Main Image Credit Double standards: the UK's support for Rwanda's Paul Kagame has led to accusations of hypocrisy. Image: Veni Markovski / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0
There are many similarities between Paul Kagame’s regime and that of Vladimir Putin, yet the UK continues to support the Rwandan dictator.
While many bemoan the developing world’s blasé attitude towards Russia's brutal assault on Ukraine, one can understand part of the callousness. Some countries depend on Russia for critical needs. Many are run by autocrats and engage in similar behaviour, often supported by the West. If a small dictatorship can get away with invasion and war crimes, why not a superpower? Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) regime deeply resembles Vladimir Putin’s and did everything first.
Kagame uses the word ‘Interahamwe’ – the name of the group responsible for the Rwandan Genocide – like Putin uses ‘Nazi’: to discredit all who oppose them or bring up RPF/Soviet/Russian atrocities. But the Genocide was not a one-way affair. As with Russia’s ‘Great Patriotic War’, inconvenient truths are ignored. Like Russian ultra-nationalists’ attitude towards Ukrainians, many in the minority Tutsi regime did not accept losing power to the Hutu majority during decolonisation. Several attempts to regain supremacy failed, including an alliance with Che Guevara. In the 1980s, they helped Yoweri Museveni take power in Uganda and occupied many key positions, benefiting from Western training and support. Like Putin, Kagame was an intelligence chief. Since many resented this influence, Museveni was happy to support the RPF attempt to re-establish minority rule back in Rwanda while the UK and US looked on.
Despite ongoing negotiations – and just before a survey of refugees’ preferences was to begin – the RPF invaded in October 1990 and started slaughtering people. Rwanda’s small army was unprepared, so violent undisciplined militias arose in an increasingly toxic environment. Concurrently, massacres of Hutus by the minority Tutsi regime in Burundi caused an inflow of 287,000 refugees. The RPF broke a succession of ceasefires, followed by more massacres on both sides. Investigations of massacres behind RPF lines were limited and/or desultory. Around Kigali, people were being killed by Hutu fanatics, but also by RPF agents provocateurs.
Like Russian ultra-nationalists’ attitude towards Ukrainians, many in Rwanda's minority Tutsi regime did not accept losing power to the Hutu majority during decolonisation
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) investigators found that it was almost certainly the RPF who shot down a plane carrying the Hutu presidents of Rwanda and Burundi and the army chief of staff as they returned from a peace conference, kicking off the Genocide. The lead investigator was promptly fired by Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour. Like Russia, the RPF made violent threats against any international force that might attempt to stop the fighting. A report by Robert Gersony, commissioned by the US government to convince the millions of Hutu refugees to go home, showed the RPF had carried out systematic Nazi-like massacres; but it was swiftly buried. No RPF member was indicted by the ICTR. On the contrary: the new Tutsi-supremacist regime were treated like heroes, showered with money and military assistance by the international community. Mimicking RPF strategy, Hutu hardliners invaded from the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire). Similar to Donbas, the RPF manufactured a rebellion led by ethnic Tutsis and invaded, committing many more massacres, as described in the UN Garreton and Mapping reports. A further 6 million or more are estimated to have died as of 2006, mostly from the devastation caused by the RPF and its allies. Like Putin, Kagame had imperial ambitions. The RPF and friends proceeded to pillage and occupy. When erstwhile puppet Laurent-Desiré Kabila asked them to leave, they fabricated further rebellions and invasions –carrying on to this day, as the latest fighting with Rwanda’s proxy M23 shows.
This has not stopped the UN from making Kagame’s regime go-to peacekeepers, which pays for the budget of the same Rwandan forces destabilising the region. Chief henchman General James Kabarebe was put on panels about the protection of civilians at UN peacekeeping conferences, despite a Spanish indictment for war crimes. Kagame is a regular guest of Western politicians and universities, while renting out his army to serve alongside Putin’s Wagner mercenaries in the Central African Republic and in Mozambique.
Like Putin, Kagame runs rigged elections at home and imprisons or assassinates his rivals – even those living in exile
The UK has provided copious financial, military and diplomatic support to the RPF over the last 30 years, bringing Rwanda into the Commonwealth against the recommendations of a human rights evaluation and proposing to pay this brutal, refugee-creating dictatorship £120 million to take refugees who are currently in the UK (despite warnings about arbitrary detention, torture and killings). Simultaneously, it decided to extradite US Wikileaks founder Julian Assange – who exposed US efforts to stymie prosecution of the RPF’s crimes against humanity – while the US is considering freeing Russian Victor Bout, Kagame’s favourite arms dealer, in exchange for US prisoners. Though the Democratic Republic of Congo’s resources are critical for dealing with the energy crisis that has been exacerbated by Putin’s invasion, the UK government seems unfazed by Kagame’s pillage and destabilisation.
Others notice this kind of hypocrisy. Despite a UN report supporting his claims, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi got little traction when he tried to draw attention at the UN General Assembly to Rwanda’s latest aggression. Relations with Russia are warming up in this strategic country, and Wagner mercenaries may set up shop there as the increasingly unloved UN prepares to depart in 2023.
Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez recently declared an intention to cut US aid to the UK’s favourite dictator. Hopefully, the UK will follow suit.
The views expressed in this Commentary are the author’s, and do not represent those of RUSI or any other institution.
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