By BERNA NAMATA
Rwanda is walking a tightrope close to hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) scheduled for the week of June 23, as it deals with persistent accusations by its neighbour of interference.
While preparations remain in high gear ahead of the meeting, the ongoing diplomatic row with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is casting a shadow ahead of the event, forcing government officials to bat away allegations that Kigali has some role in renewed violence.
So far regional diplomatic attempts to quell tensions appear to be failing as DRC fired fresh allegations on Wednesday that Kigali has deployed 500 Special Forces to reinforce M23 rebels that recently relaunched attacks in the eastern region of DRC. Kigali has denied and dismissed the allegations.
Kigali, which has insisted it will stick to regional mechanisms to resolve the row, also faces the challenge of ensuring a successful Chogm to which over 20 Heads of State have confirmed participation so far.
On June 5, Rwanda President Paul Kagame reaffirmed the country’s readiness to host the meeting in a congratulatory message to Queen Elizabeth II who celebrated 70 years of her reign.
“As Rwanda gets ready to host Chogm 2022, we look forward to strengthening the friendship and cooperation within the Commonwealth family.” President Kagame tweeted.
This week, Rwanda’s national carrier — RwandAir — announced additional flights between Kigali and London beginning June 13 to July 3, ahead of Chogm.
In London on Tuesday, Rwanda’s High Commissioner to the UK, Johnston Busingye spoke alongside Commonwealth Secretary General Baroness Patricia Scotland at a pre-Chogm session themed ‘Boosting Inclusive and Sustainable Trade’ across the Commonwealth.
“Rwanda is committed to peace, stability and the economic development of our region and will continue to work bilaterally and with established regional initiatives to ensure that peace, development and the betterment of citizens’ lives prevails…” Busingye said.
Asylum deal peril
But Kigali is also navigating murky waters as its recent migrant deal with the United Kingdom is hanging by a thread despite attempts by both governments to press ahead with the first batch of asylum-seekers under the scheme expected to arrive in Kigali on 14th June.
This is because the partnership is not only facing multiple legal challenges by asylum seekers and activists but also the mounting leadership woes facing the current UK government under the Conservative Party led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“… while we know attempts will now be made to frustrate the process and delay removals, I will not be deterred and remain fully committed to delivering what the British public expect.” said Priti Patel, the UK’s Home Secretary in a statement issued on 1st June 2022 announcing that the first charted flight will take off, on 14th June.
Her announcement has reignited outrage with activists alleging that some asylum seekers have gone on hunger strike while others have threatened to commit suicide. But the deal will only happen if the courts of law in the UK give it the green light. So far, UK immigration lawyers say it is unlikely that the first flight will take off as scheduled.
A coalition of campaigners, lawyers and a trade union — the Public and Commercial Services Union representing the majority of Border Force staff have applied for an emergency High Court injunction that seeks to stop any flights until the court rules on legality of the policy.
“The law allowing government to do this doesn’t appear to come into force until the 28th of June 2022…” Steven Galliver-Andrew, a barrister working in immigration law, told the BBC last week.
Meanwhile there is also a risk that should there be a change of government in the UK over the next two years, the agreement could be declared null and void as the policy, popular in the current government doesn’t have the backing of the opposition.
And while on June 6, Mr Johnson narrowly survived a confidence vote in his leadership with 63 votes after 148 MPs sought to oust him from office, analysts say the PM is not yet out of the woods.
Downing Street woes
For one thing, though Johnson will not be subjected to another formal confidence vote for a year, this could be overruled by the 1922 committee of Conservative backbenchers who previously forced the then Prime Minister Therese May to resign a few months after she had won the confidence vote.
In its editorial on Wednesday, June 8, The Times of the UK urged the prime minister to re-establish the Conservative Party’s reputation for competent government.
“He (Johnson) needs to put an end to the constant stream of ill-considered policy announcements that gush from the Downing Street grid, designed to capture the daily news agenda, but invariably fall apart under scrutiny. Too many of these announcements appear designed to sow division where none exists rather than provide workable solutions to real problems at a time of unprecedented challenges. All that this does is fuel cynicism about the political process.”
– Additional reporting by Ange Iliza