People are talking about Kigali as the Jewel of Africa - Commonwealth Secretary General

By Philbert Girinema
On 7 May 2022 at 09:00

Rwanda is set to host the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) next month, after it was postponed two times due to Covid-19 related restrictions. As we are few weeks to go for Rwanda to host, CHOGM 2022, the Secretary-General of Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland has disclosed that preparations are on a good progress.

Scotland made the revelation during an interview with IGIHE in Kigali where she attended the 12th Regional Conference of Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Commonwealth Africa running from 3rd to 7th May 2022.

Scotland shed light on preparations of the upcoming meeting, the number of heads of state expected to attend and new countries that might be admitted into the bloc, among others.


IGIHE: How impressed are you with the current status of CHOGM 2022 preparations?

Scotland: I am so impressed by the preparations, I came before most of the buildings were built, I saw people laying down the foundation stones and they buildings are now beautiful, it is unfortunate that Rwanda had to be ready on three occasions; ready in 2020, ready in 2021 and now ready in 2022, but what a marvelous contribution!

Everyone is looking forward to coming to Kigali and people are talking about Kigali as the Jewel of Africa.

This is the first time an African country has hosted CHOGM since the Ugandans hosted it probably like 15 years ago. So this is a special moment.

We have the African continental trade area, we have all of the innovations that are coming and this is a real opportunity to celebrate the commonwealth and also celebrate commonwealth Africa.

How many heads of state and government have confirmed their attendance?

We have a large number who have already confirmed but you know everyday we get more and more.

We are hoping that as many who are able to come out of the 54 leaders will be with us, we know some are having elections and some still have closed borders because of Covid-19 but we are hoping and expecting a really good attendance and from speaking to all our leaders I know they want to be here.

If anyone does not come, it is probably because they can’t not because they don’t want to. We are keeping all our fingers crossed.

What are the expectations in business deals that can be signed during the upcoming meeting?

One of the things we are concentrating on is not just deals from that meeting but how we can build the trade and investment flows throughout the commonwealth.

There will be 20% more trade coming among the commonwealth countries and it is 21% easier to trade with each other but the big question for us, is how do we convert that commonwealth advantage into real benefit.

We have grown the trade between our commonwealth countries so it is now, in spite of Covid looks as if it is going up again to 700 billion.

We would to have one trillion trade among our commonwealth countries by 2030, for commonwealth Africa there is a real opportunity now that most countries have signed the African free continental area and look what just happened to East Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo has now joined the community that means that East Africa has gone from 100 billion of trade to over 200 billion.

At the commonwealth, we are looking at creating templates for legislation for regulations, contracts and agreements. We are really hoping that this trade forum that we have on the margins of the Commonwealth heads of Government Meeting, we will see real business being done and I know there are some good surprises coming.

Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland has said that preparations of CHOGM 2022 are on good progress.

There are some countries applying to join the Commonwealth. Is there any chance that these applications will be on the table for the debate here in Kigali?

Three countries are in the process of applying to join our commonwealth. It is a real sign of how healthy we are that so many countries, some of whom have never been part of the commonwealth indeed like Rwanda and Mozambique and Cameroon yet they have seen the excitement and importance and they want to join.

Three countries are in the process of applying to join the commonwealth family and we hope that one or two are able to complete the process before June. If that happens, they will be with us in Kigali.

Do you have some key points that will be considered to measure the successfulness of Kigali meetings?

We will firstly count it as a success if all of us can come together in one place, because this opportunity of meeting is something our members have been longing for.

The last two years have been tough for everyone. If you think of how many people have died, we’ve lost probably some million people across our commonwealth. That has been painful and difficult. It has affected our trade. So, coming together is one big. It will probably be the first face to face global meeting of leaders we have had in the past three years.

If you think about the things we have set ourselves on innovation, young people, climate change, digitalization, technological development, and creating a smarter commonwealth to better respond to our citizens; in fact we are aspiring to take those additional steps for the 2030 agenda on sustainable development.

These are clear targets that we hope we will achieve together. The blue and the green economy we have to build back better we have to respond to the terrible tragedies that we have seen, if you look at climate change, we know how many countries have suffered from it. If you look at Covid, you can see we have all been in the same storm but we have not been in the same boat.

Some of our countries in Africa have a 10% vaccination like Sierra Leone while in other parts of the world, you have a 95% vaccination not just one but three.

We will be looking at the health issues that have come out, we will be talking about how we can recover and how we can do that together.

