THE annual meeting of the Commonwealth - the association of 53 independent nations with former colonial links to Britain - no longer attracts much attention although it does good work in many fields. But this week's gathering in Trinidad and Tobago may make some headlines since it is due to consider a controversial application from Rwanda for membership.

Controversial because Rwanda has had no links to Britain in the past - its colonial allegiance was to France - and because of the genocide that took place there in 1994 when countless Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by extremist Hutus. The application is seen by some as a way by which the present moderate government of Rwanda can get its own back against France for its questionable stance in 1994. But in itself that does not seem a good enough reason to vary the conditions of membership of the Commonwealth, even though Rwanda has declared English to be the country's official language and cricket its national sport - two public relations gestures which must surely owe something to the role of Tony Blair and his African Governance Initiative project as unpaid advisors to the Rwandan government. Despite lingering doubts about the country's human rights record there may be good reasons for making Rwanda, and perhaps other future applicants, associate members of the Commonwealth but it should be done on the basis of an agreed policy and not be left to ad hoc decisions.


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