President Paul Kagame on Saturday fiercely defended Rwanda’s record on human rights and political freedoms as the curtains closed on a Commonwealth summit where his country came under intense scrutiny.
The Commonwealth also welcomed two new members into the fold at its summit in Kigali — the French-speaking West African states of Togo and Gabon that have no historic ties to Britain.
The decision to hold the gathering in Rwanda was heavily criticised by rights watchdogs, which accused Commonwealth leaders of turning a blind eye to repression and the jailing of opponents in the host country.
Kagame, who has been de facto ruler since the end of the genocide in 1994, told reporters Rwanda was proud of its record and would not be lectured by outsiders.
“As far as values are concerned, we don’t need any lessons from BBC or from anyone,” Kagame said in an impassioned statement that lasted nearly 30 minutes.
“I want to assure you there is nobody… who (is) beholding values better than we do here in Rwanda,” he told the summit’s closing press conference.
Ahead of the meeting attended by Prince Charles and around 30 leaders, rights groups warned that Kigali’s sparkling streets had been cleared of the homeless and street kids to maintain a glossy image for visitors.
In an open letter, 23 civil society organisations said there was a “climate of fear” in Rwanda and urged Commonwealth leaders not to risk the body’s integrity by letting Kagame off the hook.
His government had presided over a crackdown on rights of assembly, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture and extrajudicial executions, they said.
Kagame rejected any suggestion his government detained opponents, saying some of his most vocal critics had been freed from prison by presidential pardon.
“There is nobody in Rwanda who is in prison that should not be there, because we have a justice system that is actually functional, and fair,” he said.
Kagame also announced that Gabon and Togo had been admitted into the Commonwealth, the first new members since Rwanda in 2009.
“This is a historic moment! A new important page in the history of Gabon is opening 62 years after its independence,” Gabonese President Ali Bongo said in a statement.
Togo’s Foreign Minister Robert Dussey said membership opened the door to 2.5 billion consumers in the Commonwealth realm, offered new education opportunities, and tapped a “craze” for English among his countrymen.
Francophone states have also sought to join the Commonwealth in recent years to pivot away from former colonial ruler France, analysts said.
The admission of Gabon and Togo takes membership to 56 nations, and is a boon for the Commonwealth at a time of renewed discussion over its future relevance and modern profile.
Republican movements are taking root in a number of Commonwealth nations and some are seeking reparations for colonial-era injustices.
On Friday, Prince Charles told Commonwealth leaders the choice to become a republic or abandon Queen Elizabeth II as head of state was theirs alone and expressed “personal sorrow” at Britain’s legacy of slavery.
And British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the interest from new members proved the organisation was alive and well.
But the admission of Gabon and Togo could raise questions about the Commonwealth’s espoused commitment to good governance, respect of rights and democracy as fundamental values of its charter.
Both countries have been ruled by single families for over half a century, and elections have been marred by irregularities and violence.
“We are much better together than we ever will be apart,” said Patricia Scotland, who was re-elected in Kigali for another two years as Commonwealth secretary-general after a bruising and divisive campaign.
Delegates at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) addressed issues including climate change, violence against women, mental health, vaccine equity, and urbanisation — to name a few.
A much-criticised deal to deport asylum-seekers from the UK to Rwanda dogged the meeting, however, with Johnson vigorously defending his policy.
Ahead of the summit it was reported that Charles — who takes over the Commonwealth when he becomes king — strongly opposed the migrant scheme.
The first transfer of asylum seekers scheduled this month was blocked in a European court, but Johnson insists the deal is not unlawful and he will pursue it.
Born out of the British Empire, the Commonwealth represents one-third of humanity in nations across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.
The next Commonwealth meet will be in Samoa in 2024.
Rwanda has barred direct flights to and from nine countries in southern Africa, joining a growing list of nations that have imposed travel restrictions over a new, heavily mutated Covid-19 variant.
The new variant, dubbed Omicron, was first reported in South Africa last week, with cases subsequently detected in several countries, and many governments have moved swiftly to reimpose containment measures.
Direct flights between Rwanda and southern Africa will be temporarily suspended “effective immediately,” Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente announced late Sunday.
“While the variant has not been detected in Rwanda, its effects are potentially dangerous,” Ngirente said in a statement, urging extra vigilance.
