Kagame uses soft power to spread Pan-Africanism

Monday August 14 2023

President of Rwanda Paul Kagame delivers remarks during the Space Forum at the US - Africa Leaders Summit in Washington DC, US on December 13, 2022. PHOTO | AFP


Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is lobbying African countries to collaborate and do more business together to effectively address the challenges the continent faces amid heightened geopolitical tensions.

Against this backdrop, President Kagame has recently embarked on a diplomatic charm offensive visiting and hosting several African leaders.

With a blend of soft power, including gifting cows — a symbol of wealth, friendship and appreciation in Rwandan society — to foreign leaders as a gesture of solid goodwill and proactively engaging in signing several memoranda, President Kagame appears to be on a Pan-African mission.

This week, President Kagame hosted Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina for three days during which a Memorandum of Understanding on Multi-Sectoral Economic Co-operation was signed.

“Rwanda and Madagascar see eye-to-eye in our long-term objective to bring prosperity to our people and build a more developed Africa," President Kagame said during a State Banquet held in honour of President Rajoelina on Monday.

Read: Pan-Africanism top on Museveni, Ramaphosa talks


In Africa, President Kagame pointed out the pandemic, climate change, and the impact of geopolitical tensions have reversed decades of progress.

However, African countries have to work together to address these challenges.

“Having these challenges is not the issue, the problem is leaving these challenges unaddressed. And for Africa, it is really sad because what are those problems that are insurmountable that have left Africa lagging behind the rest of the world forever?” President Kagame said, calling for a mindset shift among Africans to push back on the foreign influence that makes it difficult to work together and address their challenges.

The ongoing conflicts on the continent, he observed, reflect not only inaction but also the failure of the continent to work together to address its challenges. He added that some foreigners without mentioning names are thriving on the continent’s misery.

“If you look at the tensions, conflicts our continent is going through, you can’t help but think of what is wrong with us, and until when? There are parts of the world that have made it a point to thrive off the plight of those of us who do not appreciate ourselves. Then the next day, they turn up to tell you how they have lessons for you about human rights… After violating everything on the continent," President Kagame said, adding that the blame should be placed on those of “ us who accept to be treated like that.”

His comments came as West Africa under Ecowas grappled with a coup in Niger which saw Western-backed President Mohamed Bazoum deposed by a military junta. But President Kagame who has been consistent in calling for more collaboration among African countries to make the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is forging ahead by signing bilateral agreements to facilitate trade between Rwanda and other African countries.

In late July, he also hosted Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso on a three-day state visit, during which, a bilateral agreement n to accelerate the implementation of the AfCFTA was signed.

Read: Here is the biggest hurdle to AfCFTA take-off

“We want to see our two countries thrive and interact more with people of our continent. We have already made progress in the area of AfCFTA. We want to make that work. We want Rwanda and Congo to be in the lead of making this progress.” President Kagame said after the signing of AfCFTA agreement with Congo.

A few days later on July 29, Kagame hosted President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique and gifted him Inyambo cows.

Analysts say this diplomatic overture not only underscores Rwanda’s aspirations for positive international relations but also underscores its determination to play a constructive and influential role in shaping the course of global affairs.

Dr Ismael Buchanan, a researcher and senior lecturer at the University of Rwanda told The East African that Rwanda’s unique history and present drive to attain sustainable development and well-being for its citizens underpins its foreign policy which is driven by economic diplomacy, regional cooperation and Pan-Africanism.

“Rwanda as a nation decided to set out to rebuild relations with other countries based on the safeguard of national integrity and sovereignty, respect and promotion of mutual interests as well as principles of sovereign equality and complementarity among nations,” he said.

Rwanda’s foreign policy Buchanan observed has progressively shifted towards good neighbourliness and good relations in the international arena to prevent conflict in the region and ensure international support. This is in addition to continental and regional integration to broaden the market and the economy, cooperation based on Rwandan development priorities among others.