October 26, 2021

Visiting Belgian Top Diplomat Finds Hostile Reception in Rwanda

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Despite Belgium being one of the biggest donors, its foreign affairs minister Sophie Wilmès is not a welcome visitor in Rwanda.

The Belgian top diplomat is in the country for the African Union-European Union foreign affairs ministers’ summit which opened Monday.

However, social media, expecially Twitter has been awash with hostile comments tagging her. All are reminding Wilmès that her support for jailed Hotel Rwanda movie personality Paul Rusesabagina was uncalled for.

The relationship between Belgium’s foreign minister and the government of Rwanda is so bad, that a planned bilateral meeting that was to be held in New York was cancelled by Kigali in later September.

It all began on September 20 when Rusesabagina was found guilty on various terror charges along with others, and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Hours later, the Belgian top diplomat said Rusesabagina had “not received a fair trial” despite repeated appeals by the former colonial power. She also called for his release and repatriation back home.

Rusesabagina is a Belgian citizen and also has American residence. His family has met Wilmès to plead for his release.

In statement, Kigali said Wilmès comments “reflects the contempt shown by ….Belgium towards the Rwandan judicial system since the start of this trial, despite the significant contribution of relevant Belgian institutions to the investigation of this case.”

“The victims of the terrorist acts of the FLN, admittedly less famous, have just as much right to justice as Mr. Rusesabagina and his co-defendants.”

It added: “For this reason, a scheduled bilateral meeting at ministerial level, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, will no longer take place. However, the Government of Rwanda remains ready to welcome to Rwanda the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Belgium at a convenient time, to continue the dialogue between the two countries.”

The Belgian foreign minister had a planned meeting with President Kagame on the sidelines of the EU-AU summit, but it didnt place. For his part, Josep Borrell Fontelles, the EU foreign affairs chief, met the President.

Apart from UK, US, Netherlands and Sweden, Belgium is another key bilateral donor for Rwanda. A Belgo-Rwandan cooperation agreement signed in April 2019 alloacated 120million Euros up to 2024.

Even on her Twitter, the Belgian senior diplomat didn’t post anything about her presence in Rwanda.

This Tuesday morning , together with other EU foreign ministers Wilmès toured the Kigali genocide memorial site where up to 260,000 victims are laid to rest.

As her first visit to Rwanda, Wilmès would be making headlines, but her presence is going largely unnoticed. The visit was only reported by the Belgian embassy Twitter account.

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