The countries affected by the ban are Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
All passengers who have arrived from those countries in the past seven days have to spend a week in quarantine, at their own costs, in designated hotels in Rwanda, according to the announcement.
Rwanda, a country of 13 million people, will also reimpose a mandatory 24-hour quarantine for all passengers.
The East African country has enforced some of the strictest containment measures on the continent and implemented a rigorous regime of testing and contact tracing.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned Monday that the new variant poses a “very high” risk globally.
Even if the new strain proves to be less deadly than previous ones, it could put more pressure on hospitals if it spreads more easily, it said.
“If another major surge of Covid-19 takes place driven by Omicron, consequences may be severe,” WHO said in a technical note, adding that “to date, no deaths linked to Omicron variant have been reported.”
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday protested the “unjustified” travel bans and called for their immediate reversal.
“We call upon all those countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our southern African sister countries to immediately and urgently reverse their decisions,” Ramaphosa said.
Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera on his part accused Western countries of “Afrophobia” for shutting their borders.
The head of the WHO in Africa also cautioned against border closures.
“With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity,” WHO regional director general Matshidiso Moeti said in a statement.
Dozens of nations including Africa’s Angola and Mauritius have imposed travel restrictions since South African scientists flagged Omicron on Thursday.
Rwanda’s leader Paul Kagame on Saturday unloaded on his beloved Arsenal after they opened the Premier League season with a loss to newcomers Brentford, saying Gunners fans deserve better than “mediocrity”.
The veteran president and long-time Arsenal supporter tweeted a tirade after Brentford returned to their first English top-flight season for 74 years with a 2-0 win over the Gunners on Friday evening.
Kagame, whose country is an official sponsor of Arsenal, said Brentford deserved the win but the Gunners had soul-searching to do.
“The game itself aside Arsenal and the fans don’t deserve to kind of get used to this….NO !!! I say this as one of the big fans of Arsenal. The change has taken to long to come!” the president tweeted in a three-part post-match screed to his 2.4 million followers early Saturday.
Kagame, a former rebel leader who has ruled Rwanda since the aftermath of the genocide in 1994, hammered club management over planning and questioned decision-making around the acquisition of new players.
“We just must NOT excuse or Accept mediocrity. A team has to be built with purpose to win win win. So that when we lose….it was not to be expected!” Kagame said.
“I am sure we all know on whose shoulders the heaviest burden rests. I hope they know too or even accept it!!!”
Rwanda became the official tourism partner of Arsenal in 2018, with players sporting a “Visit Rwanda” logo on their shirt sleeves during matches.
The three-year deal was aimed at drawing tourists and investors to the tiny east African nation, and burnishing its reputation as a safe, sought-after destination.
Kagame often expresses his opinions about the club’s performances during summits and on social media.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Friday described vaccine distribution in Africa as “scandalously inefficient” and warned against building an “invisible wall” around parts of the world unable to secure jabs.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in May said two percent of Covid-19 vaccines globally had been administered in Africa, a continent of over 1.2 billion people.
Kagame said efforts to ensure fair vaccine access, including the WHO-backed Covax initiative, remained “scandalously inefficient” and added that depriving Africa risked prolonging the pandemic.
“The fact that Africa is not receiving vaccines, in the end is not good even for those getting the vaccines,” Kagame told AFP and France Inter in an interview late Friday.
“The backlash will be there, it will come back to them. If we do it equitably, then we have the chance of eradicating it globally.
“I hope we don’t find ourselves in a situation where it’s like building an invisible wall. Those who have been vaccinated saying ‘we need to remain safe so we need to keep away those who are not vaccinated’.
Kagame said it was essential Africa start manufacturing its own vaccines but pointed to hurdles in the way of investment, intellectual property rights and technology.
“These are things that need to be quickly sorted out,” he said.
“Our desire here in Rwanda, we hope we can see vaccine being manufactured here in no less than a period of one year. That is on a very optimistic side.”
In early May, the US expressed support for lifting intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines to speed up production and distribution around the world.
Many EU countries have expressed skepticism about such a move.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who this week gifted Rwanda a batch of vaccines during a state visit, said Friday in South Africa that he agreed to a temporary waiver on patents if it would spur vaccine production in developing countries.
Rwanda has recorded nearly 27,000 cases of Covid-19 and around 350 deaths from the disease, according to the health ministry on May 27.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Wednesday signalled he was ready for a new phase in ties with France after a landmark report acknowledged French responsibility over the 1994 genocide, as Paris ordered the opening of key archives.
