Tough luck: Kagame says no to US Secretary of State on Hotel Rwanda hero

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  • The US says it will continue to engage Paul Kagame on the arrest of Paul Rusesabagina.
  • Rwanda's foreign affairs minister insists the country acted within its laws in arresting Rusesabagina.
  • In 2021, about 2 000 Americans visited Rwanda and approximately 2 500 Americans were residents in the country.

Despite flashes of cooperation between the US and Rwanda in areas such as humanitarian assistance, trade, and economics, the US could be forced to implement sanctions on Rwanda.

This after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to Rwanda, which ended on Thursday, failed to secure the release of American citizen Paul Rusesabagina, a critic of President Paul Kagame jailed for 25 years on terrorism charges.

Before Blinken left for Rwanda, New Jersey senator and chairperson of the committee on foreign relations Robert Menendez said he was "concerned about the Rwandan government's continuing disregard for democracy and human rights" and America should put in place a "more effective American policy".

Blinken arrived in Rwanda on Wednesday and found Kagame in good spirits. It was Rwanda's first lady Jeannette Kagame's 60th birthday.

Both the president and wife took time to show affection on Twitter and revealed they were grandparents to two girls, but that did not count on the diplomatic table as Blinken got a clear no for an answer.

In a joint press statement, Blinken said the US would continue to engage Rwanda over Rusesabagina.

"I had the opportunity to discuss this matter with President Kagame this morning. I will not get into specifics but will continue to engage on it," he added.

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Some media reports in central Africa said Blinken's main concern was that Rusesabagina was not given a fair trial.

The US insists Rusesabagina is its citizen and as such, his case should be treated like that of an American, while Rwanda says he is a Rwandan citizen and should tried under the country's laws.

Rwandan foreign affairs minister, Vincent Biruta, told journalists at the joint presser with Blinken they followed their own laws in the matter.

"We know some other countries have their own methods to deal with those kinds of criminals who commit crimes against their own countries, but as far as Rwanda is concerned we do it in respect of our laws and international laws," he said.

Blinken arrived in Rwanda from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with his main agenda being the Rusesabagina issue, Rwanda's democracy and human rights record, as well as allegations Rwanda was working with M23 rebels in east DRC.

A brief fact file on US-Rwanda relations

  • The US established diplomatic relations with Rwanda in 1962, following its independence from a Belgian-administered trusteeship.
  • The US humanitarian assistance supports more than 127 000 refugees hosted in Rwanda with lifesaving health, protection, and livelihood programmes.
  • The US government is the largest contributor to Rwanda’s health sector with an annual investment of about R1.9 billion in the last three years, benefitting an estimated 13 million Rwandans.
  • In November 2019, an American Chamber of Commerce was formed in Rwanda with 50 members. US exports to Rwanda include aircraft, pharmaceutical and scientific products, machinery, optical and medical instruments, construction equipment, and agricultural products.
  • The US government is supporting Rwanda to realise its clean energy goals through financing, grants, technical assistance, advocacy, and promotion of investments in renewable energy.
  • In 2021, approximately 2 000 Americans visited Rwanda and about 2 500 Americans were residents in the country. 

  • The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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