‘Donor darling’ despot falsifies poverty numbers and sends hitmen to Britain

Published by The Mail on Sunday (23rd July, 2017)

Emmanuel Gasakure could have enjoyed a comfortable life as a cardiologist in France. But when his native Rwanda was ripped apart by genocide in 1994, he returned to the country.

He helped revive the health service as the nation recovered from terrible trauma and served as President Paul Kagame’s adviser and personal physician for 14 years.

But Gasakure grew disturbed by dark forces wrecking his lifetime’s work. So he confronted the country’s health minister, a friend of Kagame’s wife, over missing funds, stray medical supplies and a mismanaged human resources project.

Days later, this patriotic physician was arrested, tortured and then shot dead – by a police officer, reportedly in self-defence, inside a Kigali police station.

One more dissident wiped out by a despotic regime. ‘He was executed because he was denouncing corruption in the health sector,’ said a friend. ‘Kagame is a killer.’

Few would now dispute this claim, given Kagame’s lethal interventions in neighbouring nations and the constant stream of critics who have died or disappeared after falling out with his regime.

His foes are not even safe abroad: one was strangled in South Africa, others have been eliminated in East Africa, while British and US authorities have issued warnings over Rwandan death squads.

Yet this bloodstained dictator at the helm of a ruthless one-party state is hailed a hero by Western leaders lavishing torrents of foreign aid on his tiny nation as he prepares for his latest electoral coronation next month.

Tony Blair says Kagame is a ‘visionary’. Bill Clinton called him one of the ‘greatest leaders of our time’. David Cameron proclaimed Rwanda ‘a success story’ that offers ‘a role model for development’.

The United Nations tells other African nations to ‘emulate’ Rwanda. The billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates works with him, the Davos elite fall at his feet and leading universities provide prestigious platforms for him to speak.

Britain is among the biggest cheerleaders, handing over huge sums from taxpayers and ushering Rwanda into the Commonwealth eight years ago.

Rwanda is the ultimate ‘donor darling’, where the barbarity of its vicious regime is brushed aside in a desperate search for an aid success story. And Britain backed the regime even after Kagame overturned the constitution to retain power for another 17 years.

Now, The Mail on Sunday can reveal devastating evidence that Rwanda may have distorted data, exaggerated claims of rapid development and lied about levels of poverty in its bid to shore up its credentials for foreign aid.

Our investigation reveals:

  • Deaths of mothers and infants have been deliberately ‘unlogged’ to boost mortality statistics, exaggerating health improvements;
  • Britain boasts its aid helped fund near-universal use of mosquito bed nets, yet corruption and mismanagement by health officials led to a massive malaria outbreak;
  •  Experts allege statistics on poverty are being manipulated to show improvements when it is actually growing worse, not better;
  • A British firm has withdrawn from helping analyse a key national study used to measure poverty, reportedly due to concerns over data manipulation;
  • Multilateral partners have confronted Rwanda after discovering its health data is ‘not credible’;
  • World Bank sources say a famine caused by drought and failed agricultural policies is being covered up by the state;
  • Dissidents claim Western donors are being duped. ‘Britain ignores reality and chooses to play an openly propagandistic role for the regime,’ said David Himbara, a former Kagame aide.

Some of the most shocking evidence uncovered by this newspaper comes from senior regime insiders who have fled the country.

One said he saw the president personally beat a colleague with sticks for buying curtains from a store not owned by the ruling party, which has vast assets and is controlled by Kagame. The victim remains behind bars nine years later.

The MoS investigation was aided by a whistleblowing senior official at a global multilateral agency. ‘I feel like an accomplice to murder,’ said the source. ‘I thought I was working with God but it turned out I was working with the Devil. This kind of regime is pure evil.’

President Kagame sells himself as saviour of Rwanda after ousting Hutu militia accused of slaughtering about 800,000 mainly Tutsi citizens in the genocide, then salvaging a shattered nation.

He skilfully exploited Western guilt over the genocide, despite sparking war in the Democratic Republic of Congo that led to possibly five million deaths. His forces carried out terrible atrocities, even on refugees, women and children.

He was due to stand down this year. But Kagame held a referendum to overturn limits on how long he could serve, claiming to be reacting to public opinion and winning almost all the votes. He could now stay in power until 2034.

His last election in 2010 was a sham, with rivals jailed and newspapers closed using state bodies backed by British aid.

One opponent was beheaded – yet Tony Blair, who has borrowed Kagame’s private jet, sent the dictator effusive congratulations.

In May this year, an activist called Diane Rwigara declared she would stand against Kagame, bravely arguing ‘people are tired, people are angry’. Her industrialist father died two years ago in a car crash the family fear was a politically-linked murder. Two days later, nude photographs of the 35-year-old were leaked to a newspaper and circulated on social media. Then the electoral commission rejected her bid.

‘Since the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front took power 23 years ago, Rwandans have faced huge – and often deadly – obstacles to participating in public life and voicing criticism of government policy,’ said Amnesty International regional director Muthoni Wanyeki.

The roll call of dead critics includes an opposition figure who was ordered to meet his village security official in May. A few days later his family were called to collect his corpse from a hospital.

Human Rights Watch also revealed why visitors admire capital Kigali’s neat streets: the police execute petty criminals while ‘undesirables’ such as hawkers and the homeless are held in camps. The group says there is official strategy to spread fear.

Yet on Thursday, the Department for International Development, overseen by Priti Patel, issued a report boasting of ‘investing’ £64 million aid this year in Rwanda to ‘build effective government institutions’ and support ‘development of an open and inclusive society’.