The 27th anniversary of the start of the slaughter — an event that still casts a shadow over France — was marked by conciliatory moves on both sides to heal long-troubled relations.
The report, handed by French historians to President Emmanuel Macron last month, “marks an important step toward a common understanding of what took place,” Kagame said in Kigali.
“It also marks the change, it shows the desire, even for leaders in France, to move forward with a good understanding of what happened,” said Kagame in his first reaction to the report.
The archives to be opened by France concern the work of former president Francois Mitterrand between 1990 and 1994 when the genocide began, according to a statement by the French presidency.
Also to be opened are those of the prime minister at the time, Edouard Balladur, in accordance with his own wishes, it added.
Many of the documents — which include diplomatic telegrams and confidential notes — were sources for the long-awaited report by historians handed to Macron.
All the documents cited in the report will also be declassified and made public, the presidency said.
The decision is part of Macron’s “committment” to create conditions favourable to help better understand France’s role in Rwanda, it said.
– ‘Cover-up’ – The genocide saw around 800,000 people slaughtered, mainly from the ethnic Tutsi minority, between April and July of 1994.
The commission concluded that France bears overwhelming responsibilities over the genocide and was “blind” to preparations for the massacres.
It said there had been a “failure” on the part of France under Mitterrand, while adding there was no evidence Paris was complicit in the killings.
Macron ordered the report after years of accusations France did not do enough to halt the massacres and was even complicit in the crimes.
The issue has poisoned relations between France and Rwanda under Kagame, a former Tutsi rebel who has ruled the mountainous nation in Africa’s Great Lakes region since the aftermath of the genocide.
Kagame and his wife Jeannette earlier lit a remembrance flame at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where every year commemorations are held to mourn the dead.
The genocide between April and July 1994 began after Rwanda’s Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana, with whom Paris had cultivated close ties, was killed when his plane was shot down over Kigali on April 6.
The report said France under Mitterrand adopted a “binary view” that set Habyarimana as a “Hutu ally” against an “enemy” of Tutsi forces backed by Uganda.
France had been “involved with a regime that encouraged racist massacres,” although there was no evidence that it had any “willingness” to join in the genocide itself.
Kagame said a parallel investigation carried out by Rwandan authorities would release its own findings this month, saying the conclusions “go in the same direction” as the French report.
But he criticised “the decades-long effort by certain French officials to cover up their responsibilities”, saying it had caused “significant damage”.
“The important thing is to continue working together to document the truth,” Kagame said.
– ‘Half measures’ no use – The historian Vincent Duclert who chaired the historial commission told the Mediapart news site that he believed France now needed to apologise for its policies in Rwanda, which were characterised by “great violence and a very colonialist superiority”.
The Elysee has said it hoped the report would mark an “irreversible” reconciliation process between France and Rwanda, which Macron has said he wants to visit this year.
Welcoming the Duclert report, the French foreign minister at the time, Alain Juppe, acknowledged it had highlighted the failures of the government.
“We did not act in the way we should have done,” he wrote in Le Monde, saying France had not understood that “half measures” were of no use in the face of a genocide.
“We lacked understanding of what genocide was and the need to act without delay to stop the massacres with all the determination that was possible,” he said.
In February, Rwanda became the first country in East Africa to begin vaccinating against the disease, targeting high-risk groups such as healthcare workers after acquiring around 1,000 doses of the Moderna jab.
The country has carried out more than a million tests and detected almost 20,000 cases, with 271 deaths since the outbreak of the virus.
It imposed some of the strictest anti-coronavirus measures on the continent, including one of Africa’s first total shutdowns in March 2020. It put capital Kigali back under a full lockdown in January after a surge in cases.
So far in East Africa, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda have begun vaccinating. Ethiopia — the worst hit in the region — will start on Saturday.
Paul Rusesabagina, whose actions during the genocide inspired the Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda”, was charged Monday with terrorism and other serious crimes in his first court appearance in Kigali.
Appearing drained, Rusesabagina appealed to the court to grant him bail to seek medical attention, however, the prosecution argued he was a flight risk and a ruling was pushed to Thursday.
Rusesabagina, who had become a high-profile critic of the government and has been living abroad for years, appeared last month in handcuffs and under arrest in Kigali.