I will see it as a real success if we are able to make significant steps forward and agreement in terms of how we innovate and how we innovate and how we create a greater ecosystem for development and how do we make sure we are able to respond better if we are hit by another pandemic this was the first pandemic in a hundred years but I am afraid a lot of people are having to come to terms with the fact that it might not be our last pandemic.

We are hoping that when our leaders come together, they will be able to learn from the last terrible two years how we can better respond because we have responded. In many ways, we did brilliantly, we became more innovative, we became more creative because we had to. If you think of what we did on e-commerce and what we’ve done in relation to having virtual meetings, we went from having face to face meeting to having all virtual meetings by a switch of a button and we ended up having meetings on a virtual platform.

We have never done that before. The world is materially different and we are moving into a hybrid technologically engineered world and a digitalised world. So, we are going to help all of us make that leap across the digital divide. We don’t leave anyone behind. Many of our countries are suffering now because they don’t have internet connectivity and they haven’t got the technological benefits they need to be the difference they need for their people. All those issues are going to be addressed by our leaders very serious. If we are able to come up with a plan to deliver, that it will be a great success and if we are joined by new members, that will be a success too.

The Secretary-General of Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland has revealed that countries are in the process of applying to join the commonwealth family.

Where does the Commonwealth as an organisation stand in the current war in Ukraine? What do you see as a solution?

The world has been shocked and pained by what has happened in Ukraine just because of the loss, the tragedy of life and the commonwealth is committed to the role of law and good governance and peace.

We are supporting all those who are working for peace in Ukraine but there political economic consequences. If you look at the disruption for oil and gas, the food security issues they are going to have an impact, some are saying that we therefore have to face up to the fact that we have to look more carefully at our food security and how do we increase the productivity within Africa because they export everything they grow and import everything they eat.

This trauma that’s coming now is helping us to look again on how do we make sure that regions are able to feed their own people, how do we make sure that we enhance our agribusiness, how do we use technology in making us secure in every sense like politically secure, economically secure more physically secure, more technologically secure.

Those issues have been brought into sharp focus. We’re used to having one problem to deal with and now we have insecurity which is global, we have climate change which is hugely disruptive and poses existential threat to many of our countries. We have economic difficulties which come from the interaction of all those three and we have a growing population in our commonwealth for example which is young 60% of our commonwealth is under the age of 30. So, we have to look at how do we look after our children, our young people, how do we make sure they have aspiration and inspiration and opportunity, how do we cull from their talent, the things that we know we need for the future.

I am optimistic when I go to Rwanda and I see all those wonderful young people. When I got to all the other African countries, the young people of the commonwealth are so inspirational, they are so creative, so innovative. I look at all these SMEs and startups and if you think of the most successful companies in the world, many of them were created within the last 20 years and some of them within the last 10 years.

We know we have that innovative potential, we have to create an ecosystem to enable us to help our young people to take advantage because if we do not do that and our young people become hopeless if they aren’t educated and given the opportunities, then we are creating a problem where we won’t be able to deliver for them and I know that all of us, all of the leaders in the commonwealth are focused on making sure that does not happen.

We are going to focus on our young people digging deep. I am confident that together we will come up with the solutions.

What will you remember about Rwanda?

I love the spirit of this country. When I first got off the plane, I could not believe what I saw. This was a dynamic, young, vibrant and clean country.

I started a task called ‘hunt a piece of paper’ because this is the most immaculate country I have ever seen. Only on one occasion did I see a piece of paper on the pavement and I thought, yes I have seen a piece of paper but someone came and picked it up.

I am impressed by how green the country is and how beautiful it is. I was privileged to go and see the gorillas in the naming ceremony. I was allowed to name my own gorilla. My gorilla is called Nazirian and that is because when I went to Ngong in Kenya, the Massai named me Nazirian which means the peaceful one, but apparently, my gorilla is one of the naughtiest young gorillas. .

The warmth of the people is what I will remember and I am afraid you have some beautiful designs which really tempt me. I am sure that when I go back I will go back, I will probably go back with a couple more of your wonderful dresses.

Rwanda has so much to be proud of. I will also never forget going to the lighting ceremony when we were commemorating and remembering all of those who died and all the families that were lost during the Genocide against Tutsi. I will never forget that night, it wounded my heart to see the pain that was suffered by this country and then it delighted my heart to see that out of that horror has risen one people, beautiful together creating and extraordinary country.

Rwanda has so much to be proud of. Every time I come, it seems somehow to have been made more beautiful. I am not quite sure how you’ve done it but you need to share the recipe with other people because it is really good.

Interview: Philbert Girinema