October 14, 2019

The importance of Multilateral Diplomacy For Rwanda

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Following the just concluded 74th UN General Assembly where Rwanda took part or organized several high-level events, staff at Rwanda’s Permanent Mission and Amb. Valentine Rugwabiza took time off for a memorable photo

A 2013 Article in Foreign Policy Magazine had this intriguing title: U.S. to U.N. diplomats: Stop getting drunk during budget talks. For doubters of the value that diplomacy has especially for small countries, its not surprising that such stories add to their cynicism. I’ve come across many people who are convinced that diplomacy is merely ‘talk and talk at inflated rates of pay’.

That’s because the direct benefits of diplomacy may not be readily discerned, especially in a multilateral setting such as the United Nations where two or more nations engage on a wide range of issues.

But in a world where nation-states are constantly jostling for power and advancing their interests, multilateralism is of vital interest for small states such as Rwanda.

Having our voice heard

If diplomacy can be defined in simple terms as being the activity and set of professional skills used by states in their relation with other states, multilateral diplomacy is the deployment of those skills and tools to solve supranational problems together with two or more other states.

The dominant theory of international relations, realism, posits that the world is in a state of anarchy where nation-states are in constant competition to advance their national interests. Nation-states do everything possible to accumulate military power to secure the state and its interests.

In such an environment, as one diplomat put it, ‘every stupid idea of a superpower has got to be taken very seriously, but every brilliant idea of a small state can be safely ignored if inconvenient to big powers.’

Multilateral diplomacy therefore provides the closest thing to a ‘parliament of man’ through global forums and institutions such as the UN where every states voice counts.

At the UN for example, in spite of the power tensions and institutional shortcomings, the principle of ‘sovereign equality’ is a cherished one for small states. It allows for countries such as Rwanda to be heard on the global stage and on global issues, and even in some sectors of multilateralism such as peacekeeping and climate action, we tend to stand out.

Without investing in multilateral diplomacy, we would limit our ability to contribute to global issues while also reaping dividends for our national interests.

Advancing Rwanda’s economic interests

It is reassuring to see that Rwanda has prioritized economic diplomacy in the National Strategy for Transformation 1 – among the strategies to increase foreign direct investments and better position the country globally. For a country that may not spend a fortune on large international ‘trade fairs’, what would be more strategic will be to invest in multilateral platforms in strategic locations such as New York.

For example, many states consider their diplomatic mission at the UN as their ‘mission to the world’, with access to 193 member states to engage in commercial negotiations all in one place. Having trade officers/economic attaches in such places will save costs otherwise deployed to pursue bilateral diplomacy.

Public Diplomacy

Defined as ‘a government’s process of communicating with foreign publics in an attempt to bring about understanding for its nation’s ideas and ideals, its institutions and culture, as well as its national goals and current policies’, public diplomacy has become one of Rwanda’s most effective forms of diplomacy. It also helps that we have a President who is one of the most active world leaders on social media. Public diplomacy, including its subset of country branding, is an important tool in a multilateral setting such as the UN.

Member States are constantly monitoring each others activities and seeking information on our national initiatives in different sectors – therefore strategic information sharing becomes imperative.

Public diplomacy is also an effective tool for ‘country branding’ – promoting the country as an investment and tourist destination, and also combatting genocide ideology which is prevalent in several countries outside of Rwanda.

Defense diplomacy

Today, almost all states are affected by transnational crimes. Crimes ranging from drug trafficking to human trafficking, have proven to be lucrative enterprise for crime syndicates including terrorist organizations.

Global Financial Integrity estimates that these crimes generate revenues between US$1.6 trillion and $2.2 trillion per year, and parts of Africa have been identified as ‘illicit superhighways’ for many of these vices.

For Rwanda to effectively deter against these threats, our diplomatic engagements necessitate defense diplomacy, to participate in multilateral efforts at addressing transnational threats.

Other important interests for Rwanda’s defense diplomacy include coordinating peacekeeping operations, tracking international trends in the defense and security sectors, defense procurement, and intelligence gathering.

Kagenza S. Rumongi is a Communications Officer at the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the United Nations, New York. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of his employer

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