His family say he would never have returned home of his own accord, and believe he was kidnapped while in Dubai. Neither Kigali nor any foreign government have given an account of his arrest.
There was a heavy police presence as Rusesabagina, who is credited with saving more than 1,200 Rwandans during the genocide by sheltering them in a hotel, made his first appearance in court.
He is facing 13 charges including terrorism, financing and founding militant groups, murder and arson and conspiracy to involve children in armed groups.
The stony-faced defendant, wearing a face mask, a beige chequered blazer and khaki trousers, refused to enter a guilty or not-guilty plea, with his lawyers arguing that this will be asked of him when the trial begins in substance.
“Like my lawyers have said, I am sick and in need of constant medical care. In the past two weeks, I have been to hospital three times. I request for bail and I guarantee the court that I will not flee from justice,” said Rusesabagina.
The 66-year-old is a cancer survivor and suffers from a heart condition and hypertension, both requiring ongoing medication, his family have said previously.
– A complex hero – Rusesabagina’s heroic tale has grown more complex than the film suggests, with survivors of the slaughter that left 800,000 mostly Tutsis dead accusing him of profiting off their misery.
Supporters of the former manager of the Hotel Mille Collines believe Kigali has worked to tarnish his image due to his strident criticism of the government.
Rusesabagina has lived abroad since 1996 and holds both Belgian citizenship and a US Green Card.
After the genocide, Rusesabagina — a Hutu — became increasingly critical of Kagame’s Tutsi-dominated government, accusing his ruling party of authoritarianism and anti-Hutu sentiment.
He co-founded an opposition group the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), which is said to have an armed wing called the National Liberation Front (FLN).
In multiple speeches, Rusesabagina has expressed support for the FLN — which has carried out armed attacks and is described as a terrorist organisation by Rwanda — but the extent of his involvement in its actions is unclear.
In his address to the court Rusesabagina denied forming the FLN, and said their actions should be blamed on them alone.
He admitted sending some 20,000 euros ($23,000) to FLN commander Callixte Nsabimana — who is on trial on similar charges — but denied this was for rebel activities.
“I grew up in the same area as Sankara in Rwanda and my wife was very close to his mother. The money I sent him was meant to provide medication to a child under his care,” Rusesabagina said.
Further details of the charges against him will be released during the trial.
Rusesabagina’s family has criticised Rwandan authorities for handing him a list of lawyers to choose from, and not giving him access to his own legal team.
“Paul’s family reiterates his right to consult with lawyers of his own choosing, particularly given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding his arrest,” family spokeswoman Kitty Kurth said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch said last week that Rusesabagina, who was portrayed by American actor Don Cheadle in the 2004 film, was a victim of enforced disappearance.
President Paul Kagame has denied he was kidnapped and suggested he was deceived into returning to the country.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame said Sunday that the polarising hero of the “Hotel Rwanda” film had returned home of his own accord, where he was arrested, denying his family’s claims he was kidnapped abroad.
Paul Rusesabagina, who became the most famous Rwandan in the world after the Hollywood blockbuster, had been living in exile until he surfaced in Kigali last week under arrest and accused of financing rebels.
His family argued he had been kidnapped and forced to return to the country where his image is more complex than in the famed movie, where he is credited with saving the lives of more than 1,200 people during the country’s 1994 genocide.
In a speech to the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency, Kagame said Rusesabagina had himself returned to Rwanda, where he now stands accused of murder, arson, kidnapping and terrorism.
“Let me eliminate the word kidnap because that was not the case. Rusesabagina will attest to that himself. There was no kidnap, there was no wrongdoing in the process of his getting here,” said Kagame.
“He got here on the basis of what he believed he wanted to do and he found himself here.”
His niece and adopted daughter, Carine Kanimba, told AFP Rusesabagina was in Dubai for meetings before suddenly being paraded handcuffed in Kigali. Police in Dubai have declined to comment.
“I don’t know how he got to Rwanda. I read reports that he got on a private plane… however he would never have done that by his own free will because he knows that in Rwanda they want him dead,” she said.
– Global platform –
Rusesabagina, a moderate Hutu, became disillusioned with the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) after its troops flushed out the genocidal regime and ended the slaughter that left some 800,000 Rwandans — mostly Tutsis but also moderate Hutus — dead.
