Justin Trudeau wants us to know he’s buddies with Africa’s most ruthless dictator.
At the recent African Union Summit in Ethiopia Trudeau met Paul Kagame. The Prime Minister’s press people released a photo of him laughing with the Rwandan President and announced that the two discussed the upcoming Commonwealth summit Trudeau is set to attend in Kigali.
On at least five occasions since 2018 Trudeau has been photographed with Kagame during one-on-one meetings on the sidelines of different international summits. At one of those meetings the PM “affirmed the importance of strong and growing bilateral relations” between Canada and Rwanda.
Canadian-based Rwandan dissident David Himbara has criticized the PM’s embrace of Kagame. In April 2018 he wrote, “the romance between Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Rwanda’s strongman Paul Kagame is difficult to fathom. For the past several months, the romance between the two and among their respective ministers has blossomed beyond belief.”
After amending the constitution to be able to run indefinitely Paul Kagame won 98.63 per cent of votes in Rwanda’s August 2017 presidential election. In response, Canada’s High Commissioner Sara Hradecky tweeted, “congratulations to Rwandans for voting in peaceful presidential election” and “Canada congratulates Paul Kagame on his inauguration today as President of Rwanda.” The latter tweet was picked up by the state propaganda organ New Times in a story titled “Heads of State, diplomats laud Kagame’s ‘visionary leadership’.”
If garnering 99 per cent of the vote wasn’t a clue that Kagame is a dictator, the High Commissioner could have taken a look at Canada’s ‘paper of record,’ whose Africa bureau chief had recently shined a critical light on Rwanda. At the start of 2016 the Globe and Mail reported on two new books describing the totalitarian nature of the regime.
“Village informers,” wrote South Africa-based Geoffrey York. “Re-education camps. Networks of spies on the streets. Routine surveillance of the entire population. The crushing of the independent media and all political opposition. A ruler who changes the constitution to extend his power after ruling for two decades. It sounds like North Korea, or the totalitarian days of China under Mao. But this is the African nation of Rwanda — a long-time favourite of Western governments and a major beneficiary of millions of dollars in Canadian government support.”
In 2014 York wrote an investigation headlined “Inside the plots to kill Rwanda’s dissidents,” which provided compelling evidence that the regime had extended its assassination program outside of east Africa, killing (or attempting to) a number of its former top officials who were living in South Africa. After the initial investigation York reported on Rwandan dissidents who had to flee Belgium for their safety while the Toronto Star revealed five individuals in Canada who were fearful of the regime’s killers.
On top of international assassinations and domestic repression, Kagame unleashed mayhem in the Congo. In 1996 Rwandan forces marched 1,500 km to topple the regime in Kinshasa and then re-invaded after the Congolese government it installed expelled Rwandan troops. This led to an eight-country war between 1998 and 2003, which left millions dead. Rwandan proxies repeatedly re-invaded the mineral rich eastern Congo. In 2012 the Globe and Maildescribed how “Rwandan sponsored” M23 rebels “hold power by terror and violence” there.
Despite the regime’s violence, Governor General Julie Payette traveled to Kigali to meet Kagame in August. She lauded “the long-standing partnership between Canada and Rwanda.”
In November 2017 Rwanda’s Environment Minister visited Ottawa to meet her Canadian counterpart, Catherine McKenna, who lauded “our close friendship.” Later that year defence minister Harjit Sajjan hosted his Rwandan counterpart General James Kabarebe.
In 2015 Kabarebe was arrested in London under a Spanish indictment for war crimes committed between 1990 and 2002 in Rwanda, including the murder of two Quebec priests. Previously, Kabarebe had been the subject of an arrest warrant by a French judge for his role in shooting down President Juvénal Habyarimana’s plane, which unleashed the genocidal violence in Spring 1994. A 2012 UN report claimed Kabarebe organized and armed deadly M23 rebels in eastern Congo, labeling Kabarebe “a central player in recruiting on behalf of M23” and noted that “he has often been in direct contact with M23 members on the ground to coordinate military activities.” After former Rwandan spy chief, turned Kagame critic Patrick Karegeya, was strangled to death in a South African hotel in January 2014 Kabarebe said, “when you choose to be a dog, you die like a dog, and the cleaners will wipe away the trash.”
The Rwandan government’s domestic repression, international assassinations and violence in the Congo are well documented. Yet I couldn’t find any criticism of Kagame by the Trudeau government. Instead, Ottawa provides about $25 million annually in assistance to Rwanda.