Rwanda: British continues cheerleading Kagame as he oppresses Rwandans

Published on by KANYARWANDA

What is the true price of Rwanda's recovery?
Tim Whewell
BBC Newsnight, Rwanda

In the middle of Lake Kivu, on Rwanda's western border, is a shining example of how Rwanda is changing - a pioneering methane extraction plant providing much-needed power for the fast-growing economy.

Killer's admission of 700 murders illustrates the scale of divisions to overcome

The plant - entirely developed and funded by the Rwandan government supported by UK government- is testimony to the country's remarkable recovery from the horrors of the 1994 genocide.

Since the genocide, in which some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, Rwanda's efficient, imaginative and relatively incorrupt government has acquired many admirers in the West.

They are impressed by its efforts to play down differences between Hutu and Tutsi, to encourage outside investors and to plough money into development, with the ambitious aim of building the silicon valley of Central Africa.

Some, however, say the economic growth has come at a high cost in terms of human rights.

Western backing

A powerful network of US corporate bosses have acted as cheerleaders for Rwanda's President Paul Kagame:

"Rwanda has gone from literally the bottom of the heap to become the beacon for Africa in 15 years," says Joe Ritchie, a Chicago financier, now one of Mr Kagame's senior advisers.

Equally impressed is the British government, Rwanda's biggest bilateral donor, which gives the country about £50m ($75m) a year in aid, most of which goes straight into central government coffers.

Victoire Ingabire
The genocide has become a kind of blackmail to be used against everyone. After 16 years it is high time for democracy
Opposition politician Victoire Ingabire

"There is a dynamism and a focus in the Rwandan leadership," says British High Commissioner Nick Cannon. "I think that comes from the emergence of the current government from the experience of the genocide."

But a growing band of critics disagrees.

"There's practically no freedom of expression, the political space for any kind of opposition is extremely limited, and anyone who tries to criticise or challenge the government is subject to intimidation or threats or worse," says Carina Tertsakian from Human Rights Watch.

"We have a situation where British money is serving to prop up a government that is routinely violating the rights of its citizens. I simply don't think that the genocide and the events that surrounded it can be used as an excuse to suppress criticism and dissent."

Anti-ideology law

Rwanda's Tutsi-dominated government, the force that ended the genocide in 1994, fiercely rejects such claims.

"I think there is this myth or created idea that Rwanda is doing well but you can't express yourself," says Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo. "It's totally wrong."

Ms Tertsakian and other rights critics cite a law that bans the spreading of "genocide ideology".

Visiting a state-run education camp for young Rwandans

Aimed in theory at preventing the kind of racial hate-speak that fuelled the genocide, they say it is used in practice to suppress any criticism the government dislikes.

Rwanda's most prominent human rights groups, Liprodhor, says that the law has restricted its activities and sent half of its staff into exile:

"Everyone feared being persecuted, they could be imprisoned," activist Gertrude Nyampinga says.

The genocide ideology charge has also been used against one of the most controversial figures in Rwanda today, opposition politician Victoire Ingabire.

Recently returned after years in exile, she hopes to stand against Mr Kagame in August's elections, but she has not yet been allowed to register her party and has no access to the state-run media.

The government accuses her of inflammatory language, and the police have called her in several times for questioning - most recently last week.

Solidarity message

Ms Ingabire says the country is effectively a one-party state where a climate of fear prevents Hutus and Tutsis discussing their differences.

"The genocide has become a kind of blackmail to be used against everyone. After 16 years it is high time for democracy - not to continue to brandish the genocide to avoid a democratic process," Ms Ingabire said.

I would not mind being forced to live peacefully with my neighbour, because the alternative is to be free to kill my neighbour
Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo

A cornerstone of the government's policy of reconciliation is the system of education camps, or ingando, where students and other young people attend courses in military training and Rwandan history.

The message there is that Hutu and Tutsi are artificial categories exaggerated by Rwanda's former colonial masters, which should now be forgotten.

"We're no longer Hutus or Tutsis, we are Rwandan, we are one. The elder are already destroyed... But from us we have hope for the future, for a better Rwanda," business student Jacques Rubayiza told us when we visited one camp.

Everyone we spoke to at the camp expressed the same zeal and the same point of view - without dissent.

But even prominent Tutsi exiles, such as Joseph Sebarenzi, believe that artificially suppressing differences rather than airing them could result in violence erupting again one day.

UK aid role

Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo dismisses such notions saying: "I would not mind being forced to live peacefully with my neighbour, because the alternative is to be free to kill my neighbour."

As for Britain's role in supporting Rwanda, Mr Cannon says: "Although there are aspects of the country's human rights that are not perfect - certainly we wouldn't be here or doing what we're doing if we didn't think there was a commitment on the part of the government to the values we share."

He points in particular to a shared commitment to pro-poor policies - thanks in part to British aid, the proportion of poor Rwandans fell from 70% of the population to 57% between 1994 and 2006.

School attendance has risen dramatically, maternal mortality has fallen.

"Where our money goes," he says, "is into improving the daily lives of the people of this country. There's no real scope for the diversion of that money into other purposes."

Watch Tim Whewell's film in full on Newsnight on Wednesday 31 March 2010 at 10.30pm on BBC Two, then afterwards on the BBC iPlayer and Newsnight website.

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