JOHANNESBURG - Rwanda has had words with some European donor countries after the government of President Paul Kgame defended its multi-million dollar deal to sponsor Kagame’s favourite football team Arsenal.
Some politicians in Britain, the Netherlands and other donor countries who criticised the decision - after the World Bank reported that the East African country received more than $1 billion in foreign aid and development assistance in 2016 - were told it was none of their business.
This rare criticism from the West comes against a background where Rwanda is regarded as a model African state, with Kagame responsible for transforming the country economically following the 1994 genocide when up to a million Tutsis, and some moderate Hutus, were slaughtered by the Hutu Interahamwe militia.
Indeed Rwanda is ranked 41 among 190 economies in terms of ease of doing business, according to the latest World Bank 2018 annual ratings.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said it expected Rwanda’s GDP to grow between 6-7 percent in 2017 and 2018.
Kagame also evoked international sympathy when he led the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in successfully defeating the murderous Interahamwe.
But while the above and Kagame’s progressive attitude towards gender equality has been applauded, his rule has come at a high price for political opponents, personal liberties and freedom of the press.
Even questioning Kagame, and his ruling party’s version of the 1994 genocide, is illegal and results in arrest and a lengthy jail term.
Several American investigators who subsequently visited the country and exposed atrocities committed by the RPF against Hutu civilians were hastily deported.
Walking around the super clean streets of Kigale, one is hard-pressed to find even a cigarette butt – courtesy of neighbourhood committees which are forced into cleaning them. There are also no beggars within sight.
“Over at least the last 12 years, Rwandan authorities rounded up poor people off the streets, arbitrarily detaining them in so-called ‘transit centres’ (also called ‘rehabilitation centres’) across the country, in violation of Rwanda law,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) told the 61st Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Banjul, Gambia, in November last year.
HRW added that the conditions in these centres were often inhumane – many detainees were beaten – and reflected a government perception of certain groups of people as sources of social nuisance or petty criminals, rather than victims or vulnerable people.
State security forces in Rwanda summarily killed at least 37 suspected petty offenders and forcibly disappeared four others in Rwanda’s Western Province between April 2016 and March 2017. Most victims were accused of stealing items such as bananas, a cow, or a motorcycle.
Talking to Rwandans in the street about politics remains difficult as most appeared afraid to talk, especially about the friction between Hutus and Tutsis, insisting that was in the past and a result of “foreign intervention”.
”Scores of people suspected of collaborating with ‘enemies’ of the Rwandan government were detained arbitrarily and tortured in military detention centres by Rwandan army soldiers and intelligence officers from 2010 to 2017," said HRW.
The Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture, a monitoring body of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, ratified by Rwanda in 2015, conducted a state visit in November 2017 but was forced to leave following government obstruction and the fear of reprisals against interviewees.
And Rwanda’s silencing of critics goes beyond its borders.
Rwanda's opposition coalition accused Kagame of ordering the assassination of the country's former spy chief, Patrick Karageya, who was found dead in the Michelangelo Towers in Sandton in Gauteng in 2014.
Prior to his strangulation, Kagame’s long-term war ally had turned against him in peace.
- African News Agency (ANA)