IT’S some years since I was last in Rwanda. Over the course of numerous visits to the country I’ve always been struck by how quiet and seemingly benign it appears compared to so many other nations across Africa that I’ve worked in.

In fact, when there, it’s difficult to associate Rwanda with that darkest of moments when back in 1994 in just 100 days about 800,000 people were slaughtered by ethnic Hutu extremists who targeted members of the minority Tutsi community and other political opponents.

To outsiders arriving in the country, the overarching impression is of an orderly, stable, peaceful place, totally at odds with its past. Try however to engage Rwandans publicly in talk about the politics of their country and you will have an uphill task.

For unless such discussions take place in private, most are tight lipped and there’s good reason for that. In short, it doesn’t pay to be critical of the ruling regime run by President Paul Kagame.

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Those that do can suffer the worst of fates, for Kagame is a man who specialises in reprisals. He’s a leader too who keeps the tightest of grips on this country of only 12 million people.

This is a place where TV channels are controlled by his government or by owners who are members of his ruling party. A place where there is no longer a single national newspaper and where most radio stations concentrate on music and sport to avoid problems.

It makes little difference to the safety of opposition activists and dissenters too that they might voice their criticism from afar or exile.

As a recent report by Freedom House makes clear, Rwanda is known for having a track record of “transnational repression”. All the world over there is evidence of the regime conducting systematic assassinations, attempted killings, kidnappings and intimidation of Rwandan opposition leaders, human rights activists and journalists.

Having ruled the country ever since the genocide as vice-president then president, Kagame on the face of it has brought economic and social growth to the country. It’s this success story and image that Kagame has skilfully sought to cultivate, even if there is another far more disquieting side to his leadership.

Sadly, over the years all too many global political leaders have been taken in by the facade Kagame has erected, no doubt in part willingly because of the guilt trip much of the international community had over its failure to prevent those appalling events of 1994.

Among those to sing Kagame’s praises was that other “epitome of integrity” former British prime minister Tony Blair who once praised his “visionary leadership”.

Home Secretary Priti Patel, talking to
the media in Green Park, central London. After a tour of the security procedures in place around Buckingham Palace ahead of the Queen's Platinum Jubilee. PA Photo. Picture

Today of course, it’s Tory home secretary Priti Patel (above) who panders to a Rwandan leader most serious Africa watchers and experts know to be a ruthless, self-serving control freak.

As Michela Wrong, the renowned journalist and author who knows a thing or two about Africa, recently pointed out, “whatever Patel’s cherished image of Rwanda might be, would-be asylum seekers will see things in a different light”.

“If they google ‘Rwanda’ and ‘Kagame’ as they weigh up their options, they will see that this vaunted ‘donor darling’ and ‘model of development’ boasts one of the most sinister human rights records on the continent,” Wrong observed.

It seems an age ago now when back in 2003 the then shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin talked of deporting asylum seekers to a foreign island “far, far away”.

But next week, short of a last-minute volte face by Patel, the first flight from the UK carrying the roughly 100 men selected for ejection will leave for Rwanda where according to the Home Secretary they will be able to “settle and thrive”.

Nothing could be further from the truth of course. In fact, it’s hard to overstate just how callous, inhumane, ill-considered, and illegal, this Tory policy and deal done between Patel and Kagame is.

Rarely has there been a more shameful episode in recent British political history under a government that seems to have made shameful episodes its single raison d’etre.

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Condemnation of the UK-Rwanda deal knows no bounds, with the UN calling it a breach of international law and human rights group Amnesty International among others labelling it as “appalling”.

It matters not to the Tory government that a UK Home Office assessment and evaluation of Rwanda’s human rights record contradicts just about every other one in existence, including the US State Departments view of Kagame’s government on issues such as torture, unlawful killings and arbitrary detentions.

Just like Rwandan citizens, those asylum seekers who might find themselves resident in the country will face the same suppression of freedom of speech, and the risks of torture and ill treatment should they chose to speak out against the conditions under which they find themselves living.

The obvious morality and humanitarian issues aside, the whole concept is also deeply flawed logistically as well as financially short-sighted.

Even before the UK coughs up the reportedly £120 million for the initial five-year arrangement, which will include the costs of accommodation and integration as well as delivering asylum operations, Britain already bank rolls Kagame’s regime to the tune of £54m a year.

It’s a big spend but no guarantee that those sent from the UK and processed in Rwanda will stay there, evidence in fact suggests the contrary.

Researchers studying refugee movements highlighted how, following a secretive deal that Israel made with Rwanda and Uganda to send African asylum seekers to the East African countries between 2014 and 2017, the vast majority of those deported immediately left again.

In fact, of almost 4000 deported to Rwanda, only nine remained in the country by 2018. Most who left are believed to have used dangerous northern migration routes in a fresh effort to get to Europe, again making nonsense of the UK Government’s claim that its new policy will “break the business model” of people traffickers deploying small boats for migrants to reach the UK.

For more than 70 years now the 1951 refugee convention has set the benchmark for the way that governments should deal with people fleeing persecution in other countries.

Johnson’s Tory government is not the first and doubtless will not be the last to ride roughshod over such rules.

With the first of those asylum seekers being readied for deportation next week, it would seem Patel and Kagame’s cosy deal will go ahead. And so it is that – just when you thought Johnson’s government had finally reached rock bottom, it manages yet another callous and contemptible low.