For those readers who are not fully fluent in Kinyrwanda, the local language spoken in Rwanda, the title of this article may need a bit of an explanation. All will be revealed shortly…
For the last year I have been part of a fascinating Erasmus + project, conceived by Prof Wei Shen, the former Director of the LU Confucius Institute (now based at Deakin University, Melbourne). It is called: Jean Monnet Network ‘The European Union, Africa and China in and Global Age’ and brings together academic scholars from eight Universities – Lancaster and Bradford in the UK –, one in Greece, and five in East Africa.
It was first launched in April 2017 in Nairobi, Kenya and its primary purpose is to foster policy-based research, sharing of knowledge and practical experiences on Regional Integration in Africa, notably in the East Africa region. It also is looking at tripartite co-operation between the EU, China and Africa to further these ends.
The team of specialist Professors has been holding workshops and training sessions in Tanzania, Uganda and, most recently, Rwanda. The rolling caravan will go to Burundi in January 2019, then on to Addis Ababa, Beijing and finally Brussels.
Which brings me to my Rwandan proverb: ‘the skin of a rabbit can cover five people’. What is this about?
When I was working as an EU Ambassador in Africa, between 2007 and 2011, I started every day with an African proverb – what I called Africa wisdom- which I sent out every day in order to offer a daily reminder of the richness and diversity of African culture. I sent out thousands of them. Such proverbs are very special. They give a unique insight into how every culture views a particular issue.
I chose the ‘skin of the rabbit’ proverb when speaking at a Rwandan workshop on regional integration because it has a special meaning for Rwandans – it conveys the symbol of Unity and Sharing. And that’s what Regional Integration is about.
In the East African Community – bringing together 6 nations: Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan, some of whom have been at war with each other, is a major political and economic challenge. Issues related to Peace, Security, Mutual Trust, and developing a Shared Vision are uppermost in the minds of those involved. Not easy.
President Kagame of Rwanda referred to this in his speech to the UN General Assembly three weeks ago where he called for ‘Inclusivity ….and the Importance of Unity on the African continent’
Our project is allowing many of these issues to be discussed and confronted in a dispassionate and constructive way. It’s making a positive impact.
Regional Integration is hard work and needs leadership, deep perseverance and determination. One of my favourite Chinese proverbs illustrates this very well:
‘A man who waits for a roast duck to fly into his mouth will have to wait a very, very long time…’
Leaders of Regional Integration cannot wait for roast ducks to fly into their mouths.
One fascinating new development is that we have managed to graft the project concept on to Africa’s formal institutional structures, thus raising the hope that the project concept will live on way beyond the 3 year life of the project.
We have also proposed that the Jean Monnet Network project be expanded to other regions of Africa. We will be writing to the European Commission to seek the allocation of additional funding to make this happen. This would fit perfectly into the call for a ‘New Partnership with Africa, a new Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs’, launched recently by President Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Commission and President Paul Kagame, the current Chair of the African Union.
We also were invited to a major conference in Cameroun attended by over 250 VCs, Rectors and Professors of African Universities. Our proposal to create an African Academic Network on Regional Integration, was welcomed, and was included in the final Communiqué.
Particularly exciting however is a link we managed to make with the Rwanda Confucius Institute who joined us in all our meetings. LUCI is currently looking at how we can make a bridge between our CI in Lancaster and others in Africa. Watch this space.
A final thought from Rwanda: ‘When united everything is possible.‘ And from Kenya: ‘The shortest distance between two points is a smile’. Think about this as you hear the babble of foreign languages being spoken as you walk down the Spine. Smiles unite.