From June 20 to 27, Rwanda will host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). What exactly is the Commonwealth? What is the point of this international summit and why was Rwanda chosen to host it?
The Commonwealth is one of the most original and dynamic global associations. Made up of 54 countries from five continents, it is composed of both advanced economies and developing countries and is home to over 2.5 billion people – 60 per cent of whom are under the age of 30.
In June, the leaders of the 54 Commonwealth nations will meet for the first time in four years in Kigali. While CHOGM is usually held every two years (the most recent CHOGM was held in London in 2018), this summit was delayed twice due to COVID.
This CHOGM is going to be historic for many reasons. As the first post-pandemic meeting, CHOGM will play an important role in advancing members’ shared interests and helping each other overcome the challenges inherent to post-COVID reconstruction.
More importantly, by choosing, for the very first time, to organise CHOGM in a country with no ties to the British empire, the Commonwealth demonstrated its forward-facing agenda and ability to evolve.
The Commonwealth’s newest member
Rwanda – which joined in 2009 – is the newest member of the Commonwealth, and one of the only two members with no history of British colonial rule, along with Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony. Rwanda’s selection to host CHOGM barely 13 years after joining the association is testament to the strides our country has made towards achieving our development goals, all of which are in line with the Charter of the Commonwealth. Chapter 12 of the Charter on gender equality, for instance, resonates particularly with Rwanda, where we are immensely proud to have the highest representation of women in parliament globally.
As an active and responsible member of the international community, Rwanda’s ambition for CHOGM is to bring energy and focus in responding to the needs of the 2.5 billion citizens of the Commonwealth.
The overall theme for the summit is ‘Delivering a common future: connecting, innovating, transforming’ and there will be particular focus on economic development, expanding intra-Commonwealth trade, youth development, tackling social inequality and climate action – objectives close to Rwanda’s heart. Rwanda, as an active member of the Commonwealth, has campaigned for action on many important causes, such as the 2015 Kigali Declaration which called for Commonwealth-wide action to prevent and eliminate child, early and forced marriage. We are committed to greater cooperation between members, particularly in areas such as climate action and sustainable urbanisation. As regards the latter, we have been working closely with the Prince of Wales who, alongside the Duchess of Cornwall, will be in Rwanda for the first time during CHOGM.
Kigali – the place to be this June
Rwanda has proved to be an attractive destination for international travellers thanks to our high COVID-19 vaccination rate (over 64 per cent, one of the highest in Africa). Our low COVID numbers allowed us to ease our travel restrictions months ago, meaning that delegates can expect a safe and seamless experience, especially as 30-day visas are available on arrival and are free of charge to all Commonwealth citizens.
As an active and responsible member of the international community, Rwanda’s ambition for CHOGM is to bring energy and focus in responding to the needs of the 2.5 billion citizens of the Commonwealth
CHOGM is not just about the heads of government. The week-long programme of events will see the entire Commonwealth converge on Kigali, from government officials to businesspeople and members of the wider civil society.
Starting from Monday, June 20, Kigali will host Commonwealth forums on business, youth, women, the people’s forum as well as the Kigali summit on malaria and neglected tropical diseases. Each forum will hold engaging discussions and workshops with high-level speakers and will aim to generate tangible outcomes that benefit the citizens of the Commonwealth.
Kigali will be buzzing with side events such as a fashion show at the Kigali Arena (now the BK Arena), which will showcase made-in-Rwanda and African fashion, street festivals, networking activities at Kigali’s new 18-hole golf course and even a cricket festival at Gahanga stadium, affectionately known as the Lords of East Africa.
If you do visit Rwanda, be sure to take advantage of your time in the country and explore beyond the city. Track the majestic mountain gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park, kayak on Lake Kivu, or hike or cycle along its shores, scale the canopy walkway in Nyungwe National Park or head to Akagera National Park for a big game safari experience.
Rwanda is ready to host the Commonwealth family and they can expect a warm welcome − Murakaza Neza!
Five facts about Rwanda
• Rwanda was the first country in the world to ban plastic bags in 2008 and is now aiming to become the world’s first plastic-free country.
• Rwanda is home to the world’s first drone delivery port for medical supplies, established through a partnership with the Silicon Valley start-up company, Zipline.
• Rwanda has the highest population of mountain gorillas of any country in the world.
• Every last Saturday of the month, all Rwandans come together to do community work, such as cleaning public spaces or helping with infrastructure projects. The practice is known as Umuganda and hails from pre-colonial Rwandan culture, where members of the community would call upon their family, friends and neighbours to help them complete a difficult task.
• Rwanda has the highest representation of women in parliament in the world, currently standing at 61.3 per cent.
• That Rwanda has 1,000 hills. Rwanda’s nickname, the Land of a Thousand Hills, is actually a very conservative estimate. There are well over 1,000 and it’s not just hills but mountains and volcanoes too.
• That talking about the genocide is taboo: Rwandans are eager to educate visitors about the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi to ensure that the rallying cry of ‘never again’ becomes a reality and is spread around the globe. In fact, we encourage all visitors to visit the genocide memorial during their stay in Kigali or any of the other memorials around the country. A visit to the Campaign against Genocide Museum at the seat of its parliament is also advised to understand how the genocide was stopped.
• That Rwanda is new to hosting refugees: did you know Rwanda provides refuge for over 130,000 refugees from multiple countries – including neighbouring countries like the DRC and Burundi as well as Afghanistan and migrants evacuated from Libya? Rwanda’s history has shaped our refugee policy and we are proud to be a safe haven for those most in need.
• That visitors encounter language barriers: Rwanda has four official languages which are widely spoken: Kinyarwanda, English, French and Swahili, meaning that visitors or expats rarely encounter any communications issues.
• That there is nothing to do in Rwanda besides gorilla tracking in Volcanoes National Park. It has a Big 5 game park called Akagera, stunning waterfalls and a canopy walkway in Nyungwe and options for beach relaxation and water sports on the tranquil shores of Lake Kivu. For urban adventures, explore Kigali’s vibrant restaurants and nightlife set to a gorgeous backdrop of hills, ridges and valleys.
Johnston Busingye is Rwanda’s High Commissioner to the UK.