By David Himbara
On the BBC Newsnight of August 3, 2017, the former Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, made some startling statements. Mitchell predicted that Rwanda’s August 2017 presidential elections would free and fair. He further claimed that the Rwandan dictator, Paul Kagame, would win the elections by a sharply reduced margin. Mitchell then delivered his punchline – Kagame has been opening Rwanda’s political space since the 2010 elections to deepen electoral competition.
But when the results were announced on August 4, Kagame had won by nearly 99%. Kagame’s victory was 1.4% less than the North Korea’s supreme ruler, Kim Jung un, who runs against himself and wins elections by 100%.
The British government happily welcomed the disgraceful electoral outcome in Kagame’s Rwanda. The UK minister for Africa, Rory Stewart, shamelessly said that the people of Rwanda “participated peacefully and in great numbers…with a result which reflected the will of most Rwandans.” Stewart concluded that:
as a close and long-standing partner of Rwanda for many years, the UK looks forward to working with President Kagame on our shared priorities…
The British politicians’ utterances are embarrassing. Kagame’s wins elections with ridiculous margins because his adversaries are either in prison, exiled, blocked from participation, or even dead. Most reasonable people and governments are fully aware of this. Compare for example the British government’s blind endorsement of the Kagame’s sham elections with the United States government’s reaction. The US State Department announcedthat it was “disturbed by irregularities observed during voting.” The State Department reiterated “long-standing concerns over the integrity of the vote-tabulation process.” Further, the US remains “concerned by the lack of transparency in determining the eligibility of prospective candidates.” Crucially, the State Department commended Rwanda’s media for reporting on complaints of harassment by the opposition candidates.
So how did British politicians become Kagame’s apologists? And it is not only the conservatives that are smitten with the Rwandan dictator. The strange bond between Kagame and British politicians cuts across the U.K.’s main political parties. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair considers Kagame a unique and visionary leader. Blair is now one of the leading promoters of the Kagame regime. Blair’s team of experts is embedded in Kagame’s key institutions facilitating foreign investment into Rwanda. Former Secretary of State for International Development, Clair Short, showered Kagame with aid and called him a sweetie.
The conservatives’ love affair with Kagame began before they were elected to office in 2010. This began in when Kagame was invited to the Conservative Conference in 2016. A year later, David Cameron and Andrew Mitchell set up Project Umubano that sees members of the Conservative Party volunteering a one week’s work in Rwanda. The purpose of the project is to raise awareness of global poverty among members of the Conservative Party. Since the launch of the project, Kagame can do no wrong. When Cameron became Prime Minister, and Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, they labeled Kagame’s Rwanda “Africa’s success model.” Cameron and Mitchell continued in the footsteps of Blair/Short by providing Kagame with direct budget support. The Rwandan dictator spent British taxpayers’ money as he wished under the direct budget support regime.
What is strange about the British politicians’ love affairs with the Rwandan dictator is that they know his true colours. Look at the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s 2015 Rwandan case study that paints the following picture:
In January , former Head of Rwandan Intelligence, Patrick Karegeya, was found murdered in a hotel room in Johannesburg, South Africa. In August, a South African court found four men guilty of the attempted assassination of former Rwandan Army Chief of Staff, Kayumba Nyamwasa. The judge concluded that the crime had been “politically motivated” and had “emanated from a certain group of people from Rwanda”. The UK is deeply concerned by what appears to be a succession of acts of violence against Rwandan opposition figures.
The US government’s assessment Kagame’s atrocities is even more forthright. According to its 2016 Rwanda human rights practices,
major human rights problems included arbitrary or unlawful killings; torture and harsh conditions in prisons and detention centres; arbitrary arrest; prolonged pretrial detention; government infringement on citizens’ privacy rights and on freedoms of speech, assembly, and association.
Despite these UK and US reports detailing the brutal nature of the Kagame regime, the British politicians continue to look the other way and fantasize that they are promoting civil society in Rwanda. Here is the UK Department for International Development (DFID) uttering such nonsense:
For instance, we are developing a new multi-donor civil society support programme, designed to strengthen civil society in Rwanda, and to facilitate constructive dialogue between civil society and government.
How would Britain strengthen a civil society in a dictatorship? By what means would the British facilitate “constructive dialogue” between a totalitarian state and a fearful society? This is delusional.
In my attempt to understand what motivates British politicians in this weird attachment to the Rwandan dictator, I initially gave them the benefit of doubt. The British politicians began the love affair with good intentions. They sought to assist Rwanda to rebuild itself after genocide. Britain continues to pump significant amounts of money into Kagame’s Rwanda. Between 2011 and 2016, for example DFID gave Rwanda £354.8 million. Approved British aid for 2017/2018 is £51.1 million.
But when the British politicians realized the monstrous nature of the Kagame regime, it was too late to change course. The British politicians had already invested too much into Kagame to admit that they had misjudged the man. It seems that some of them had developed personal relationships with Kagame – and decided to stick with him no matter what.
There is one exception – Claire Short. Short sees Kagame’s Rwanda for what it is. – a highly manipulative and violent machine that took advantage of British goodwill. Short once told me that she does not regret having supported Rwanda. But she is remorseful for having encouraged the practice of direct budget in which British taxpayers’ money went straight into Kagame’s own budget. In this form of budget support, British money was probably used to commit all manner of atrocities in and outside Rwanda.
Regrettably, none of the other British politicians smitten by Kagame are courageous enough to stop supporting a dictator that suppresses and kills his own people. On the contrary, they have become ferocious Kagame’s cheerleaders.