It may be mere coincidence, or there could be a new diplomatic club, the 3S, as Sweden, South Africa and Senegal, present their diplomatic credentials to President Kagame, as their respective countries’ new envoys to Rwanda.
For one member of the S club, Sweden’s Johanna Teague, it is a smooth continuation of the strong relationship between her country and Rwanda, that was evident during her predecessor, Jenny Ohlsson’s term as Ambassador.
“I am extremely happy to be here, humbled, full of joy, really looking forward to strengthening further our partnership” enthused the new Swedish Ambassador.
“We have a really solid foundation, and many joint interests, a very strong relationship already. I am really here to serve and continue strengthening that relationship.”
Democracy, human rights, research cooperation, the rule of law, and of course, being Sweden, climate and environment, have been the main areas of interest in Sweden’s partnership with Rwanda. Ms Teague hinted at a stronger emphasis on trade.
“We also see that there is a lot of interest both here, and also back home in Sweden, to strengthen our trade relationship, and investment. So, one of my priorities is to see how I can support that, and take that forward.”
Signalling new, improved, or improving relationships, is the new South African High Commissioner to Rwanda, Mandisi Bongani Mabuto Mpahlwa.
In 2014, relations between Rwanda and South Africa chilled over what seemed irreconcilable differences. The two countries exchanged tit for tat expulsions of each other’s diplomats.
A major bone of contention for Rwanda was the presence of Rwandan fugitives from justice, in particular, former Rwanda General Kayumba Nyamwasa, and once head of Rwanda’s intelligence, the late Patrick Karegeya. Both were members of the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), founded by Nyamwasa.
When Patrick Karegeya was murdered in a South African hotel room, and an assassination attempt was made against Nyamwasa, some in South Africa pointed fingers at the Rwandan government.
Rwanda dismissed the allegations, and in turn charged that the RNC, which has since been designated a terrorist organisation, in a report by a United Nations Group of experts, was planning acts of terror against Rwanda, from South African soil.
Two years ago, South Africa recalled its then High Commissioner to Rwanda, George Twala. Rwanda chose not to retaliate. That and other quiet, behind the scenes diplomatic efforts to normalise relations seem to have led to the arrival in Rwanda, of Mabuto Mpahlwa.
“I am quite happy that we have got to this moment, South Africa has not had an Ambassador [in Rwanda] for quite some time, since my predecessor left, and of course, there were various reasons for that. But today, I am very pleased that I presented my credentials to the President of the country, and I expressed those positive sentiments to the President of the country.”
“It’s only been two weeks since I arrived in Kigali, and for me to be already at this point where I am able to present to the President my letters of accreditation, is something that must be a positive signal, about the direction that the two countries take in terms of developing and continuing to strengthen the relationship between South Africa and Rwanda.”
The new envoy intimated that the hitherto strained relationship was discussed with the President.
“We both recognised that there have been some issues, but we also both expressed the sentiment that that must not stop us from doing the things that we need to do, that must not stop us from normalising the relationship between South Africa and Rwanda. And those issues, if we have to find a specific mechanism to continue dealing with them, but the important thing is that we got to be able to continue to do other things. And this is based on the fact that the two countries have established a solid foundation for the relationship between the two countries.”
“I did express to the President that our two countries achieved their important goals of freedom, democracy and liberation at the same time, I expressed the sentiment that at the time we were attaining our democracy and our freedom, Rwanda was going through a very traumatic experience, but following that, the two countries laid a very strong foundation, and we did many things together.”
The High Commissioner pointed to the fact that relations did not come to a complete standstill, even with the issues between the two countries were at their most difficult.
“I reflected on the fact that even with those issues, we continue to witness a lot of South Africans that live and work in Rwanda, freely, and are happy to live in this country, there are businesses from South Africa that continue to operate in Rwanda, this must be something that says to us that this is a relationship that works both ways, because we also know that there are important things which Rwanda has benefited from its relationship with South Africa.”
“So, we are talking about a mutually beneficial, mutually necessary relationship, and it is my commitment to work towards ensuring that we can maintain that positive path that gets us doing the things that are beneficial to both countries.”
Of the difficulties that Rwandans wishing to travel to South Africa, have continued to face in getting visas, the new High Commissioner sounded a note of optimism.
“This is the work that we have to do. I think that if my presence in Rwanda is to have meaning, I think it has to be because, we are able to work through those issues, in a manner that moves us forward, and that is the commitment that I gave to the President, and it is based on what my own President would like to see. And so as much I cannot tell you today that tomorrow visa services will be available, but this is the commitment that I am making, this is the work that we have to do, and I hope we will be able to achieve that…”
Senegal’s Ambassador Doudou Sow, will have the privilege of being the first ever resident Senegalese Ambassador to Rwanda. Confident of what he declared “already excellent relations” he looks forward to practical areas of cooperation between the two countries.
“Rwanda is respected around the world for its political, economic and environmental achievements. There is great potential for strengthening our partnership in all areas, including defence, education, housing, health and environmental protection. These areas in which Rwanda is performing very well, and Senegal can benefit through even closer cooperation.”
All three envoys’ visit to Urugwiro Village, as Rwanda’s State House is locally known, will have been their second, and final step of the formal process for their accreditation.
The Letters of Credence, or more commonly, Diplomatic Credentials, are letters addressed from one head of state to another, asking them to give credence to what the envoy may say on behalf of his or her country.
The formal ceremony where the new envoy personally presents the letter to the receiving head of state, marks the start of their ambassadorship.
Since French took over from Latin as the language of diplomacy, the letters are normally written in French, but they may also be written in the envoy’s national language, which in the in this case, would have required President Kagame to navigate Wolof, Swedish and Zulu, among other tongues.
Upon their arrival, all three members of the 3S club, first met the foreign minister, Vincent Biruta, and asked for an audience with the head of state. They will have carried a sealed original letter, and an unsealed copy. The foreign minister is saved the trouble of having to unseal the letter, with the sealed one presented personally by the new envoy to the head of state.
Traditionally, the letters were sealed with wax, stamped with the national insignia of the envoy’s country.
Even beyond the niceties of diplomatic language, about strengthening relationships, there are clear important developments in relations between all three countries and Rwanda.
For South Africa, the new envoy heralds the normalisation of a relationship that was being buffeted by fairly strong turbulent currents. The two countries can now look forward to normal cooperation, including over the still fledgling, but potentially transformative African Continental Free Trade Area, or AFCTA.
Sweden’s relations with Rwanda began with humanitarian assistance, rising to full diplomatic representation, but still focused on developmental assistance and cooperation. From the new Ambassador’s remarks, it is clear that the relationship has matured to include a stronger focus on trade between the two countries.
Until now, Senegal had been content to base its representation to Rwanda in the neighbouring Kenyan capital of Nairobi. The opening of a residence in Kigali is a sign of the importance Dakar attaches to relations with Rwanda.
Rwanda will be satisfied that it ends a year and looks forward to a new one strengthening important relationships.