He accused Kagame and his ruling RPF of authoritarianism and anti-Hutu sentiment as the new regime violently consolidated its power in the aftermath of the genocide.
He left Rwanda in 1996 along with other moderates who believed the space for political opposition was fast shrinking.
But the release of the Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda” in 2004 gave him a new global platform to thunder against Kigali, where efforts rose to tarnish his image as a hero.
Survivors groups accused him of profiting from their misery and embellishing his heroics. They pointed out that he charged guests for rooms as they sought refuge, and suggested he wasn’t the altruistic saviour portrayed by American actor Don Cheadle.
Rusesabagina’s rhetoric hardened, and he railed against Hutu oppression and called for the overthrow of Kagame at all costs, including through armed struggle.
“The time has come for us to use any means possible to bring about change in Rwanda, as all political means have been tried and failed,” Rusesabagina said in a 2018 video pledging support for the National Liberation Front (FLN), an armed group described as a terrorist organisation by Rwanda, and urging others to join.
America’s top diplomat for Africa has urged a fair trial for “Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina, as concern mounts over the mysterious circumstances of his arrest and return to his home country.
Rusesabagina, who saved more than 1,200 Rwandans during the 1994 genocide by sheltering them in a hotel, appeared in handcuffs in Kigali this week accused of serious charges including terrorism after a quarter century in exile abroad.
It remains unclear how the strident opponent of long-ruling President Paul Kagame, who had been living in the US and Belgium since leaving Rwanda in 1996, was extradited to his homeland.
Tibor Nagy, US assistant secretary for African Affairs, said he met Wednesday with Rwandan ambassador Mathilde Mukantabana to discuss the circumstances around Rusesabagina’s arrest.
“The United States expects the Rwandan government to provide humane treatment, adhere to the rule of law, and provide a fair and transparent legal process for Mr. Rusesabagina,” Nagy said in a statement.
Rwandan investigators say Rusesabagina, who was played by US actor Don Cheadle in the 2004 Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda”, was arrested “through international cooperation” but have refused to elaborate.
Rusesabagina’s family have said they cannot understand why their father, a high-profile regime target, would return by his own free will to Rwanda where almost certain prosecution would await.
“We believe he was kidnapped and taken by extraordinary rendition to Rwanda,” a spokesman for the family said in a statement Wednesday.
He “is being held by President Paul Kagame’s government on false charges”, added the statement shared by the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, a charity in his name.
Rusesabagina was hailed a hero over his actions during the genocide that killed some 800,000 Rwandans and he was awarded, among other global accolades, a US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 by then president George W Bush.
But inside Rwanda, the ruling party began to attack his motives and character in the years since as Rusesabagina’s attacks on Kagame hardened in exile.
Investigators say Rusesabagina was suspected of creating and financing “extremist terror outfits” in East Africa, including the FLN, the armed wing of a movement he founded abroad to bring about political change in Rwanda.
The Rwanda Investigation Bureau said Rusesabagina was the subject of an international arrest warrant over alleged crimes of terrorism, arson, kidnap and murder.
Supporters of the government in Kigali — including Ambassador Mukantabana — have been sharing videos on social media of Rusesabagina vowing to use “any means possible” to “liberate” Rwanda from Kagame’s rule.
The former military leader whose troops drove the genocidal regime from Rwanda in 1994 was once championed in Western capitals as a visionary reformer, lifting his country out of the devastation of the killings.
But he has ruled ever since and critics say he shows signs of autocratic leadership, overseeing constitutional changes to prolong his rule and targeting opponents both inside Rwanda and abroad.
The president of the Rwanda Cycling Federation, Aimable Bayingana, has resigned following multiple allegations of corruption and sexually abusing female riders.
Bayingana stood down together with his entire executive committee including two vice-presidents, advisors, secretary general and treasurer.
He is also the spokesperson of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), which has ruled Rwanda since 1994 under strongman President Paul Kagame.
The federation authorities declined to comment on the development.
The Rwanda Investigative Bureau announced that they had received “the case and it is under investigation” and were not willing to comment further.
The sports ministry is also investigating the allegations.
“The resignations by the cycling federation officials happened last evening and we are also investigating the allegations. But since these are crimes, we cannot comment any further; we will leave it to Rwanda Investigative Bureau to do its work,” Shema Maboko, Permanent Secretary at the sports ministry, told AFP.
