Rwanda: ‘Beacon of hope’ for Britain’s Suella Braverman, if not for the migrants she deports

Kigali, 'beacon of hope'? Photo by Reagan M. on Unsplash

I’ve been to Kigali, capital of Rwanda, and I can’t say that it appeared to me as a “beacon of hope”, to use the British Home Secretary’s words as she tries to sell her government’s policy of packing deportation flights to Rwanda with uninvited migrants.

Suella Braverman has been roundly criticised for powering ahead with the government’s plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda in a controversial deal signed last April by her predecessor, Priti Patel. Defensively, Ms Braverman insists Rwanda will signal hope.

For whom? And for what? Hope comes in different colours and flavours.

When I visited, Kigali seemed fearsomely orderly. And very, very clean. And when Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame showed up to address the conference at which I was an invited speaker, it was clear he commanded much of the room, as well as the hopes and fears of his people.

My observations are not particularly profound. In 2018, a few years after I was in Rwanda, US National Public Radio (NPR) was reporting on the startling cleanliness of the central African country and attributing it in great part to Mr Kagame’s stern, unbending directives. For instance, said NPR, he has “instituted national cleaning days – for what he says is the benefit of his people’s dignity”. This pattern may well continue, at least until 2025, when the seven-year term to which Mr Kagame was most recently elected expires. (The constitution needed to be changed in order for him to run for a third term.)

With the 30th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide coming up next year, it’s worth thinking about hope and fear, with respect to Rwanda.

The World Bank says “Rwanda now aspires to Middle Income Country status by 2035 and High-Income Country status by 2050. It plans to achieve this through a series of seven-year National Strategies for Transformation (NST1), underpinned by sectoral strategies focused on meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals”.

In years, Mr Kagame’s regime has racked up praise. US President Bill Clinton described Mr Kagame as “one of the greatest leaders of our time”. As Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron said Rwanda was a paragon of development. Microsoft’s Bill Gates, other philanthropists and Usaid’s Samantha Power have been largely approving of Mr Kagame. Even his detractors acknowledge he could be regarded as “a progressive dictator”.

I’m not sure this makes Rwanda a “beacon of hope”, but I guess, the merest flicker is an improvement on what went before.

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