News and Views

Britain’s affair with Rwanda’s ‘philosopher king’ reaches its inevitable conclusion

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There was a certain inevitability about the end of Britain’s affair with President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

This extraordinary man cast a spell over every International Development Secretary from Clare Short to Andrew Mitchell. They saw a visionary intellectual – almost a philosopher king – with a genuine zeal for the betterment of this country.

But Rwandans have a more sophisticated view of the man who has dominated their nation since he ended the genocide in 1994. They remember that Kagame spent his formative years waging a pitiless guerrilla war against brutal regimes, first in Uganda and then Rwanda.

At home, Kagame appears in military fatigues, jails critics and rules with the authoritarian and ruthless streak of a soldier steeled by years of combat. Until yesterday, Britain had always focused on the “philosopher king” side of Kagame. Sooner or later, reality was always going to intrude.

After 16 years of meddling in Congo – Kagame’s first invasion of his neighbour was in 1996 – the penny has finally dropped. He is determined to secure Rwanda’s western frontier against the anarchy prevailing in Congo and benefit from this unfortunate country’s mineral wealth. To that end, Kagame is prepared to sponsor war in Congo, even if that means driving 500,000 people from their homes.

There is one further harsh reality. Unusually, Britain favoured Kagame with “general budget support”, meaning that most UK aid went directly into his government’s coffers. Until yesterday, he would have received 37 million pounds in this way in 2012. That money probably would have been spent on education, health and other worthwhile causes. But it also freed up resources for Kagame to spend in other areas. Indirectly and inadvertently, Britain ended up subsidising his ambitions in Congo. Put bluntly, Britain funded a regime that was wrecking Congo, and then paid the UN to clear up the mess.

For years, we subsidised both the arsonist and the fireman. Yesterday, that unhappy era finally ended.

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