The family of Rwandan opponent Paul Rusesabagina, 66, accuses the Rwandan authorities of having kidnapped him, while it remains unclear how he got from Dubai to Rwanda. The famous former manager of the Hotel Mille Collines – which Hollywood immortalized in the film Hotel Rwanda– He sent his last message to the family from Dubai, last Thursday, before reappearing in handcuffs in the Rwandan capital four days later. Rusesabagina, aware of being in the crosshairs of the Rwandan government, has lived in exile for years and is the most famous voice that openly criticizes the repression of the Paul Kagame regime.
“My father has been arbitrarily detained, we believe that he has been kidnapped,” his daughter Carine Kanimba has denounced through social networks, while questions grow about who and how he captured Rusesabagina, since “he would never go to Rwanda for his of her own free will ”, according to her other daughter Anaise. The Rwandan authorities said that his arrest had been made possible thanks to “international cooperation”, but the United Arab Emirates, the last place from which it was communicated, has denied being linked to the arrest.
Rusesabagina “entered and left the Emirates legally,” an official told CNN. According to his version, the Rwandan opponent would have left Dubai just five hours after landing, in a private plane, bound for Rwanda.
After three days of silence, Rusesabagina emerged in detention at the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB), presented to the media as a war trophy. He is accused, among other charges, of terrorism, kidnapping and murder. Rwanda had an arrest warrant against Rusesabagina, but the Emirates say the Rwandan opponent was not on their wanted list and that they also do not have any extradition agreement with Rwanda.
With or without collaboration, the capture in exile of a prominent dissident once again highlights Rwanda’s long and powerful arm against the opposition. The effective propaganda machine of the Rwandan government has for years managed to sell an image of prosperity and equality, although reports of abuse against critical voices continue to grow.
Hundreds of opponents have been jailed in Rwanda, including politicians Victoire Ingabire and Diane Rwigara. Both aspired to the presidency of Rwanda but ended up in jail: Ingabire, in 2010, accused of conspiracy and forming an armed group; Rwigara, in 2018, for inciting the insurrection. The young singer Kizito Mihigo, another critic accused of links to “terrorist groups”, was found dead last February in the cell where he was being held.
Even outside the borders of Rwanda, anti-regime movements and individuals do not feel safe. Colonel Patrick Karegeya was assassinated in a luxurious Johannesburg hotel on New Year’s Eve in 2014. And his party partner, General Nyamwasa, has suffered three assassination attempts in South Africa.
Rusesabagina’s family is concerned about his health and assures that he has been captured “under false charges.”
Rusesabagina, who lives in exile between Belgium, where he has citizenship, and the United States, with permanent residence, has been speaking openly against the Kagame regime for years. He has criticized the concealment of part of the killings that occurred in 1994 and has denounced the current government’s lack of freedom of expression, as well as its dictatorial course. In 2018 Rusesabagina created a platform, the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change, which brings together various opposition parties and groups, including Karegeya’s party.
Emirates and Rwanda, a honeymoon
The shirt of the English football team Arsenal visually sums up the closeness between the Rwandan and Emirati governments. The Emirates airline advertising on the chest has been combined since 2018 with that of the Visit Rwanda tourist campaign, on the sleeve. And it is that, beyond football, relations between the African country and the Gulf have tightened in the last three years.
President Paul Kagame, who according to diplomatic sources is a “personal friend” of the prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohamed Bin Zayed, has traveled to the Emirates several times; Trade agreements and memoranda of understanding have been signed to facilitate mobility between the two countries – both to allow “access of Rwandans to job opportunities” in the Arab country, and to “promote investment” in Rwanda – and in 2018, Emirates was the first Gulf country to open an embassy in Kigali.
At the center of the relationship is the large Kigali dry port project, awarded to the Dubai-based company DP World, which was inaugurated in October last year. The $ 80 million project aims to turn Rwanda into a commercial hub for all of East Africa, and streamline trade from neighboring countries – including the Democratic Republic of the Congo – with the large coastal ports of Mombasa, Kenya, and Dar es Salam, in Tanzania. A strategic infrastructure in a country, Rwanda, through which a good part of the raw materials of eastern Congo come out.