Foreign Policy in Rwanda: A discussion with Deo Lukyamuzi

By: Jennifer Fierberg

Rwanda has faced numerous challenges in the past year with their credibility and foreign relations. Both have seen severe declines with the UN GoE report that states the M23 rebel group currently harassing Eastern DRC is being funded and organized by the Government of Rwanda. A claim the Rwandan Government denies. Due to the publications of these reports Rwanda has faced hundreds of millions of dollars in aid cuts which has left a significant dent in their ability to fund many programs. 

Deo Lukyamuzi, Commissioner for External Relations, FDU-Inkingi, took time to answer some questions about the state of foreign affairs in Rwanda and how their image could be regained both in Africa and with the international community.

JF: The last 8 months have been revealing in the case of Rwanda and their support of the M23 in DRC as documented by the UN GoE report. In light of this report millions of dollars in aid has been cut or suspended to the Government of Rwanda. The relationships between these countries and Rwanda will obviously be deeply strained. Do you think the countries cutting aid made the right decisions? Why or why not?

DL: The amount of aid cut or suspended due to Rwanda’s involvement with M23 Rebels is very minimal compared to what it receives annually.  Take for example the first two major donors:  The US gives Rwanda annually $196m.  Of this amount only $200,000 which shows clearly the US is not serious.  The UK withheld 21m of its budget support out of 75m pound sterling it gives Rwanda annually.  Still, no one expects the Rwandan government to go bankrupt because of this.  Their occupation of Eastern DRC earns them tenfold from illicit trade in minerals.  Overall, Rwanda receives close to 900m annually from external sources so it will take more than the symbolic cuts to make a meaningful impact.

However, even if these cuts were meant to appease critics of Washington and Europe’s kid-glove policies towards Rwanda, they were also a symbolic departure from the past where Kagame and his government took Washington’s and London’s support for granted.  These cuts were a subtle message to Kagame telling him to behave.  As to how much this will strain relations between Kagame and his sponsors, will depend on how he conducts himself henceforth and the geo-political paradigm in the sub-region.

JF: When a country takes this hard line against another, as the aid cutting countries to Rwanda (UK, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands etc.), how will the relations for these countries ever be repaired or do you believe reconciliation is possible or wanted?

DL: International relations are meant to benefit states rather than individual actors therefore, Rwanda’s diplomatic relations are meant to benefit Rwandan citizens not the government.  The diplomatic spats that Kagame and his government have had recently stem from their sponsoring of a rebellion that has cost countless lives and property loss.  This is not a war that Rwandans support nor want and as such these disagreements are not on Rwandans but on Kagame and entourage.  Were Kagame to fall today, tomorrow would be a different day in Rwanda’s relationship with those countries you mentioned.

JF: Rwanda has taken a stance that they are being unfairly judged by a “biased group” (GoE to UNSC) and that they will be better off without the foreign aid to their country.  Do you believe Rwanda being appointed to the UNSC will have a positive effect on Rwanda’s image to the world that had taken a downturn due to the GoE report?

DL: Starting with the last part of your question, yes, it helps being part of the Security Council.  It gives the Rwandan emissary the advantage of close proximity to Security Council permanent members for lobbying purposes, if I may call it that but, that is as far as they can go.  How the western powers decide to proceed with the GoE report depends on their policy stand on a particular government and their interests usually, economic in the long run.  Let us remember that Rwanda was a member of the Security Council when President Habyarimana was killed.  At least two of the Security Council members were supporting Habyarimana’s enemies the RPF/A.  The US and Britain went ahead to delay any intervention until they were sure that RPF advance was irreversible.  So, sitting on the Security Council is only helpful as long as stars are aligned in your favor.

As for the Rwandan government crying wolf, it is not the first time nor will it be the last.  RPF developed and perfected a psyche of perpetual victimhood to the point they use it as one of their best political tool.  Kagame and elk have always considered truth to be what they make it out to be.  Anything else that contradicts their narrative, is from enemies and must be blacklisted hence the absence of a neutral position.  When it comes to RPF, you are either their friend; such as Blair, Clinton, Rev. Warren etcetera or, you are their enemies such as HRW, GoE or the political opposition.

Kagame saying that they are better off without foreign aid to the country, I can qualify that as a lot of loud sounding nothings.  Nobody believes him, not even himself.   Nobody ever forced aid on his government, if he didn’t want it, he would have said that long time ago.  Again, that is playing cheap populism to the gallery.          

JF: How can Rwanda improve their Foreign Policy and what steps need to be taken?


DL The Rwandan government cannot change its foreign policy without changing its very essence.  Its foreign policy is a by-product of a false narrative constructed at the beginning of genocide and perfected over the past 18years.  Kagame and RPF present themselves to the world as the barrier between the Rwandan nation and a repeat of Genocide, which is false and hypocrisy of the highest order.   All evidence shows there would not have been genocide without the war that RPF launched in October, 1990.  There was no Genocide going on by that time therefore RPF did not start the war to stop Genocide hence, RPF cannot be in itself anti-genocide entity in an organic sense.    There is consensus that RPF forces short down President Habyarimana’s plane which act is a direct spark that started genocide. 