Following the scandal, the ministry of sports is now planning to introduce a policy against sexual abuse that will govern all sports federations and activities in the country.
The scandal rocking the federation unfolded after the former national team coach Jonathan ‘Jock’ Boyer and Kimberly Coats, also founders of the Africa Rising Cycling Centre in Rwanda’s Northern Province, fell out with Bayingana and exposed the goings-on in the cycling federation.
The duo, credited for the success of the national team, left Rwanda after disagreeing with Bayingana on several issues affecting cycling.
In an open letter addressed to Bayingana, published by a local publication, American Boyer accused the cycling federation boss of frustrating efforts to develop the sport, arrogance, having excessive power, mistreating cyclists and sexual harassment among other accusations.
“We are aware that sexual assault and corruption happens and it is our prerogative to fight it. We are strong on it. We have been using the national policies against sexual exploitation,” Maboko added.
Investigations into Bayingana began shortly after local media reported that he was allegedly sexually exploiting female riders –- most of whom are poor and uneducated.
Cycling is a much loved sport in the country, and President Kagame once considered making it the national sport.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who led an active, reformist tenure as African Union chair, on Sunday passed the baton to Egypt, seen as more likely to focus on security issues than expanding the powers of the body.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will officially take over the post of ceremonial head of the AU which rotates between the five regions of the continent at the start of the two-day summit in Addis Ababa.
The meeting got underway after a ceremony inaugurating a commemorative statue of the late Ethiopian emperor Haileselassie I at the AU headquarters, in honour of his role in the formation of the continental body.
While multiple crises on the continent will be on the agenda of heads of state from the 55 member nations, the summit will also focus on institutional reforms and the establishment of a continent-wide free trade zone.
The Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) was agreed by 44 nations in March 2018, but only 19 countries have ratified the agreement, with 22 needed for it to come into effect.
The single market is a flagship of the AU’s “Agenda 2063” programme, conceived as a strategic framework for socioeconomic transformation.
Cairo is backing the initiative, but analysts say it will be less likely to focus on the financial and administrative reforms pushed by Kagame.
Sisi is however expected to focus more on security, peacekeeping and post-war reconstruction, issues closely tied to the AU’s 2019 theme of “Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons”.
“Egypt has an interest in Africa, they want to strengthen their position on the African continent and they don’t want to be seen as a country only focused on the Arab world,” said Liesl Louw-Vaudran, an analyst at the Institute for Security Studies.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Saturday that peaceful elections in DR Congo, Mali and Madagascar, as well as peace deals in South Sudan and the Central African Republic and the truce between Ethiopia and Eritrea, were signs of a “wind of hope” on the continent.
Resisting AU power
Kagame, who has been leading institutional reforms since 2016, pushed for a continent-wide import tax to fund the AU and reduce its dependence on external donors, who still pay for more than half the institution’s annual budget.
But member states have resisted this along with reform of the AU Commission, its executive organ. In November 2018, most states rejected a proposal to give the head of the AU Commission the power to name deputies and commissioners.
Like other regional heavyweights Nigeria and South Africa, Egypt is not keen on a powerful AU, an African diplomat told AFP.
This is especially because Cairo has “never forgotten” its suspension in 2013 after Egypt’s army deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who in 2012 became the country’s first democratically elected president, the diplomat said.
“Traditionally, leaders of big powers have not really helped the position of AU chairperson, as they don’t want an AU which is too strong or too intrusive,” said Elissa Jobson of the International Crisis Group.
“The AU and the AU commission are only as strong as its members want them to be. Unlike the EU, African countries have not transferred some of their sovereignty to the AU.”
Kagame suffered a crushing blow from the AU after expressing “serious doubts” about the results of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s recent presidential election, which was officially won by Felix Tshisekedi.
While also disputed by the Catholic church, the results were validated by DRC’s constitutional court and saluted by continental heavyweights South Africa, Kenya and Egypt.
“This whole thing was an embarrassment for the AU, it showed the limitations of what the AU chairperson can do,” said Jobson.
Amnesty International expressed fears that Egypt’s chairmanship could undermine human rights mechanisms in the AU.
“During his time in power President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has demonstrated a shocking contempt for human rights. Under his leadership the country has undergone a catastrophic decline in rights and freedoms,” said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty’s North Africa Campaigns Director.