This Saturday, more than 3,500 Rwandans from mainly German and other EU countries descended on the Germany city of Bonn for ‘Rwanda Day’ – a government-led diaspora mobilisation forum.
It took place hours after an attack by unidentified assailants on two sectors in Musanze district, northwestern Rwanda. The attack killed 8 people and injured 18 others, according to a police statement.
When President Paul Kagame took to the podium late evening in a well-choreographed event after other speakers, he hinted at the attack as just the latest “provocation” from a “small number” of opposition groups outside Rwanda.
In the hour-long unscripted address, Kagame defended the country’s economic growth numbers which have been questioned in recent global media campaigns in newspapers like The Economist, The Financial Times and The Atlantic.
“We love Rwandans,” said Kagame, amid lengthy applause, in apparent reference to the opposition-led media campaigns accusing his government of having a role in murders of supposed opposition figures.
Kagame said it was ironic that his government which is heavily investing in human development and good health of Rwanda is at the same time being accused of killing the same Rwandans.
Kagame said a large portion of the country’s budget goes to education, health, infrastructure and other social programs that advance society’s development. He said life expectancy had risen to about 70years. Deaths of babies and that of mothers who die giving birth has gone down significantly, he added.
“A few years ago people used to held big parties and even slaughter a bull for the occasion to celebrate clocking 40 years. Not any more because Rwandans are living longer,” said Kagame, prompting more applause.
“How then can it be possible that [we] give people life and then take it away?…how can we invest in broadband for all and then you tell us there is no free speech in Rwanda?”
Kagame said his government has overcome complex challenges over the last 25 years.
“Every 3 to 5yrs in the past 25 years, new provocations emerge, but eventually we have overcome,” he said, specifically citing foreign media and even giving examples of recent articles.
He added: “Rwanda’s case is like a plane that is flying through heavy turbulence coming from the front. We have fought successfully against this turbulence. This has been possible because Rwandans are pushing that plane from the back.”
Unlike in the past, what was surprisingly noticeable this time is that there were no protestors at Rwanda Day in Bonn. Since the first Rwanda Day on December 11, 2010, held in Brussels, Belgium, chanting protestors stood outside, usually held apart from Kagame supporters by local police.
The protests were largely of Congolese nationals mobilized by exiled Rwandan groups, who accused Rwanda of being behind the conflicts that have ravaged their country. Some of the Congolese protests are said to have been organized by officials in the Kinshasa government.
At some Rwanda Days, like the ones in London, Netherlands, and Canada, the President’s convoys were attacked.
But it seems, with a new friendly government in Kinshasa and disorganized exiled Rwandan groups that are battling conflicts amongst themselves since the last Rwanda Day in Ghent, Belgium in 2017, the noisy protests are no more.
Back in Rwanda, officials were keen to emphasize the same narrative. A senior official in the local government ministry said on Saturday in the local media that the development in Rwanda has made the opposition ridiculous, and that they have given up protests.
In his speech, Kagame said the numbers depicting the constant annual growth have actually been confirmed by independent sources.
“It wouldn’t have been possible to develop Rwanda from bad policies. It doesn’t make sense. Rwanda is developing as a result of good policies,” he said.
Kagame also said more attractive policies were being put in place to bring in more Germany investments into the country to add on to carmaker Volkswagen’s assembly plant and car hireling service. There is also Strawtec, a building solutions company.
Kagame’s speech was followed by an interactive session running for up to three hours, like all previous such Rwanda Day’s. Here, questions are asked, new business ventures announced and complaints about government officials aired.
One woman accused Gen Stephen Kalyango of grabbing her land using fake documents which were actually fraudulently acquired and later verified by the Rwandan Foreign Ministry.
The President promised to solve this problem.
Another woman claimed officials had taken over her hotel business in Karongi district, western province, and she had nowhere or anybody to go to.
A man accused Bugesera district officials of taking his land claiming it was a land reserve, but then registered the land in their names.
A woman speaking on behalf of her family of genocide survivors said their land where a grave for their parents killed in the 1994 genocide is located, had been expropriated by government. They requested the president to have their land back.
The minister of Local Government, Prof Anastase Shyaka was asked to follow up on all these complaints and make sure they are solved.
A man claimed his family member, who has worked in various countries, is unable to work anymore because he has been placed on a government blacklist by the Rwanda Investigations Bureau (RIB).
And a young medical graduate asked the president how she can get to contribute to the country’s development using her profession and the head of state immediately offered her an air ticket to come to Rwanda and start practicing her profession.
Some, largely foreigners, pitched investment projects and Kagame welcomed them, pointing out which of his officials they should work with to actualize their projects.
Closing the session, Kagame asked attendees not to wait for the next Rwanda Day to air their problems but to actively engage the government through embassies and the ministry of foreign affairs.
All courtesy photos