[Opinion] Quebec should have diplomatic representation in Kigali

As luck would have it, I was the very first Canadian and Quebec citizen to have lived and worked in Kigali. It was in 1964-1966, when as a “volunteer” of SUCO, I taught at Saint-André College in Kigali, barely two years after Rwanda’s accession to independence and one year after the foundation of the National University of Rwanda, in Butare, by Father Georges-Henri Lévesque and a group of Dominicans and lay people from Quebec.

Our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly, announces that Canada will establish “a permanent embassy” in Kigali and will appoint an “ambassador” to this post. Canada already has an “Office” in Kigali which, as Rwanda is now part of the Commonwealth, bears the name “Office of the High Commission of Canada in Kigali”.

The incumbent of this Office is the Canadian High Commissioner in Nairobi, Kenya, who also represents Canada in Burundi, Uganda and Somalia. His name is Christopher Thornley and, originally from British Columbia, he probably speaks French as well as Swahili, Inuktitut or Serbo-Croatian…

In Rwanda, English replaced French as the language of instruction and administration in 2010, although French remains a living language and one of the official languages ​​of the country along with Kinyarwanda, English and Swahili. In neighboring Burundi, French still occupies first place as an official European language, but English has also obtained the status of official language alongside Kirundi and French.

There is probably no sub-Saharan country where Quebec has left its mark more significantly than in Rwanda. Father Lévesque and General Dallaire have a lot to do with it, but also all the Rwandan students who attended the National University of Rwanda and Quebec universities.

Thus the Rwandan Louise Mushikiwabo, Secretary General of La Francophonie, has a brother, one of my former students from Saint-André College, Landoald Ndasingwa, who studied at Laval University, then at the University of Montreal, who married a Montrealer and had two Canadian-Rwandan children. Minister, Landoald was assassinated along with his wife, Hélène, and their two children on the first day of the 1994 genocide, by the Presidential Guard of Rwanda.

The future of French is at stake in Africa, and Quebec should open a representation of Quebec in Kigali, as it has in Dakar and Abidjan, in West Africa. In total, the eleven French-speaking countries of West Africa had, in 2016, a total population of 158 million inhabitants. However, Rwanda, Burundi and Congo-DRC alone had 103 million at the same time, and Quebec is currently absent.

An important pole

To regain its historic place, Quebec has the choice between three capitals: Kigali, Kinshasa and Bujumbura.

Kinshasa would be a wise choice if this city had an acceptable level of security. Unfortunately, the Government of Canada recommends avoiding all non-essential travel there, just as it recommends avoiding all travel to Bujumbura due to political tensions.

On the other hand, Kigali is one of the safest cities in sub-Saharan Africa, which partly explains its growing favor with major international agencies. It must be said that the per capita product of Rwanda is 2.6 times higher than those of Burundi or Congo-Kinshasa.

Kigali has become an important hub in both Anglophone and Francophone Africa. It is a dynamic city of extreme cleanliness (we should be inspired by it) and, thanks to its diplomacy and its economic performance, Rwanda has become a leading leader, both in Africa, in the Francophonie and in the Commonwealth.

When I return to Rwanda and see Ontarians or British Columbians occupying positions at the University of Rwanda that were once occupied by Quebecers, I tell myself that we are wrong not to react and not to rely on the thousands of Rwandans who have kept excellent memories of our presence on Rwandan soil to raise their heads and take back our place in this beautiful country and in this part of Africa which includes Burundi and Congo-DRC.

The battle for the international influence of French also passes through Kigali.

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