I’M going to talk about Rwanda, the real Rwanda. I say real because the image of the country currently being peddled by the UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman is at best inaccurate and at worst downright fictitious.

Sadly, some of my journalist colleagues, especially those from the right-wing press who were cherry-picked to accompany Braverman during her recent visit there, have not only bought into her fiction but subsequently promulgated UK Government propaganda.

This in turn has only further obscured the truth about the Rwandan regime and its authoritarian ruler Paul Kagame.

Take this observation from the Daily Telegraph for example. In a recent news report, it described Rwanda as a “low-income country which wants more people and is receiving investment from a densely populated high-income country (UK) which is receiving too many migrants”.

As my fellow foreign correspondent Ian Birrell rightly pointed out on Twitter the other day, this is patently untrue.

To begin with, Rwanda is the most densely populated nation in mainland Africa with almost twice the UK’s population density.

But hey, what does such shoddy factual reporting matter when the real task is to help Braverman justify the UK Government’s equally shoddy Illegal Migration Bill?

The National: Pictures of Braverman in Rwanda have been labelled as 'party political propaganda'Pictures of Braverman in Rwanda have been labelled as 'party political propaganda' (Image: PA)

I know a bit about Rwanda having visited and reported from the country as well as neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda on numerous occasions.

At face value, it’s easy for the first-time visitor to be seduced by what they encounter when arriving in the Rwandan capital Kigali.

Spotlessly clean streets, new modern highways (70% financed and built by the Chinese), a sense of prosperity, neat organisation, and widely available internet. Rwanda flies in the face of those all too familiar negative cliches of “darkest Africa” first coined during the colonial past.

President Kagame knows this of course, just as he knows how to use it to advance a favourable narrative of his regime abroad.

As Professor Alexander Dukalskis of University College Dublin and author of Making The World Safe For Dictatorship, has pointed out, the hiring of public relations firms to produce positive content, disseminating propaganda themselves and cultivating friendly foreigners who can speak on their behalf are all strategies Kagame’s regime has deployed and the British Government is only the latest cynical example.

The National:

This is Kagame’s way, just as it was back in 2003 when he won more than 95% of the vote in the heavily manipulated election and Rwanda’s embassy in the US contracted American PR firms to boost the image of the country and its leader.

As Dukalskis also highlights, just as Kagame manages his Rwandan Patriotic Front regime’s image abroad so too does he “manage” its critics at home.

To that end, Rwanda is big on detention which no doubt is music to the ears of Braverman as she seeks to deport asylum seekers from the UK to what are effectively internment camps.

So big on detention is Kagame’s regime that back in 2021 according to the Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research, Rwanda was second only to the US with the highest prison population rate based on the number of prisoners per 100,000 of the national population.

That many of these are political prisoners or those deemed to have criticised the regime is well known. For the bottom line – as I can attest from personal experience after talking to many Rwandans – is that to speak out against the regime in the slightest way is to run the risk of arrest or an even worse fate.

I recall one night in a hotel bar in Kigali, drifting on to the subject of domestic politics with staff members, only to see them nervously look around and make clear in no uncertain terms it was unsafe to broach such subjects.

READ MORE: Suella Braverman excludes non-right-wing media from Rwanda trip

Later in private, they told me Kagame’s informers and spies were everywhere which explains the collective compliance and fear that exudes across the country.

But such oppression aside, there is another reason too why the UK Government should not be doing business with Rwanda, one recently highlighted by President Felix Tshisekedi of neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Coinciding with Braverman’s visit to Kigali, Tshisekedi made his own damning assessment of Britain’s migrant deal by reminding the world of atrocities carried out by Rwanda’s proxy army the M23 rebel group in mineral-rich eastern Congo.

Instead of doing deals Rwanda should be facing sanctions says Tshisekedi given that Kigali, according to the United Nations, is inextricably linked to the M23 rebel force which has been involved in mass rapes, the arbitrary slaughter of civilians and the looting of natural resources.

To put it in a nutshell Kagame’s Rwanda is not the “Switzerland of Africa” that some like Braverman and the UK Government would like us to believe it is.

Ever since becoming president in 2000 following the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Kagame, in his decades in, power has systematically targeted those who disagree with him – with some critics who have fled the country said to have been pursued and assassinated by Rwandan agents in exile.

It was one such instance that gave rise to the searing account by veteran Africa correspondent and author Michela Wrong entitled, Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder And An African Regime Gone Bad.

READ MORE: 'Draconian' asylum bill could leave 40,000 kids destitute or locked up

The book’s title comes from the “Do Not Disturb” sign that was left on the Johannesburg hotel room door of a former Kagame ally, Patrick Karegeya, after he was strangled on his bed in 2013, almost certainly by Rwandan government agents.

Karegeya’s mistake it would seem was to question Kagame over his dictatorial ways.

When not seeking to silence perceived enemies, Kagame manipulates elections.

As recently as 2020 Rwanda under Kagame was ranked 150th out of 179 countries in the world on an index of liberal democracy drawn up by the Sweden-based Varieties of Democracy Institute.

What’s more, there’s no sign of Kagame relinquishing power any time soon given that in the best tradition of autocrats he has amended the constitution so he can rule until 2034.

And so there we have it. Few leaders have been as successful in shaping a historical narrative to suit their political needs as Kagame whom former British prime minister Tony Blair once dubbed “a visionary.”

Just as the Labour leader got Kagame and Rwanda wrong then, so the Tories today are once again willing to turn a blind eye to the truth. Be in absolutely no doubt, Braverman’s rose-tinted depiction of Rwanda is nothing but another dangerous UK Government deception.