Former Israeli officials are helping Rwanda’s campaign to join the 36-member club of the world’s most developed economies, known as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The efforts by ex-attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein and former UN ambassador Ron Prosor on behalf of the central African country of 12 million people are a sign of warming ties between Israel and the continent, despite the long history of African nations supporting the Palestinian side in its conflict with Israel.
As Weinstein told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview, the story began with his youthful fascination with Africa.
The Israeli government has been working in recent years to improve its relations with Africa, and he had already developed a good relationship with Rwandan President Paul Kagame during visits to the land-locked country in his capacity as attorney-general.
After leaving office, and when Rwanda was weighing joining the OECD, Weinstein and Prosor met with Kagame and Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo.
They explained the benefits of joining the OECD. It did not hurt that they had helped shepherd Israel through the OECD process. (The Jewish state joined the exclusive club in 2010.) It was clear to the Rwandan leaders that joining the OECD would foster development and foreign investment.
Weinstein said, “We all saw eye to eye. They showed enthusiasm that Rwanda should go for it. After very little time had passed, they hired us. They said, ‘you have experience, you did it in Israel, you can get it done for Rwanda.’”
He said that the economy and political situation of Rwanda – a country torn apart by the 1994 genocidal slaughter of Tutsi tribesmen by members of the Hutu majority – have stabilized, and that attracting foreign investors is a high priority.
Weinstein was impressed that Rwanda wanted to join the OECD since this would require the country to significantly change its approach to business and require compliance with international standards.
He did not suggest that bribery was a simple matter, but noted Rwanda had the foresight to realize that systematically rejecting bribery was worth it to obtain the benefits of OECD membership.
He said that Rwanda’s hiring of Weinstein and Prosor in and of itself showed the country’s serious commitment.
“No African state has ever gotten in [to the OECD]. South Africa tried, but it had a problem regarding its methods of governance. There are Eastern European countries that are not in yet, but are ‘in line,’” he said.
“There is no African country that is even ‘in line.’” Weinstein said that they have already started to court allies. OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria, a former Mexican finance minister, views the potential of Rwanda joining the same way that he does.
“Usually there are countries inside the OECD who do not want to hurt its exclusivity, Weinstein said, “but he sees things differently. He wants to broaden the OECD. He really wants African countries to join. He tried hard with South Africa,” Weinstein said.
Asked how long it could for take Rwanda to join the OECD, he predicted more than five years. “Israel took more than three years and was built for it,” he added. In the meantime, there are around 200 OECD committees and working groups to work with, and Rwanda can already start engaging them at different levels.”
Weinstein described Rwanda’s capital Kigali as a Western-style city which doesn’t look like less developed areas of Africa. He said it was “orderly, developed, clean and secure.”
During his visit there as attorney- general, he noted that his Shin Bet security team, which accompanied him to Ethiopia en route to Rwanda, told him that they did not need to accompany him to Kigali because it is safe.
Weinstein added that Rwanda has a large number of female ministers.
When he visited the country as attorney-general with a five-man delegation, he said that it stood out because the Rwandan delegation was female-dominated.
Asked about the legacy of Rwanda’s genocide, Weinstein said that the country has undergone “a genuine forgiveness process.”
In contrast to Israelis who say about the Holocaust: “We don’t forget and we don’t forgive,” he said that in Rwanda the approach is: “We don’t forget, but we do forgive.”
Weinstein plans to help Rwanda move toward OECD acceptance by encouraging a free market, democracy, transparency and the rule of law. This entails a five-part strategy proving Rwanda’s sufficiency of its internal laws; the independence of its state prosecution from political influence; the independence of its judiciary; the stability of its banks; and a readiness to comply with international conventions.
Weinstein is being assisted in his legal review by veteran attorney Ron Dror and law clerk Yael Hadad.
The team he and Prosor have put together has researched both the substantive and procedural aspects of joining the OECD. Now they are moving to the next stage of applying their research to Rwanda’s specific situation and creating a working plan for advancing Rwanda’s OECD bid.
“Africa is the only continent not represented in the OECD, and I think everyone should applaud Rwanda [for] its desire to break the barrier and become the first African country to join the organization,” said Prosor.
“Joining the OECD would require Rwanda to meet the highest international standards when it comes to its government, business sector and international relations. So it’s in the mutual interest of both Rwanda and the international community that they achieve it – and hopefully... other African countries [will] follow its lead,” he added.