The rhetoric delivered by some British policymakers that Rwanda is safe and prosperous presents an incomplete perspective of the country.
Rwandans do not understand the rationale of the UK Government’s plan to transfer asylum seekers from Britain to Rwanda. Rwandans often flee their country to seek asylum in other countries. According to UNHCR 6,328 people from Rwanda fled and applied for asylum in other countries in 2022.
It is true that the levels of crime remain relatively low in Rwanda. However, human rights organisations have regularly reported that ordinary citizens do not enjoy inalienable human rights in the country. Those who dare to or are perceived to express opinions that challenge the Rwandan government’s narrative suffer reprisal. This was the case for 12 Congolese refugees who were shot by Rwandan police in 2018 as they demonstrated against a cut in food rations. 65 of the demonstrators were arrested and charged with spreading false information or harmful propaganda with the intent of creating a hostile international opinion of the Rwandan Government. Dissenting voices, activists, independent journalists and Youtubers who do not toe the government line have also been mysteriously killed, disappeared or arrested. I know this because I experience it first-hand.
Regional tensions also threaten Rwanda’s safety. In 2012 and 2022 a United Nations group of experts accused Rwanda of supporting a rebel group under the name of M23 that is currently fighting in the eastern part of one of its neighbouring states, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The authorities in DRC have openly confirmed that the Rwandan government is backing this rebel group. Rwanda has denied it. Last year, some of Rwanda’s development partners publicly called on the Rwandan government to stop supporting the M23 and remove its troops from eastern DRC. The European Union and United States of America have also sanctioned some Rwandan military officials over the situation. The US has even placed Rwanda on the Child Soldiers Prevention Act List and suspended its military aid to the country due to its support of the M23, which the US says recruits and uses child soldiers. In December last year, the President of DRC announced a plan to declare war on Rwanda. Political tensions between Rwanda and its other neighbouring state Burundi persist. In 2016, the UN Security Council accused Rwanda of recruiting and training Burundian refugees with the aim of ousting the then Burundian president. Last December Red Tabara, a Burundian rebel group, killed 20 people in Burundi near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Subsequently, the President of Burundi stated that Rwanda is backing these rebels. As a result of this, Burundi has closed borders with Rwanda, this month.
Rwanda has indeed made some developmental strides which can be seen in the upward trend of its Human Development index over the past decades. But it is not a prosperous country yet. The economic progress made falls short especially in those sectors needed to achieve genuine social and economic transformation for the wider population of Rwanda. The country’s human capital development level is below the Sub-Sahara average, mainly due to low quality of education and high levels of children under 5 with chronic malnutrition. Only 40% of households are substantially food secure and 80% of the population live on less than $US 3.65 a day. Unemployment among the youth population aged 16 years to 30 years stands at 22%.
In addition, the policies implemented to promote reconciliation among Rwandans after the crimes against humanity and genocide against the Tutsi committed in Rwanda in the 1990’s, have not sufficiently accelerated unity. For over the past two decades, these policies have not promoted the recognition and remembrance for all the victims. This issue was even pointed out by Rwanda’s development partners including the United Kingdom to the United Nations General assembly in 2020.
The culprits of the aforementioned challenges in Rwanda can be attributed to three main factors. Substantial public funds have been allocated to the realisation of big projects for the development of Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) sector to reinforce the country’s existing tourism sector. The private sector has also been left predominantly controlled by the state and ruling party enterprises. However, these have created development opportunity for the few and in urban areas of Rwanda. Last, Rwanda’s political and governance system that does not tolerate critics has limited citizen participation and subsequently installed a top-down decision making approach in the country.
Rwanda is not ready to enter into any immigration treaty. It urgently needs to reform its governance and enter into a regional peace treaty so it becomes an actual safe nation. This would pave the way to making it a prosperous country capable of economically and socially catering for its people and hosting refugees deported from developed countries in the future. My vision to achieve this would rest on five top priorities.
- Democratisation of the Rwandan society to break the cycle that runs throughout Rwanda’s history of using violence to win and retain power by strong individuals. This can be achieved through the holding of a highly inclusive dialogue between political and civil society players in Rwanda to agree on a new political framework consensus that fosters democratic governance underpinned by respect for human rights and rule of law with the view to establishing strong institutions in Rwanda.
- Development of solid social capital that guarantees unity and accelerates reconciliation in Rwanda. This would be achieved by harmonising our country’s history to ensure all victims of the dark parts of our country’s history are recognised. Furthermore by reinforcing restorative justice and the process of truth and reconciliation.
- Decentralisation of power by ensuring the local government acts independently, and citizens are able to exercise their rights and hold their leaders to account.
- Development for all by allocating public funds towards development projects that alleviate the immediate needs of the population and liberalise Rwanda’s private sector.
- Strengthening Diplomacy by, among other things, supporting existing Rwandan peacekeeping missions programmes, most importantly negotiating the agreement of a peace treaty with neighbouring states. This is so that regional integration is accelerated, and Rwanda can become part of a supply chain of regional natural resources to advance its development and that of the region.
Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza is the Rwandan opposition leader. She was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment over politically motivated charges in 2012. She appealed and was cleared by the African Human and People’s Rights. She was released early from prison by a president’s grace in 2018 with conditions including not to leave Rwanda without the approval of authorities. She is campaigning for governance reform in Rwanda and is leader of the Dalfa Umurinzi party, that is yet to be approved for operation in Rwanda.
To find out more about the UK government’s Rwanda Bill, see Explainer: The Government’s Rwanda ‘Deal’.