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House of Lords Hansard
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12 June 2019
Volume 798

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support the Government of Rwanda in their preparations for hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2020.

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My Lords, in asking the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare my interest as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Uganda and Rwanda.

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My Lords, the UK as chair in office is working closely with the Rwandan Government and the Commonwealth Secretariat to share our experience of hosting a CHOGM. My noble friend Lord Ahmad has discussed the summit with the Rwandan high commissioner in London, and the Minister for Africa, Harriett Baldwin, and officials including the UK Commonwealth envoy have visited Kigali. Rwandan Ministers and officials are enthusiastic and already have preparations well under way, demonstrating their commitment to ensuring a successful CHOGM in June 2020.

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I thank the Minister for her Answer. Last year’s CHOGM in London had a strong focus on trade and shared prosperity within the Commonwealth. Does the Minister agree that it is vital that we work with the Rwandan Government, who have an impressive trade record, to continue the momentum shared in London?

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Yes, I do. I thank and acknowledge my noble friend for his excellent work as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Rwanda and Uganda. Rwanda is one of Africa’s fastest growing economies; it achieved a growth rate of 8.6% in 2018. It is an important trading partner for the United Kingdom. The UK is the second-largest investor in Rwanda and we are committed to sustaining this partnership.

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My Lords, Rwanda straddles Anglophone and Francophone Africa—the Commonwealth and La Francophonie. Is not this CHOGM a good opportunity to bring the two organisations more closely together? Will the Government use their best endeavours to encourage the organisers to do just that?

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The noble Lord makes an interesting point. There is a desire that the next CHOGM should reflect the success of last year’s in the United Kingdom. I am sure that all efforts to bring in interested parties and move relationships forward will be a very positive development.

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My Lords, experts are reporting that a terrifying Ebola epidemic is out of control in the DRC, even though it had vaccines and experimental drugs from the outset. The World Health Organization says that regional risk levels are very high. Kigali, the centre for the Rwanda CHOGM, is just two hours’ drive by road from the Ebola outbreak. Commonwealth delegates and supporters will be at risk from a spread of the Ebola epidemic, with potentially catastrophic consequences for health and economic development throughout the Commonwealth. Have the Government shared with Rwanda the lessons learned from dealing with the Ebola crisis in west Africa, where more than 13,000 people perished? Have the Government responded to the communiqué from the DRC and Rwanda Presidents promising to wipe out the armed groups that plague their border, undermining the efforts to tackle Ebola?

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The noble Lord will be aware that the United Kingdom Government have taken the emergence of Ebola in the DRC very seriously. That was the subject of comment in proceedings in this Chamber last month. He makes an important point and is perhaps aware that a case of Ebola was confirmed in Uganda yesterday. That is the first case outside the DRC since the recent outbreak. The UK is a leading donor to regional preparedness. Through UK aid, we have been supporting the Government of Uganda and the region to build long-term resilience and prepare for outbreaks. This is clearly an issue that will be monitored very closely and will be of concern to all those who desire to see the CHOGM in Kigali a great success.

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My Lords, last year, one of the great successes of CHOGM was the commitment to halve malaria in the Commonwealth within five years. I declare my interest as chair of Malaria No More UK. What conversations have the Government had with the Government of Rwanda about ensuring that the Kigali CHOGM is used as an opportunity to monitor and advance progress on that commitment?

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The UK is indeed helping to meet the Commonwealth’s commitment to halve malaria cases and deaths by 2023. Between 2017 and 2019, the UK contributed £1.2 billion to the Global Fund partnership organisation between government, civil society and the private sector that operates in 24 Commonwealth countries. The noble Baroness raises an important point that I am sure will remain before the UK Government as CHOGM comes nearer.

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My Lords, I declare my interest as in the register. Is not the best way to help Rwanda, as we pass over the chairmanship to that country in June 2020, to bequeath to it much stronger Commonwealth institutions that provide a much better space for civic society, the private sector and professional connectivity, which is the main driving force of the Commonwealth today and tomorrow?

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I pay tribute to my noble friend’s undoubted authority on this issue. Yes, we think the Commonwealth should be in good functioning order, and in many respects it is. However, the noble Lord is of course aware of concerns expressed about how it is currently operating in relation to the secretariat. That is an important issue, which we would like Foreign Ministers to take forward. One would anticipate that at the next meeting of Foreign Ministers it may very well be on the agenda.

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My Lords, one of the great successes of the CHOGM in London was the engagement with civil society across the board—in the women’s forum, the business forum and the civil society forum. I welcome the fact that CHOGM will be in Rwanda, but can the Minister outline the Government’s efforts to ensure that we have the fullest participation of civil society there, including those representatives who came to London from communities representing LGBT people?

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The noble Lord will be aware that the UK has been engaging closely with Rwanda to support it in ensuring that a very positive and successful CHOGM is delivered. He makes a good point: civil engagement was a major component in preparation for and during CHOGM last year, which sets a good example. It is of course for Rwanda to design its own CHOGM and we do not want to tell Rwanda what to do, but we will certainly support it in any way we can with proposals that could contribute to a positive outcome.