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Rwanda snubs France, joins Commonwealth -

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ELEANOR HALL: Rwanda has turned centuries of tradition on its head by joining the Commonwealth.
Formerly a German and a Belgian colony, Rwanda becomes the second African nation in recent years to
embrace the English-speaking world.

The Rwandan Government made the announcement at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in
Trinidad, where it also offered an olive branch at France, as Simon Santow reports.

SIMON SANTOW: As the host, Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, left it to the
last day of the forum to confirm Rwanda's transformation from French-speaking colony to
Commonwealth member.

PATRICK MANNING: There was no contention in the acceptance of Rwanda's application for membership
in the Commonwealth.

SIMON SANTOW: Rwanda has an unwanted place in history. The East African country was torn apart in
the 1994 when fighting between ethnic Tutsis and Hutus brought a terrible human cost. Genocide
claimed an estimated 500,000 lives in just 100 days.

Now the Commonwealth seems satisfied that enough's been done since to grant Rwanda the 54th place
at the table of former British colonies.

PATRICK MANNING: There is a process through which we go. It is a four-stage process. In fact we
have been through all the stages and acceptance really was the final stage and by the time you get
to that stage, whatever doubts may exist in the minds of people, would by that time be dispelled.

Rwanda came to that happy position and we were very pleased to accept Rwanda's application for
membership here in Port of Spain.

SIMON SANTOW: It's a popular decision among Rwandans interviewed by the BBC.

RWANDAN CITIZEN: Many countries which are powerful, economically are in Commonwealth so if you are
in that community, it can make your trade easier with those countries.

RWANDAN CITIZEN 2: Look at other countries that have recognised Rwanda or Congo, other countries,
they have not benefitted like people who are in Commonwealth so that is the reason why I am
encouraging Rwandese to join Commonwealth, because there are many opportunities.

SIMON SANTOW: France was the nation's most vocal critic in the years after the genocide. Slowly
Rwanda has shed its ties with France, making English the official language and turning towards
neighbouring countries with Commonwealth roots.

Now at a time when the African nation has turned its back on France, the two countries are finally
taking some steps to normalising diplomatic relations.

French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner.

BERNARD KOUCHNER (translated): We've tried to replace our misunderstandings, the weight of the
massacres by constructive projects between the two countries. It is normal to have relationships
with African countries.

SIMON SANTOW: Geoffrey Hawker teaches politics and international relations at Macquarie University
in Sydney. Associate Professor Hawker says the move is partly down to long-running hostility
between Rwandan President Paul Kagame and the French.

GEOFFREY HAWKER: He has actually been trying to get Rwanda into the Commonwealth for a couple of
years. He has a very hostile relationship with France. He has been accused by a French judge of
complicity in the killing of an earlier Rwandan president. He doesn't like France at all. He is
very pleased to snub them.

SIMON SANTOW: Associate Professor Hawker says Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda are already
cooperating economically in East Africa.

GEOFFREY HAWKER: On the whole that is better than Rwanda standing outside all by itself in a
hostile relationship with France. You know it has now joined like-minded countries which are, by
the way, English-speaking and Rwanda has now made English the language of instruction in schools,
not French.

SIMON SANTOW: How closely do you think the Commonwealth did look at Rwanda's human rights record
and in fact, any efforts that they might have made to redress that?

GEOFFREY HAWKER: I don't think there has been a really close examination. There is certainly
nothing detailed and on the public record but they would have looked at what Kagame has been doing
since he has become President and there is a degree of authoritarianism in the Government.

I don't think I'd really put it higher than that. He has tried to run a reasonably open regime that
is open to inspection and certainly the Commonwealth secretariat will have had a close look at it.

SIMON SANTOW: Is there an element, do you think, of vanity in the Commonwealth at taking Rwanda in?

GEOFFREY HAWKER: Yes, I do think there is an element of vanity in it. It seems to show the
usefulness, that it still is a club for leaders to talk together, to sort things out, to keep some
presence on the world stage.

If you asked, well what exactly does the Commonwealth do, really I think that is about all it does
do. Most people would say that.

ELEANOR HALL: That is Associate Professor Geoffrey Hawker from Macquarie University, ending Simon
Santow's report.