On Monday 18 July 2011, David Cameron, British prime minister, made a quick visit to two African countries: South Africa and Nigeria. This was in the midst of the media storm that was phone hacking which engulfed Britain political arena. The trip was apparently meant initially to include as well Rwanda and South Sudan. But these two countries were dropped at the last minute, because the prime minister had other urgent issues to deal with at home.
It would be ironic to underscore the special relationship that Britain [both main political parties – Labour and Conservatives] has developed with Paul Kagame, the Rwandan strong man since July 1994. To understand it, one needs to look at the big picture of British interests in the region. Like in many other places around the world, though they publicly claim to support and care about human rights, business and economic influence are always their main priorities.
In October 2010, Tony Blair, former British prime minister, visited Rwanda. It was the same month that the UN Mapping report which accuses Paul Kagame and his forces of having committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide nature if brought in front of a court. These were perpetrated against Rwandan Hutu refugees and different Congolese populations including Hutu Congolese.
The visit also occurred a few days after the imprisonment on 14 October 2010 of Ms Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, leader of the main Rwandan opposition party, FDU-Inkingi. At the time, we wondered if during his trip Tony Blair did discuss the fate of that politician and others in similar situation in Rwanda. Certainly they did, but not in a sense which could see the thousands of prisoners of conscience Rwandan prisons being freed.
Since that time, Paul Kagame has visited Britain several times, being advised certainly by Tony Blair and probably other British politicians on the best way forward in handling difficult situations he may be encountering in ruling his country. More recently, with the security threat that the Rwandan government has been accused of by British Scotland Yard, some may have expected some change of heart from his unconditional political supporters in UK.
This was a vain hope. The visit that David Cameron could not realize a week or so ago was done by Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development. In his pledge to British taxpayers after his nomination at the ministerial post last year he said, ‘Tackling deprivation around the world is a moral imperative and firmly in Britain’s national interest… …it is our duty to spend every penny of aid effectively. My top priority will be to secure maximum value for money in aid …’
What DfID has been doing committing significant amount to Rwanda, is obviously serving British interests. The Rwandan government may be spending received aid in enhancing its repressive and discriminatory systems towards its population, reinforcing its presence in Eastern Congo, denying democracy and freedom to its citizens, as long as this serves effectively British interests, why changing such policy.
Rwanda has become a member of the Commonwealth. It is today part of the family, defending its interests. Britain has invested significantly in its new family member. So far it seems happy of the new and growing relationship. Forget about human rights. Victims of Paul Kagame’s megalomania need to count on themselves to oust their dictator. Countries only care about their national interests, not those of citizens in other countries. In the case of Rwanda, France was sidelined after 1994. With Sarkozy in power, the ex-influential partner is trying to get back. The point of Andrew Mitchell visit in Kigali on 25 July is to demonstrate how his department cares about British interests, more than anything else.