December 13, 2019

British MP Who Demanded Release of Rwandan Military Officers Voted Out of UK Parliament

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Ivan Lewis, on Thursday late night, at a vote counting center in his Bury South Constituency. He went on to lose the seat he has held for many years

Ivan Lewis, one of a group of British MPs who last month called for release of two former powerful military officers to the dismay of President Paul Kagame, has lost his seat in the general elections held Thursday – coming in a distant 6th among 8 candidates. Even his father did not vote for him.

Six British lawmakers on November 4 wrote a public letter asking President Kagame to release Col Tom Byabagamba and Brig Gen (Rtd) Frank Rusagara on “humanitarian factors”. They say both men are in “poor health”.

Byabagamba, a former commander of Presidential Guard, and military academic Rusagara have been in the Court of Appeal (a civilian court) since early this year attempting to reverse 21 year and 20 year sentences handed down by the military court martial. They were jailed for among other charges undermining President Kagame, at some point Rusagara allegedly saying “Our guy is finished”.

Three of the lawmakers who signed on to the letter: Baroness D’Souza, Lord Steel and Baronesses Northover – are members of the House of Lords, the upper House. They are powerful lifelong lawmakers, though not elected.

Baroness D’Souza, was one of Rwanda’s ardent supporters when it was seeking to join the Commonwealth back in 2008 and 2009. She often put up spirited defense for the county.

Two days after their letter, Justice Minister and Attorney General Johnston Busingye wrote back, and the letter was posted on the Ministry’s Twitter page. He said government has “limited circumstances” in which it can intervene. That can only be possible after all legal processes have been exhausted, said Busingye.

A further two days later, on November 8, President Paul Kagame was visibly irritated when asked about the letter at a press conference in Kigali.

“By the way, I never received any letter,” he said, adding “…it was wrongly addressed… Why would they ask me? …They find it easy to write to the president” but not to the Attorney General or their fellow MPs here because, he added, these MPs [from the UK] have no regard for the Rwanda’s institutions.

“If people had concern about justice, don’t you think they should have started with their own system? Are you aware of the case that has been going on [in the UK] for over 10 years about genocidaires? If they are concerned about justice they should be giving justice to Rwandans first…these perpetrators live freely in their country,” said Kagame, adding that the UK was actually “protecting them”.

Kagame said the MPs are acting out of their usual superiority complex they have for many of Africa’s leaders and their countries.

Then he made what turned out to be the strongest comment on the Byabagamba-Rusagara issue: “They don’t know how they are complicating things. I wish I could advise them how what they are doing actually complicates the case of those people they seem to be advocating for.”

The Rusagara-Byabagamba appeal verdict was postponed several times. But then following the letter of the UK lawmakers, it was set for December 13. It is unclear if the verdict date was set in consideration of the UK elections.

Ivan Lewis, who has been a noticeable constant critic of President Kagame even calling for blocking of British aid to Rwanda, lost his seat. He came in a distant sixth among 8 candidates.

Ivan Lewis was Labour, but turned independent in November 2017 after he was suspended subject to allegations of sexual harassment. In late December last year, he resigned from the Labour Party.

In speech early Friday morning as results were being declared, Lewis said even his father did not vote for him. The dad had voted for the winning Conservative party, for the first time ever.

By press time, counting was still ongoing in the constituency of Dr Matthew Offord of the ruling Conservative Party. However, according to exit polls, he had a more than 90% chance of retaining his seat. He is said to be extremely popular.

Rosie Duffied, of the Labour opposition party, formerly led by Tony Blair, a close friend of President Kagame, retained her seat.

There is no evidence that a letter by 6 British MPs can have impact on overall UK government policy towards Rwanda. What it does is that it resurrects UK media attention on Rwanda, thereby bringing it into mainstream talk among voters, which usually affects policymaking.

Similar previous instances of intense media attention, which have also questioned UK aid to Rwanda, led to government ministers having to go on the defensive.

All eyes will be on the Byabagamba-Rusagara court session this Friday.

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