In the years preceding and during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, many thousands of Rwandans were forced to flee their own country to escape ethnic persecution. Over the past 29 years, many Rwandans returned to help rebuild but also to resettle and take advantage of their fast growing, safe country. Our open-door refugee policy has been shaped by this unique history.
Many commentators know very little about why Rwanda today is home to over 130,000 refugees from the region, the continent and further afield. In collaboration with the UNHCR, Rwanda has received 13 evacuation flights of refugees from dangerous detention centres in Libya. An entire girl’s school was relocated from Afghanistan to Rwanda.
Whilst the mechanism and organisation of these partnerships are different than that with the UK, the premise is the same: to break the hold of criminal smuggling gangs and provide safety and opportunity for those in need. Very few out there realise the role of human traffickers behind the movement of migrants from the South, Centre, East, West and the Horn of Africa, across the Sahara to the Mediterranean coast.
There are many who have not quite grasped the context and utility of the UK-Rwanda partnership perhaps because they are unfamiliar with the details, or maybe because they are our perennial critics, accustomed to attacking any initiative involving Rwanda.
Much of the focus has fallen on the UK’s role in the deal. The partnership will fund investments in Rwanda’s infrastructure, public services, employment and training opportunities, education, and affordable housing, among other things, so that both Rwandans and migrants can build better lives.
These investments allow us to accelerate our ambitions of becoming a high-income country by 2050 while also expanding our enduring commitment to offer sanctuary to the most vulnerable. The migrants we welcome here will contribute to the economic, social, and cultural development of our country, in the same way that many migrants already in Rwanda are doing.
To anyone familiar with Rwanda’s journey over the past 29 years, this type of partnership will not come as a surprise. While it is ultimately the Rwandan people who are responsible for our national transformation over this period, we have benefited from strong collaborations and partnerships with international partners throughout this process.
Partnership and collaboration have been, and will continue to be, central to our economic development. On a continent with a long and tragic history of one-sided, often exploitative relationships with the outside world, Rwanda is focused on working towards self-sufficiency and on direct benefits to our population. These are non-negotiable in all our partnerships.
Our neighbours in the DRC have made their resentment of our current partnership with the UK no secret. Indeed, they have used the British media’s interest in migration to launch a misinformation campaign on Rwanda. Yet given their history of selling off their country’s wealth for the gain of a select few, their resentment is unsurprising.
Indeed, while the world’s spotlight is currently on the instability in eastern DRC where public safety is in the hands of over 100 armed militia groups (as the DRC government’s spokesperson told the BBC this week), the story of the Congolese economy is an example of a national tragedy Kinshasa would like to blame on someone else.
With its enormous land mass and mineral wealth, Congo should be one of the world’s most prosperous countries. Instead, these riches have been cannibalised by the country’s ruling elite – a condition that has continued to worsen under the Tshisekedi regime. Rather than focusing on building institutions that protect the country’s resources, serve its population, and build a foundation for long-term wealth, the endemic chaos and corruption of the Congolese state has resulted in serious governance failures and persistent insecurity that threatens not only the safety of its citizens but the security of its neighbours.
Rwanda will not be deterred by attempts to undermine our productive global partnerships. We intend to continue working together with the international community to build sustainable, long-term partnerships which prioritise our own people, and contribute to the progress of our continent.
We must do more to reject the expectation that African nations should assume the role of the compliant, junior partner in relationships with the outside world. If we succeed in liberating ourselves from this mindset, and focus on being stakeholders of the global commons, our long-term prospects are bright.