Commonwealth Admits French-Speaking Rwanda Rwanda is the newest member of the Commonwealth. That's a diverse group of nations, most of which are former British colonies. Rwanda has very few historical links to Britain. It was at one time a French-speaking Belgian colony. But Rwanda's president has been campaigning for his country to become part of the English-speaking world.

Commonwealth Admits French-Speaking Rwanda

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


The African nation of Rwanda has managed to a great extent to put its painful past behind it. And Rwanda is now looking to reinvent itself as part of the English-speaking world. That's a major break from Rwanda's history. It was a colony of Belgium, with French its official language. But now Rwanda has joined the Commonwealth, a group of nations nearly all of which were British colonies. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton explains.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Rwanda took a major step towards becoming Anglophone when it adopted English as one of its three official languages. President Paul Kagame is English speaking and launched his rebellion from exile in neighboring Uganda before seizing power back home in Rwanda in 1994, the year of the genocide that left 800,000 people dead.

Kagame made no secret about wanting to switch from French, the language of Rwanda's Belgium colonial roots, to English, and to transform his country into Africa's cyber capital. Admittance to the Commonwealth was part of his master plan, although its members are predominantly former British colonies. Rwanda's foreign minister, Rosemary Museminali´┐Ż

Ms. ROSEMARY MUSEMINALI (Foreign Minister, Rwanda): We wish to join the Commonwealth because it's part of our foreign policy (unintelligible) an organization that has one-third of the world's population, an organization that is working together on different levels (unintelligible) trade. The other thing we are talking about - climate change. We don't feel that is talking shop(ph).

QUIST-ARCTON: Rwanda's foreign minister shrugs off those who dismiss the Commonwealth as an amorphous organization with no direction. She says that by sheer force of the numbers of its membership, when the Commonwealth speaks, the world listens.

But human rights campaigners lobbied against Rwanda becoming the 54th Commonwealth member, saying President Kagame's leadership was politically repressive and failed to meet the organization's core values and standards. Kamalesh Sharma is the Commonwealth secretary general.

Mr. KAMALESH SHARMA (Commonwealth Secretary General): Our own assessment is that the political will is considerable. The effort that is being made, the reconciliation, the healing which is in their mind, these are all standards that will be recognized by Commonwealth (unintelligible) standards.

QUIST-ARCTON: So with Commonwealth membership secured, Rwanda is forging ahead with its grand plan to spread its wings way beyond the French-speaking world while settling comfortably into the English-speaking East African community alongside its Anglophone neighbors Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.