s government? Would Kagame refuse to meet this delegation? Would the media be kind enough to report on such engagements at the level of AU or nation to nation level?
France is cautious about Franco-African states growing affinity for Rwanda’s Pan Africanism, capitalistic business models coupled with information technologies and calls for adoption of English language, which may crack this part of Africa and sway it away from long time colonial master. This would be another punch by Kagame in France’s face.
In August 2017, leaders of the entire West Africa attended Kagame’s inauguration, a symbol that sent a discomforting message to France, given the fact that such a delegation has never attended any French Presidential inauguration.
Kagame who has overtime immersed himself in high level diplomacy and frequently participated in fora of global significance will always maneuver through cunning guests and lobbyists in the corridors of AU.
Quite new to Kagame, will be the dealings with communist diplomacy. Russia is currently making a comeback onto the global stage and establishing foot on the African continent.
In May 2017, Rwanda invited Russia’s Minister of Communications and Mass Media, Nicolai Nikiforov to attend Rwanda’s signature conference on ICT; the Transform Africa Summit.
On the onset, Nicolai Nikiforov was invited to a panel discussion to give his views on Africa’s initiative of transforming the continent by embracing and investing in Information Communication Technologies.
It was a unique setting. As Africa seeks expertise and collaboration with different players, Russia is one of the partners the continent is considering in this transformational journey, spearheaded by President Kagame and other countries.
Considering the alleged meddling by Russia in USA elections, Nikiforov’s comments were being noted on a clean plain white paper. Nikiforov hit the nail on the head, suggesting that its time Africa gets its hands on cyber security.
“The more digital we become, the more dependent we will become on these different digital technologies. And you can never rely just on one particular vendor, one particular type of equipment or one particular software, because you will not just be very much dependent on these solution providers,” he said.
Nikiforov warned that for example, Africa couldn’t depend on “one search engine that occupies more than 50% of your market, or one mobile operating system or one type of hardware that covers more than 50% of your network.”
“You are in trouble; because you are getting dependent…Russia is a wonderful partner here to cooperate in this area.”
Kagame, a longtime ally of the United States, may find himself in a tricky situation as he negotiates with Russians to establish for example a military base on African soil.
For the Chinese who carry moneybags are likely to do the unthinkable – stuffing African Development Bank with billions of dollars. Africa badly needs big money to fund its massive infrastructure and energy projects.
This will give leeway and leverage to the Chinese while striking any deal at AU months later.
The European Union, a major safe haven of perpetrators of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda are another formidable diplomatic force to reckon with moreover massive and long-term permanent interests in Africa.
On February 20, 2018 in the boardroom of Rwanda’s Finance Ministry, Maria Shaw-Barrangan, the European Investment Bank Director in Charge of Lending Operations outside Europe, alongside Nicolas Belomo, the EU Ambassador to Rwanda, said that the bank has over €8billion to cash out and that it had signed €2.6 billion of loans to Africa, €69million for Rwanda, and that she was on a whirlwind tour on the continent to represent the European values and interests.
Earlier in the day, Ambassador Nicolas Bellomo had told Taarifa that Europe was hopeful that Kagame’s chairmanship would bolster relations between the two continents.
“We are creating new markets for Europe, creating stability, you know Africa is a few kilometers away from our continent…we consider this continent’s partnership as clear interest for the European Union, for our business, for our stability…you know migration is part of the equation…I thank the leadership of President Kagame for pushing this continental agenda.”
The EU countries contribute large sums of money to Africa annually but they also have controversies on the continent. Kagame may need to carefully trade waters here and strategically maneuver through any proposals and negotiations tabled.
African immigrants through the Mediterranean en-route to Europe are a thorn that Kagame has to handle with soft hands.
At the end of the day the one-year term of AU chairperson is such a small period to make headways in defeating challenges on the continent including; insecurity, terrorism, poverty, aid dependence and strengthening Africa’s bargaining power.
The only frustrating, but not surprising scenario is the petty behavior of some of the African leaders who goof at a critical time. Some leaders are not as supportive as they should.
Just before he stepped down, former South African President Jacob Zuma had insinuated that Kagame is imposing his rule.
Whatever the intention of his remark was, but it was an irresponsible approach of expressing disagreement at a time when the continent needs a galvanized energy to make this historic shift.
Some leaders feel Kagame has risen so fast through the ranks to be where he is, and they feel offended when the rest of the world lectures them, making references to a pragmatic, transformative and exemplary leader Kagame is.
Look at how the big economies of South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, and Ethiopia are resisting the 0.2% levy on imported goods to Africa as source of funding for the AU, one wonders if indeed the “gods must be crazy”.
Nevertheless, a lot has been talked about Kagame’s tenure and expectations are indeed high. What he will achieve, or the momentum he will leave could set Africa to a no return. It is inevitable, but at what cost?