Brussels stays true to Rwanda

Dit stuk schreef ik vorige week in Brussel voor Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

“Kagame! Murderer! Kagame! Murderer!” Hundreds of Rwandans and Congolese demonstrated in Brussels last week. They were angry that President Paul Kagame was invited to the European capital. But the demonstration was in vain – Brussels and Kigali remain close friends.

“The president of Rwanda is a criminal”, said Paul Rusesabagina, the famous manager of Hôtel des Mille Collines who was among the demonstrators gathered on Albertina square in Brussels.

Brussels is proud of the progress Rwanda has made since the 1994 genocide. During the European Development Days in a heavily secured congress centre, the Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luise Mushikiwabo, spoke of the equality of men and women in her country.

Buying influence
“In Brussels the idea exists that we wield influence if we support Rwanda”, said Dutch MP of the European Parliament, Hans van Baalen. “Even now, after the recent accusations stated in a UN report.”

Mr Van Baalen thinks this conviction will be proven false. And the Dutch government feels the same: The Netherlands will not send direct financial aid to Rwanda in 2011. “The government doesn’t want to donate money to a country in which human rights are being violated and where there is a lack of democracy.” Another cause of concern is the trial against Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire.

But according to British member of the European parliament, Michal Cashman the Netherlands is wrong. “Where is the evidence? We’ll have to be careful with accusing Rwanda,” he said.

“The word ‘genocide’ is being used far to easily in Eastern Congo. Rwanda has known a genocide and wants to prevent that it will happen ever again.” Therefore Brussels should keep on supporting Rwanda, is the opinion of most politicians in the European capital.

Dutch stand alone
Mr Van Baalen admits that the Netherlands stands alone in its opinion: “The Netherlands has taken a clear stance. But it is hard to find support in Brussels. I’m going to talk about the issue with the commission of Foreign Affairs and European parliament.”

Meanwhile the demonstrators in the centre of Brussels leave the square full of disappointment as they are sent away by police. They take their boards and banners and go back home.

President Kagame did not hold his announced speech during the European conference. He left early to Rwanda for more pressing issues. His minister of Foreign Affairs replaced him and thanked Europe for all its support.

The minister told Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Rwanda “respects the decision of the Netherlands to stop direct aid for Rwanda. But our relationship with the European Union remains very friendly.”

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