It praised Kagame’s ‘strong record of using aid effectively to… produce impressive results’ and insisted his regime ‘plays a progressive role on the world stage’.

Britain is the second biggest bilateral donor to Rwanda. The nation of nearly 12 million people receives the highest levels of aid support per capita in its region – about twice as much per head as Burundi, Kenya or Uganda.

Kagame and his fans love to reel off figures highlighting how he has transformed his country in areas such as healthcare, with life expectancy soaring and sharp falls in child and maternal mortality.

But according to former insiders such as Himbara, who served as Kagame’s principal private secretary and then his head of policy and strategy, ‘statistical manipulation is so widespread that hardly anyone knows what the reality is’.

Another well-placed source explained how Rwanda twists child mortality figures. ‘If a researcher goes to a household and finds a child has died, they just go to the next one. This is easy in such a tightly controlled society since no one can complain.’

Vincent DeGennaro, an American doctor, spent 18 months working in Rwanda with a charity and saw how neonatal and maternal deaths went unrecorded. ‘When I first got there, I bought into the narrative,’ he said. But he soon realised there was deliberate miscollection of data.

‘I was seeing babies dying in a hospital that did not get recorded and mothers in health centres whose deaths were not recorded. That was enough to show they were lying.’

Himbara claims Rwanda has only 684 doctors and 99 pharmacists, far lower than both official figures and rates per capita across Africa.

Britain boasts of aiding Rwanda’s health sector and funding distribution of bed nets. But a malaria epidemic with two million cases exposed corruption and purchase of shoddy nets, leading to the dismissal of the health minister and charging of officials.

‘This is proof that whatever statistics they provided were fake,’ said a senior World Bank official. ‘It is impossible to have this size of malaria outbreak if 95 per cent of the population are sleeping under proper bed nets as claimed.

‘Then they covered this up by blaming climate change but there was no other epidemic then in neighbouring countries. We are sure the statistics are false.’

This newspaper understands World Health Organisation officials have also disputed Rwandan statistics. ‘They challenged the data because it was not credible,’ said a source.

Filip Reyntjens, a renowned Belgian expert on Rwanda, also raised questions over abuse of statistics. He argued the regime deliberated engineered a decline in poverty figures by changing goods used in a household budget survey.

Oxford Policy Management, a British firm of consultants, withdrew from helping analyse the study reportedly due to ‘a disagreement’ over data manipulation.

Reyntjens said results would otherwise have revealed a significant rise in the proportion of people living below the minimum poverty line between 2010 and 2014.

‘It is surprising the international aid community does not seem to be bothered by major flaws in the evidence on Rwanda’s achievements in two major pet areas of donors: poverty and inequality,’ he wrote on the African Arguments website.

‘This makes clear again that donors and recipients need each other. Donors need success stories, recipients need money and neither wants to rock the boat.’

Reyntjens told me he fears the repression is building dangerous resentments. ‘My concern is Rwanda will explode again.’

His claims were endorsed last month in the Review of African Political Economy. ‘The fact that two researchers arrive – independently from each other – at the same conclusion, strengthens my belief that… poverty in Rwanda has increased,’ wrote economist Sam Desiere.

There have also been reports of severe hunger in parts of the country, partly blamed on centralised agricultural policies promoting crops such as coffee, tea and flowers to sell abroad. ‘It is a typical famine of a totalitarian state,’ said the World Bank source. ‘They try to hide it but the situation is very serious.’

The author Anjan Sundaram spent almost five years in Rwanda on a journalism training project funded by British and European aid. In Bad News, his devastating exposé of dictatorship, he quotes a diplomat ‘proud’ to be giving money to Kagame.

Yet Sundaram told me donors should have no doubt their cash fuels repression and diminishes hopes of democracy. ‘Rwandans benefit from aid on condition that they do not criticise the Rwandan government,’ he said. ‘Critics are routinely denied benefits of aid-financed healthcare.

‘Worse, they often find themselves imprisoned, tortured, forced to flee the country or dead. Aid money strengthens the government’s repressive machinery.’

Kagame has officials with his Tutsi-dominated party monitoring every household and every village. This can be a force for good – seen with the elimination of plastic bags – but also creates a climate of compliant fear.

The president is thought to control $500 million of assets in Rwanda, from property to milk processing, through Crystal Ventures, the ruling party’s company. Confidants of Kagame were named in the Panama Papers leak of secretive offshore holdings.

Dissidents are dismayed by Western support for a savage and duplicitous regime. ‘Britain knows exactly what is going on,’ said Robert Higiro, a former army major who was asked to kill two of the president’s most hated enemies – one of whom was later murdered. ‘I have friends at DFID. They know the truth.’

Rene Mugenzi, a father of three and human rights activist, was warned six years ago by Scotland Yard that a Kigali hit squad had been sent after him.

‘British support to Rwanda is sustaining an oppressive government, totally contrary to development and aid principles,’ he said. ‘I am a British taxpayer but my government is funding a totalitarian regime that wants my assassination.’

DFID insists that Rwanda uses aid effectively and says it is funding work in the country to improve collection of statistics and reduce poverty. It argues that Britain’s ability to effect change is boosted by engagement.

‘All UK financial support in Rwanda is earmarked for specific programmes only, such as education,’ said a spokesman. ‘In all its dealing with the government of Rwanda, the British Government holds them to account on governance, human rights and development issues.’

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