In lieu of recent allegations that the Rwandan government is targeting certain Rwandan nationals living in the United Kingdom, Magnus Mazimpaka, spoke with Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Louise Mushikiwabo to assess the accuracy and origins of the sensitive reports:
How do you respond to allegations that Rwanda was plotting to assassinate two Rwandans living in the UK?
First, in December 2010, our high commissioner in London was told by UK officials that there were complaints by a Rwandan woman, Jean Uwamwiza, who lives in London. She made up a story of being harassed. The UK checked to verify her allegations and they found nothing. This time around, we get stories of the government of Rwanda intending to harm two members of the Rwandan community in the UK. I asked our High Commissioner in London to find out and all we are told is that there is reliable evidence.
We asked them to explain how, where, when, and there was no answer to that. I asked the UK High Commissioner to Rwanda to provide the reliable evidence. He did not. As we were trying to figure it out, the next thing we see is every UK media outlet running the story.
What was your reaction to the UK’s High Commissioner’s failure to provide evidence?
That is where our frustration comes from. I told him: “Your police goes around accusing us, but nobody wants to say who is who.” The two Rwandan men ran with the story to the media accusing our government. First of all, Rwanda has enemies in the UK, including people associated with the genocide. I told him we don’t go around killing people, not this particular time and not anytime. We don’t go around killing people, it is not the way we do politics. In fact we welcome the request by some of the UK MPs who are asking for an investigation. We want to know and understand what is going on.
But hasn’t the media said what is going on?
There is quite a bit of naivety with some people in the media. At least in my mind, there is very little knowledge about these guys. They are nobodies here. Who are they that the government would plot to kill them?
But you said these individuals are part of the wider network of state enemies.
Their names barely ring a bell for a lot of people. And they are most definitely not going to cause any threat according to the information that we have. In a way, maybe they have political ambitions, but we in Kigali don’t consider them as a threat at all. If we were to be a bad government, and an assassin government, we would not go after people we barely know. Who are these people in Rwanda politics? Of course we would like to be given the benefit of the doubt, but let’s say you don’t want to go around that route, the least you want to know is what kind of threat do these people constitute? And the answer is zero.
Then who poses a threat?
Rwanda has had a number of people who tend to oppose the government, to run political parties and so forth. But so far there is no group that will keep us awake because they are a serious threat, although even a small threat has to be addressed. But these two men are way too small for us to pay attention and for our government to plot an assassination.
Who is this Rwandan man that security organs say they intercepted from entering the UK?
I have no idea. I just saw it in the news.
Did you try to find out?
No I didn’t.
I just find it weird that you would intercept somebody who is suspected of harming somebody on your territory, interrogate them and let them go and call the whole thing ‘the Rwandan government’. That is where my problem is. If somebody did something, then put it out or wait until you interrogate him before you accuse my government.
Why has Rwanda’s ambassador to the UK denied having been warned by UK intelligence (MI5) that his country should stop harassing its citizens living in the UK when reports indicate that he was actually warned during the recent royal wedding?
Our ambassador is always in touch with the people in the foreign affairs office. They only asked him if he was aware of this. All he is aware of, as we are, is what we saw in the media. Nobody gave us the police paper, and more importantly, nobody showed us that we are guilty.
What are the political implications for Rwanda’s foreign relations with the UK?
This case reinforces the bias against Rwanda in particular, but it also perfectly fits with the perception that our governments in Africa face: that all African countries are made of dictators, repressive regimes….in other words, it would not be as easy to accuse any of the western governments or leaders of being behind an assassination plot without producing proof. Rwanda takes these allegations seriously. Before we go to the international image, we look at what this means for Rwandans. I don’t think people in this country look at what other people say about this government before they decide whether it is the government they want or not. It is judged by the people of Rwanda from what it does and what it represents; and that is the most fundamental thing. They know that Rwanda has had enemies for a long time, so this is nothing new.
Do you think this will endanger the foreign aid Rwanda gets from the UK?
I don’t think aid should be used as a blackmailing tool. We certainly benefited from UK aid, they are our strong partners and we have used their support quite effectively, which is why we even got more, but to separate this aid from what else is happening in the country doesn’t make since. I am assuming the UK has a good reason why it gives aid to Rwanda.
Do you have a plan to shake off these allegations?
We don’t neglect the image of the country. That is why we go out and explain, both publicly and through other channels. We don’t want people to take us for who we are not, but there is only so much we can go or do. For example, I can’t force these UK papers to publish the other side of my story. We sent our own version of the story to The Independent of UK and it was never published.
This is the second time you are accused of an assassination attempt. Don’t you think that where there is smoke there is fire?
In this particular case, there is smoke without fire. There is this idea that what you see in Rwanda is not what is there. They can continue to accuse us, but we will remain innocent until proven guilty. We will continue fighting as much as we can. It’s been a year since we were accused of alleged assassination attempt on Kayumba Nyamwasa. Where is the trial? Where is the evidence? Yet, we stand accused. South Africa is a free country, they should have evidence in court, but the whole thing is stack.
Rwanda declared Kayumba Nyamwasa and Patrick Karegeya as terrorists. Do you therefore feel you have the right to assassinate them like Obama did to Osama Bin Laden and Israel has done to Hamas and Hezbollah leaders?
We are pursuing them of course, but the legal route. We don’t believe in following and assassinating people who don’t like us. Kayumba, and others are people who are rather involved in activities to harm Rwandans and destabilize this country, but the best way to pursue them is sharing information with authorities in different countries and institutions.
But this legal method seems like it is not paying off. It looks like you are losing the battle.
Not yet. You don’t expect people to be caught or be extradited so quickly either. This is a complicated matter. The whole legal route takes a long time. We have pursued that and we have put them on trial. They were found guilty and as far as I know, they are fugitives. In the UK, we have people who harmed Rwandans, people associated with the rebel group FDLR that participated in the genocide. We know who they are and we know where they are. We shared information about them with many countries including the UK. So, we don’t go around assassinating people.
Rwandans have been told that these people have formed an armed group, and that they intend to create havoc and harm Rwandans imminently. Don’t you think you need to reassure Rwandans of their security by pursuing these threats through more channels than just the legal route?
That is not the way we do business. We try to get authorities in other countries where they are connected to use the legal means.
If you don’t use force or violent means, how do you explain accusations of human rights abuses by international rights organizations?
My feeling is that people are falling in the trap of these guys. I have lived in exile and I know the politics of Diaspora opposition. And I know how things work. It is very easy for people there not to know who is who and who is talking to whom.
How is it done?
There is a psychological warfare that takes place in the Diaspora. I opposed the government that was in Rwanda in the early 90s from the USA. And any means is good to put the government in a bad light…It is easy for the people in the general public and the media to fall in the trap of opposition politics in another country.