Rwanda Focus (Kigali)

Rwanda: Nation Vs Belgium - Did a Former Colonial Master Deliberately Disrespect a Former Subject?

opinion

Here we go again; yet another fierce row is brewing between a European country and Rwanda.

The first time it was with France, when in November 2006 the notorious judge Jean Louis Bruguiere issued nine international arrest warrants against top members of Rwanda's military and civilian leadership - including President Kagame - on the charge that it is they who brought down the plane carrying former president Habyarimana and thus "causing the Genocide". The second time it was with the Germans when in November 2008 police in Frankfurt, saying they were acting on the force of one of the warrants, arrested Rose Kabuye, at the time President Kagame's chief of protocol.

Now Rwanda has a quarrel with Belgium after judicial authorities in the European country decided to freeze the Rwandan Embassy's bank account in Brussels, prompting the retaliatory move by Rwanda of freezing the Belgian Embassy's accounts in Kigali. "Rwanda has requested appropriate organs of the state to freeze accounts of the Embassy of Belgium," said Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo.

The imbroglio began last month, 18 October, the date Belgian judicial authorities decided to take their action against the Rwandan Embassy saying they were acting on the recommendation of a court bailiff representing one Gaspard Gatera, a Rwandan national residing in Brussels. Gatera claims the government of Rwanda owes him 200,000 Euros for work his company, Agro Consult carried out on boosting maize production in Southern and Eastern provinces. The Ministry of Agriculture disputes this, saying they owe Gatera nothing but that, on the contrary, he was more involved in embezzling funds for the consultation - more than Frw 189 million worth - than properly doing the work.

According to Eric David, an individual quoted in the Brussels newspaper Le Soir as being an expert on international law, it is rare for (Belgian) judicial authorities to have the accounts of a foreign mission frozen. An official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kigali who talked to this newspaper on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak on behalf of the Ministry said for the Belgians to have taken the step they did only revealed one thing: a former colonial master of an African country imagining they can do whatever they want, confident there will be no consequences.

Talking to The Rwanda Focus, Michael Wimmer, Head of the Political Section at the Belgian Embassy in Kigali, sounded still surprised that the Rwandan authorities could actually retaliate the way they did. "For us, we thought we had nothing to do with the freezing of the Rwandan Embassy's accounts, and the Belgian Government does not have the power to stop what Belgian courts decide," said Wimmer who went on to express the hope that the issue would be speedily resolved and normal relations recommence.

As the row simmers, it is instructive to remember how such diplomatic dustups have ended in the past.

When the French judge, Bruguiere, issued his warrants and Kigali retaliated by severing diplomatic ties with Paris, the Rwandan authorities asserted the judge's acts were purely political and had nothing to do with seeking justice for anyone the Genocide affected. "Who are the French to lecture us on what happened in Rwanda when it is their collusion with the Genocidal regimes of Rwanda that caused so many problems in the first place?" Justice Minister Karugarama said at the time.

Rwanda was so incensed by what it saw as Paris's enabling of Bruguiere's acts that it sought to indict some members of the "French Establishment" - high-ranking, even aristocratic members of the French ruling class among who were in powerful positions in the government of former president Francois Mitterrand. Consequently Rwanda commissioned a painstakingly-written report detailing the testimonies of witnesses to the Genocide and how the terrible events unfolded. Some of the witnesses included former officers of the Belgian military who were posted in Kigali at the time and who said some damning things about Rwanda-based members of the French military. That was the Mucyo Report and it had the French establishment so alarmed that someone acted on Bruguiere to "tone down his rhetoric".

Bruguiere's case totally unravelled when, upon Rose Kabuye's arrest and jailing in Frankfurt, she made the decision to take her case direct to Paris when (both the French and German authorities) expected that she would breathe a sigh of relief and go back to Kigali when she was released from the jail. She was telling Bruguiere, here I am, in Paris, now please go ahead and prove your case against me. Bruguiere could not. His star witness, one Abdul Ruzibiza a former Lieutenant in the RPF army, had recanted his testimony, saying he falsely accused Kagame of bringing down the Habyarimana aircraft. Ruzibiza was forthcoming in an interview on Contact FM saying that "some people" had given him "material inducements" to make his accusations. And the judge's other testimonies were so embarrassing even he could not present them - he had for instance recorded accusations against Kagame by, among others, Theoneste Bagosora, a principle suspect of the Genocide. Bruguiere apparently took the time to travel to Arusha to talk to the man nicknamed "Colonel Apocalypse" in the detention facility of the International Criminal Court.

After a few weeks of French courts hemming and hewing, Rose Kabuye returned to Kigali. And that was that.

Those who know how Kigali deals with problems between it and European countries predict one thing: Brussels will blink first and have the Rwandan Embassy's accounts unfrozen. The Belgians have been caught unawares (as were France and Germany) by the reaction of the Rwandan authorities, who happen to tie them up with the impeccable logic that you do not tamper with a country's diplomatic mission due to issues that courts of law can easily resolve in other ways. That is, unless there is some political motive behind the tampering.

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