Shine A Light

UK's cosy relationship with Rwanda: rose-tinted glasses?

Rwandan refugees in Britain live in fear of their government’s spies, whilst Britain remains Rwanda’s largest donor. Britain must avoid nurturing another African dictator.

Jimmy Kainja
4 August 2011

Rwandan and Zimbabwean refugee communities in Britain are allegedly living in fear and have become suspicious of each other after an alert that they have been infiltrated by spies sent by their respective governments to “stifle, sometimes to kill” political exiles, according to a recent BBC Radio 4’s File on 4 programme.

Jonathan Musonera, a Rwandan exile said on the programme that he has been approached and warned by the British police that he was in danger, as he is wanted by the Rwandan government. It is alleged: “conventional and unconventional means have been used [in the past]” to deal with critics of the government. 

Musonera told the programme that he has “moved houses more than seven times and I cook by myself…because I cant trust anybody… many people have been poisoned.” Musonera believes he is in danger because he is a member of Rwandan National Congress, an opposition party to President Paul Kagame’s ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front.

Kagame is widely credited for the crucial role he played in uniting warring Rwandan ethnic groups and bringing stability to a country that suffered large-scale genocide 17 years ago where an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in the space of 100 days. Eight years into his presidency, Mr Kagame has been facing growing criticism for his intolerance of criticism, stifling opposing views and not allowing real opposition parties and groups to emerge in the country.

Questions have been raised about Britain’s continued bilateral aid to the Rwandan government. At £80 million annually, Britain remains its largest donor. Paul Rusesabagina, who is credited for saving an estimated, 200 people during the genocide and is now an exiled fierce critic of Kagame, has called on Western donors, Britain in particular, to stop bilateral aid to Rwanda. His advice is to channel aid through humanitarian organisations and NGOs. DfID, Britain’s international development agency appeared to agree with Mr Rusesabagina, despite its growing funding contribution to Rwanda. DfID's statement said:

“Where a government fails to live up to the standards we expect, we do not believe that it would be right or fair to penalise the poor and vulnerable. So we find other ways to provide support through NGOs and charities, or diplomatic and aid relationships that allow Britain to address such issues as respect for human rights, rule of law and corruption.”

Predictably perhaps, Rwandan representatives in the UK have denied all such accusations, citing Rwanda’s strong links with the UK and lack of clear evidence for the allegations. In May this year, the Rwandan High commissioner, Ernest Rwamucyo told the BBC: "the government of Rwanda does not threaten the lives of its citizens wherever they live." Yet six men, believed to be working for the Rwandan government are on trial in South Africa for the attempted assassination of an exiled former Rwandan military general, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa.

Amid these allegations, DFID has maintained that it has a "candid" relationship with the Rwandan government:

The UK / Rwandan relationship is a candid one, and we raise these issues where we have concerns on a regular basis at senior level, including concerns over political space, media freedom and extrajudicial killings. We continue to urge the government of Rwanda to address these issues and bring perpetrators of human rights abuses to justice.”

This statement is almost an admission by the British that Kagame, the saviour of Rwanda, does not deserve to be punished in any way. If things go wrong Britain and Rwanda governments talk “at senior level” and we “urge” him to change. On his recent visit to Rwanda, UK Secretary of State for Overseas Development Andrew Mitchell told local media that “aid to Rwanda will increase by 50 percent over the next four years”. Barring the technical and somewhat controversial issue of Rwandan spies, which came from Britain’s own security forces, the number of exiled Rwandans alone is enough to alert the British government that something is wrong with Kagame’s administration.

Human Rights Watch have raised similar concerns over Kagame’s increasing rejection of criticism and stifling of opposition parties. In its 2010 report, World Report 2011: Rwanda, the organisation noticed that “none of the three new opposition parties were able to nominate candidates” in the country’s last presidential election that re-elected Kagame with an unprecedented 98.3 percent of the vote.

Britain must see the writing on the wall and realise that if it does not take decisive action now it could be nurturing yet another African dictator. Kagame has done excellent work in overseeing a peaceful and difficult transition. And Rwanda is currently enjoying good economic growth. Yet all dictators were once good guys. The British government must review its “candid relationship” with Mr Kagame, or accept that it is complicit with his intolerance and brutality.





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