Interviewer: Lucy Vernall (Project Director, Ideas Lab)
Guest: Dr Danielle Beswick
Lucy: Hello and welcome to this Ideas Lab Predictor Podflash. It’s a short bit of new information that’s extra to our usual podcast series. I’m going to be speaking with Dr Danielle Beswick who is a Lecturer in International Development and she’s also Research Associate for the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes of Central Africa. Welcome Danielle.
Danielle: Thank you.
Lucy: What we’re talking about is the recent news that the Metropolitan Police have warned two Rwandan exiles living in London that they face threat of being assassinated by the Rwandan Government.
Danielle: Yes, that’s correct. I think it’s important to see this as part of a broader pattern of a targeting of opponents to the Rwandan Government and it’s particularly important as far as the UK is concerned because the UK has cultivated a very strong relationship with the Rwandan Government since the 1994 genocide.
Lucy: And so how does this close relationship display itself?
Danielle: The UK is the largest bilateral donor to the Rwandan Government. It’s currently around £86 million per year. A lot of that goes straight into the Rwandan Government’s budget, which is a sign of the UK Government’s trust in the Rwandan regime as a good performer as far as development is concerned, and the UK also supported Rwandan’s application to join the Commonwealth last year, which is quite interesting considering that Rwanda doesn’t have a British colonial history.
Lucy: So we’re talking about President Paul Kagame.
Lucy: Who’s been in power since, well, since 1994.
Danielle: Yeah, effectively. Yeah, he was the Head of the Rwandan Patriotic Front which is the main party in Rwanda now and he wasn’t the President immediately after the genocide, he was the Vice President but after the President was locked up for charges of genocide ideology, trying to create a separate opposition movement and Paul Kagame became President of the country.
Lucy: So it’s pretty embarrassing for the Conservative Government.
Danielle: It’s very embarrassing for the Conservative Government and I think particularly given that the Conservatives have been trying to cultivate this compassionate conservatism sort of image and that’s partly involved a social action project that they run every year where they take a group of around twenty, twenty five Conservative MPs to Rwanda to get involved in social development exercises; building schools and that sort of thing. That’s headed up by Andrew Mitchell, the Minister for International Development, so there’s a very close relationship there which pre-dates the Conservative Government but has been continued and the fact that Rwanda did survive this review of bilateral aid programmes means that we have a ring-fenced aid budget and a smaller number of countries into which that aid is going to be targeted. So de facto we’re talking about Rwanda as a big partner going forward for UK development policy.
Lucy: That aid review cut down the number of countries that we give aid to as the UK?
Danielle: Yes. Yes, it cut them down, basically on a couple of main criteria but partly about where the UK felt it could do the most good, where could we have the most impact on development policy and which countries were already moving in the right direction and Rwanda was seen to be one of those.
Lucy: For the two Rwandan exiles in question have been warned by the Metropolitan Police about this threat and have effectively been told they can’t protect them.
Danielle: Yeah and it is very worrying, as I said, particularly because of the close relationship between the UK and Rwanda, but one of the people who’s been targeted is the founder member of an opposition party which includes a former Rwandan military intelligence officer who’s currently residing in South Africa. Now he was the target of an assassination attempt last year during the lead up to the presidential elections in Rwanda and that was largely seen as a method for the Rwandan Government to discipline external critics and opponents who are living overseas and obviously Rwanda disputes that claim but there has been quite a lot of evidence from South Africa and a breaking up of diplomatic relations as well. So it’s part of a broader pattern. These two individuals are important; one of them because of his links to the opposition but the other perhaps less obvious as a target for the Government - not a key critic, not a stand-out figure who a lot of opposition people are mobilising around. It’s somebody who’s got quite a high profile in the UK but did engage with Kagame as part of a BBC debate last year during the elections and was very critical of him. So the targeting of that individual seems slightly out of the normal pattern of engagement for the Rwandan Government.
Lucy: But obviously with someone having survived an assassination attempt just last year it shows that this threat is very real.
Danielle: It certainly is very real and critics of the Rwandan Government over a long period of time have been mapping the use of these sorts of techniques outside of the country, assassination of former politicians and opposition activists in Kenya, in Belgium, the attempted assassination in South Africa and now also in the UK and it is part of a very worrying trend, particularly given that now Kagame has been re-elected, he will remain in power until 2017.
Lucy: Dr Danielle Beswick, thank you very much. No doubt you will be keeping a close eye on the situation and hopefully we can discuss this a bit more when we have you back for a full Ideas Lab Predictor Podcast.
Danielle: Thank you.