Stop the flow of cash to Rwanda’s despotic regime

Published in The Times (May 23rd, 2011)

Somehow, we never seem to learn. This year, we have seen seismic uprisings in North Africa expose the shabby foundations of a foreign policy that propped up a bunch of corrupt dictators. In their wake, British diplomacy was forced into a rapid change of gear as it sought to realign itself with democrats instead of despots.

Still we make the same mistakes elsewhere on the continent. Take Rwanda. One of the few things that unites Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron is the fervour of their support for this country as it recovers from the trauma of genocide.

One after the other, they chucked huge amounts of aid at the tiny nation. They ignored how Paul Kagame’s regime played a leading role in the conflict in the Congo, the most vicious war in African history with more than five million people killed, and sold off stolen minerals. They ignored how Mr Kagame crushes dissent, jails opponents and closes down critical newspapers. And they ignored the way he won a meaningless election marred by murder last year with a ludicrous 93 per cent share of the vote.

But surely they cannot ignore the latest transgression. Can we really have a situation in which we hand over £83 million a year to a regime that in return, according to Scotland Yard, sends hit squads to assassinate Rwandans living in London? Incredibly, the revelation that police had warned two exiles of a threat to their lives from the Rwandan Government came just a month after MI5 told the country’s High Commissioner to stop an alleged campaign of harassment and intimidation against dissidents.

Such tactics are no surprise. Opponents have been shot, beheaded, jailed and terrorised. I have spoken to former members of Mr Kagame’s inner circle who said he never hid what would happen to his critics. Even Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who became a hero after saving 1,268 people as the hundred-day hell of genocide raged around him, had to go into hiding after speaking out.

Despite a deluge of damning reports from the UN and human rights bodies, Britain is pouring increasing amounts of aid into Rwanda — one third of a billion pounds over the next five years. Government sources claim that stopping this cascade of cash would only hurt the poor, but this reasoning has not prevented Britain freezing aid to Malawi this month because of human rights concerns.

The desperate desire for an aid success story has ensured that for too long, too many people who should know better have ignored repression in Rwanda. We can ignore it no longer. Otherwise we are aiding and abetting an autocrat whose regime sends death squads to murder people living peacefully in this country.


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