Paris 12th September 2011

  • Mr Thierry de Montbrial, President of Institut Francais de Relations Internationales;
  • Distinguished Members of this Institute;
  • Distinguished Audience;

It is a pleasure for me to join such a distinguished gathering this morning to discuss an issue of interest and importance to us all – the nature of the new order that will be created from our fast changing global reality.

It is perhaps a coincidence, but nonetheless pertinent, that we should be discussing this subject only one day after the tenth anniversary of an event of far-reaching consequence both geographically and politically, that spurred the fight against international terrorism and significantly changed some of the norms of international conduct.

But the changes brought about by 9/11 are just a part of the uncertainty in the global politico-economic environment over the last 20 years or so.

This period has seen the rise of emerging and developing markets that have fundamentally changed the complexion of global trade relations, particularly in Africa.

While the core group of these new global economic players is centred on the economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, commonly known as the BRICS, the process is much more widespread, reaching out to Africa.

This trend is also accompanied by the relative decline of the G8 countries’ economic supremacy and the rising influence of the G20, whose formation illustrates how economic development is now spread across continents and cultures.

The ongoing global financial crisis, especially in the advanced economies, is bound to accelerate the pace of change even further.

And more recently, demands for greater freedom and participation in national politics – especially what has come to be known as the Arab Spring – have shaken the existing order and created new realities.

New information and communication technologies are bringing their own dynamics of change; where previously, socio-economic and political progress took years or even decades – social media tools are now contributing to the rapid exchange of ideas and information, as seen in the protests across North Africa, the Middle East, and in parts of Europe.

Clearly, a new order is in the making. In the midst of these changes, therefore, the question that demands our attention – certainly for us in Africa, and Rwanda in particular – is what role we should play in contributing to shape this new order and ensuring that we Africans are well integrated in it.

I think the answer to this complex question is that Africa, the West, and other partners must recognise and accept that times have changed. Africa, including Rwanda, is quite different from even just a decade or two ago. Today’s challenges dictate different approaches, including a readiness to adapt and adjust to new circumstances. Our relations and respective roles should therefore reflect this reality.

It is becoming clear that African countries are poised to play a more strategic role in reshaping and stabilising the international landscape. This presents us with both challenges but more importantly opportunities – an opportunity to develop more diplomatic and trade relations with African states, with of course the corresponding challenge of redefining past and current approaches to foreign policy.

In Africa’s case, economic performance in the last decade gives the continent a unique opportunity to claim a more active role and a stronger bargaining position in the global arena.

The continent’s real GDP rose 409 percent every year from 2000 through to 2008, more than twice its pace in the 1980s and the 90s. Africa’s collective GDP at 1.6 trillion USD in 2008 now matches some of the big BRICS economies like Brazil and Russia, and the continent is among the world’s most rapidly growing economic regions.

Africa’s economic growth gained greatly from the surge in global commodity prices over the past decade. But it is not only resources that explain Africa’s emerging strong position. The deliberate actions of individual governments to end political conflict and embrace democratic governance; lessons learnt from the last two decades of the last century that have led to improved macroeconomic conditions and a better business climate make diplomatic and business engagement with Africa imperative.

Africa’s growth is also increasingly being fuelled by domestic social and demographic factors, such as increasing urbanisation, a growing middle class and an expanding and skilled labour force; all of which lead to greater consumption of goods and services. Today there are 52 African cities with a population of more than one million people each. The urban and middle class population in Africa is about 40% of the continent’s total, and it is projected that by 2020 people in this income category will have doubled, with a combined consumer spending of 1.4 trillion USD.

Another important factor is that Africa is the centre of the global supply chain – a strategic source of almost 40 per cent of raw materials, agriculture, fresh water and energy essential for global growth. In order to benefit from this position, African countries have to engage with trading partners on the basis of what is in their best interests. They must be strategic in their dealings and pursue partnerships where everyone involved has something to gain.

It is not only Africa that can benefit from a new international reality – the West can also seize this opportunity to improve the economic climate and build better relations with Africa. European countries have commercial ties with Africa that go back centuries – if these are harnessed appropriately for mutual economic growth, then even the entrance of other players can be seen for what it really is – healthy and useful competition.

Increase in trade on these terms will lead to less dependency on aid as a development tool, and see the rise of true partnerships. This way, we can all play our rightful roles in reactivating the world economic system.

For African countries to be better integrated in the world economy and be able to influence its trends we need to be stronger – we have to strengthen intra-African trade, communications infrastructure, and accelerate regional integration.

Again, for Rwanda, and indeed the rest of Africa, to play their new role effectively certain conditions must obtain. African governments have to be responsive to their people’s needs and ensure that the gains of progress are shared fairly and that citizens participate meaningfully in their own governance.

Repercussions of the refusal to heed the people’s needs and denial of a role in their own government are still fresh in our minds. We have seen what has been happening in different parts of the world, especially in the North of our contient.

But equally crucial for a mutual beneficial relationship between Europe and Africa, it is vital that the developed world begin to understand the different contexts within which African countries operate and respect the choices and will of the people. Systems of governance are built on the cumulative experience and circumstances of a nation and reflect what is generally accepted as good and workable for a particular people

In Rwanda, for instance, we have built modern institutions based on Rwandan traditional values and they work for us. We devise our own strategies to answer our specific needs and accomplish what we want. For instance, performance contracts entered into between government and the people ensure delivery of services and promote accountability. Rwandans have a democracy that gives them choices and whose fruits are measured at village level. Those that we work with would do well to acknowledge this.

It is most helpful when initiatives that are people-centric and owned are supported, rather than criticized, especially by individuals and organisations that are accountable to no one.

The notion of big and small, rich and poor countries that gave some the right to determine the fate of others is not applicable in the new environment in which we find ourselves. We have to engage more meaningfully.

Now is the time, therefore, to learn from one another; learn from the mistakes of the past and essential truths of today, and have the courage to adjust our relations and accept our new roles.

This does not mean that there will be no misunderstandings or difficulties between nations. There will be, and indeed Rwanda is no exception. Challenges are inevitable but they cannot hold us back; we have to move on.

  • Distinguished audience;
  • Distinguished ladies and gentlemen;

In conclusion, let me reiterate that Africa today is better placed to play a pivotal role in international affairs, but will only do so effectively as a partner in the true sense of the word. In the new reality, relations between nations and their respective roles cannot be built on expectations of favours or accepting a status quo that came to be at the will of some and without the consent of others. This is what should form the basis of a new international order, and we should use all the tools at our disposal – intellectual and diplomatic – to create it.

Thank you for your kind attention.

I am sure we will be very happy to share with you our perspectives on this subject.