Hotel Rwanda: why does Kagame want to welcome British asylum seekers?

If President Paul Kagame followed the furor over Priti Patel’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, he did so on the hoof. Kagame is constantly on the move these days: the news broke while he was on his way to Barbados after a stint in Jamaica. In the last two months, he has visited Congo-Brazzaville, Kenya (twice), Zambia, Germany (twice), Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Mauritania, Senegal and Belgium.

How the president of one of Africa’s poorest countries can afford all this travel is a puzzle, and the fact that his Gulfstream jet is supplied by Crystal Ventures, the monopoly investment arm of his Rwandan Patriotic Front, raises interesting budget issues. In a country where checks on the executive have been reduced, the line between the business interests of a ruling party and the presidential spending account is sharply blurred.

Rwandan opposition critics wonder if he is scouting the best place to hide his assets in preparation for the day that every African leader dreads, when a military coup exiles him. Others speculate he just feels safer on the road, validated by every red carpet and honor guard.

More likely, the globetrotter is part of a decades-long campaign to make Kagame Africa’s de facto leader, not only an indispensable partner for any Western government engaging with the continent, but a source of radical solutions to nagging domestic problems. . While ruling a country barely larger than Sicily, Kagame punches so much above his weight that the boxing ring seems overshadowed by his presence. He is the mighty mouse of the African Great Lakes.

One understands why it suits Mrs. Patel to send her political undesirables to Rwanda. In 2003 Oliver Letwin, then shadow Home Secretary, spoke of sending asylum seekers to a foreign island ‘far, far away’ – but the problem was finding a suitable place . In Kagame, they found someone who aspires to be in the limelight and who is extremely good at identifying Western needs. In return, he seeks an airbrush of regional history – and support for a narrative that casts him as a leader who single-handedly brought peace to a nation devastated by genocide and oversaw a miracle of development.

In July last year, after a jihadist group crippled a $20 billion liquefied gas facility run by France’s Total in Mozambique, it was Kagame who sent 1,000 Rwandan soldiers and police to Cabo Delgado to send the rebels packing their bags. Long before Patel flew to Kigali, the Danish government had been discussing a similar offshore arrangement, and before that Rwanda had agreed to take in thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers including Israel’s Prime Minister of the time, Benjamin Netanyahu, wanted to get rid of.

But for these arrangements to be acceptable to domestic audiences – and to portray Rwanda as a safe place – Kagame’s Western partners must cover up one of the grimmest human rights records of any current African regime. And it’s not easy, given the amount of evidence that is in the public domain.

What was striking about the statements made by Boris Johnson, Patel and Tom Pursglove last week was their empty ahistoricism. Rwanda is ruled by a political party with a 32-year record of human rights abuses – killings date back to before the movement took power in 1994 – but this has been omitted from the discourse on “partnership Kingdom -Uni-Rwanda” for which the Home Office has designed an eye-catching logo.

It is understood Patel had to issue a ‘ministerial instruction’ for his plan, overriding his department’s strong and formal objections. Perhaps Interior Ministry officials found it strange to portray as safe a country implicated in the massacre of tens of thousands of Hutu civilians in the forests of neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo in 1996 and 1997. the UN have documented hundreds of atrocities committed by Rwandan troops in cahoots with Congolese rebel allies – some 100,000 people are still missing.

The UK-Rwanda partnership also glosses over a recent Freedom House report in which Rwanda was cited for its record of “transnational repression”: systematic killings, attempted murders, kidnappings and intimidation of opposition leaders, human rights activists and journalists from around the world. finished. In 2011, the Metropolitan Police felt compelled to warn three exiled Rwandan activists living in London that their government was trying to have them killed.

Kagame has played this same game superbly with France, where a judicial inquiry into who shot down the plane in which the late President Juvénal Habyari-mana was traveling was dismissed, allowing President Emmanuel Macron to publicly kiss a man his predecessors tried to quit.

In return for his exoneration, Kagame has repeatedly offered his army, sending troops to places where Western governments have no intention of sending their own men: hotspots like the Central African Republic, South Sudan, South, Darfur, Mali and Haiti.

Skeptics might argue that whatever happened to the Hutus in these forests, and whatever the horrific fate of Rwanda’s former interior minister – shot dead in his car in Nairobi – or his former intelligence chief outside – strangled in a South African hotel room – the regime treats non-Rwandan arrivals decently enough. United Nations chiefs, after all, recently praised Rwanda for hosting hundreds of refugees airlifted from Libyan detention centers.

But even this record is uneven. In 2018, Congolese residents of Kiziba, one of Rwanda’s six refugee camps, protested the reduction of their meager monthly food rations from $9 to $6. Rwandan police opened fire on a demonstration, killing around ten people. The camp’s community leaders have been prosecuted and are still in prison.

And if the goal is really for those who are airlifted to Rwanda to “settle and prosper”, the question is how easily a system in which killings and disappearances are commonplace and freedom of expression impossible will absorb thousands of single men already fleeing repressive regimes. Many Eritreans and Sudanese flown to Rwanda from Israel have simply taken to the road again.

We can expect none of these issues to get an honest airing as long as Britain pursues this offshore deal: Britain, like France, will instead have made the transition from a committed bilateral donor and sometimes critical of a complicity à la Stepford Wife.

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