The justification of Rwanda’s condemnable involvement in Congo is that it wants to avoid, at all cost possible, a repeat of genocide.   It has always invoked the presence of FDLR rebels which Rwanda insists, even against all evidence, that they (FDLR) are the present day Interahamwe genocidaire.  Any remnants of Interahamwe must be in their fifties and cannot therefore be the fighting force of FDLR.

Rwanda government defends itself to its bilateral and multilateral international partners, its stranglehold on the country’s political life, lack of human rights observance, lack of free speech, by advancing a fallacy that Rwanda is not a normal country from which to demand accountability of its conduct without risking another round of genocide.  This position however has run into its limitations and it is not plausible any longer. 


Changing its foreign policy would mean changing its Reason d’Etre hence no more justification for its muzzling of democracy and that equals the end Kagame and RPF.


JF: The UNSC has neglected to sanction high officials in the Rwandan Government over their own GoE report that Rwanda is funding and supporting the M23. In your opinion why has the US turned a blind eye to Rwanda’s involvement?


DL: The US may have modernized its war arsenal and all its other various aspects but its foreign policy is still a reflection of its cold war mentality.  The US still believes in strong men as long as they answer to their (US’s) bidding.  Since Kagame took over power in Rwanda, his methods of governance have been a direct affront and contradiction to all those values such as respect for human rights, democracy and good governance, values that The US espouses and preaches.  Yet, because Kagame does not threaten or challenge US interests and only demands how high whenever US says jump, he is given a discount on all expectations, at the detriment of Rwanda and the region. 


Without US support, the UNSC cannot do very much since consensus is not only needed but necessary to make a binding decision.   And, Kagame and his loyal officers know this and exploit it to the fullest.   


JF: Do you believe there was any significance to President Obama’s (US) much publicized phone call to President Kagame? If so what is the significance in your opinion?


DL: The phrase ‘much publicized’, pretty much captures the essence or lack thereof of that call.  It was meant for public consumption to show that the US is not looking on idly while crimes are being committed by its ally.  The fact that not much changed on the ground as far as RDF meddling in Congo apart from the superficial disengagement we all see, speaks volumes notably that:

  1.  Kagame doesn’t seem threatened in any way over the GoE findings;
  2.  Rwanda was voted to have a seat on the UNSC;
  3. There is no clear, direct engagement by the US in solving this conflict and;
  4. Since that famous call, there has not been any follow up activity to show the seriousness of US engament.


JF: What about relations with regional leaders? Uganda, DRC, Angola, Tanzania? Are those relationships strong or fragile? What could Rwanda do to strengthen regional relationships?


DL: Kagame has no good relationship with any of the leaders of the countries you mention above.  Even with Uganda, the two presidents tolerate each other because each is better served by lack of open acrimony between them.  To other regional leaders, Kagame is an irritant they are stuck with.  Two factors are responsible for this:

  1.  Kagame and his government only consider Washington and London diplomatic relations important and have therefore over time, ignored the sensibilities of other regional leaders and governments and;
  2. RPF political style is a new phenomenon is the region.  It is relatively young and has no camaraderie ties with others actors in the region save for Uganda and even then, those ties were irreparably damaged in the 1998 conflicts in Eastern Congo.


JF: Any final thoughts on this topic?


DL: Bringing about peace in Eastern DRC and in the Great Lakes region is not Rocket Science.  It is not near impossible as it is said to be.  One has to address its root causes and the rest will fall in place.  Root causes of these conflicts are first and foremost a democratic deficit which translates into bad governance and lack of accountability.  This state of affairs is sustained by the greed of multinational corporations both private and parastatal which operate under different rules and guidelines once they arrive in Africa.  Profit maximization tramples over any other considerations and since the west is a direct beneficiary of this chaos, the leaders become silent accomplices in these crimes committed by M23, CNDP and their local sponsors, or even governments which do not respect their citizenry.


The way forward is for the West to go by the same standards in Africa as they do back home.  Western companies have to be accountable for their operations in Africa as they are, at home.  Finally Western governments must stop propping dictators in Africa.  American and European interests are not threatened Democracy in Africa and as such, they should invest in democratization rather than in perennial unsustainable humanitarian interventions.        


Whether or not Rwanda will regain what has been lost through these financial hardships remains to be seen. Earlier this month Germany agreed to release some of the funds they had suspended but placed strict conditions on the release of such funds in how the government of Rwanda handles the political opposition groups. Only time will tell if Rwanda can live up to these expectations. If history is any teacher then the Government of Rwanda will surely lose this regained funding as well.

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