Blinken in Rwanda for talks on tensions with DR Congo

Thursday August 11 2022
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he boards his airplane at N'Djili International Airport in Kinshasa, to travel to Rwanda, on August 10, 2022.PHOTO | ANDREW HARNIK | POOL | AFP

By Ange Iliza

US top diplomat, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, arrived in Rwanda late Wednesday on a two-day visit to calm tensions between Rwanda and its neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo over sparring rebels.

Read: Antony Blinken kicks off Africa tour to counter Russian influence

Also read: US top envoy Anthony Blinken to calm tensions in Rwanda, DR Congo

Secretary Blinken is scheduled to meet Rwandan officials and the civil society to discuss governance, peacekeeping, and Hotel Rwanda hero Paul Rusesabagina’s trial that has been deemed “wrongful” by US officials. Prior to his arrival, Blinken paid a visit to DR Congo and South Africa.

While the US has indicated that Blinken will be calling for his release, Rwanda has dismissed the suggestion.

Ahead of his trip on Wednesday, President Kagame in a tweet said it will not happen.  


“No worries...there are things that just don’t work like that here!!” President Kagame said in a tweet posted on Thursday.

A statement issued by Rwanda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs ahead of the visit said it would reaffirm its position that he is lawfully detained.  

The Ministry also said Rwanda welcomes Secretary Blinken and looks forward to discussing governance and human rights issues.

Also read: DRC, Rwanda agree to ease tension and normalise diplomatic relations

“Rwanda welcomes the opportunity to once again make it clear that his (Rusesabagina’s) arrest and conviction for serious crimes against Rwandan citizens while residing in the United States, were lawful under both Rwandan and international Law.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives at Kigali International Airport in Kigali, Rwanda, August 10, 2022. PHOTO | ANDREW HARNIK | POOL | AFP

Rusesabagina was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment for terrorism charges in April this year. His trial became controversial as the United States, European Commission, and human rights organisations condemned the trial and called for his release. Rusesabagina is a US permanent resident. 

Victims of Rusesabagina’s terrorism attacks in south western Rwanda have written a letter to Secretary Blinken, requesting an audience with him to discuss their experiences and impacts of the attacks.

Also read: The US and Rwanda: how the relationship has evolved since the 1994 genocide

“We wish to ensure that our voices and experiences are not erased from the debate around Paul Rusesabagina. [...] We are very concerned that the justice that was served is now at significant risk considering the pressure being applied to release Rusesabagina,” the letter says. 

Secretary Blinken’s visit comes after a UN report by experts indicated that Rwanda has launched military interventions inside Congolese territory since at least November 2021. 

The report also found that Congolese forces had been providing support for armed groups in the deeply troubled east.

Also read: Rwanda: ‘Leaked UN report’ on DRC invasion a distraction from real issues

Rwanda has consistently denied the allegations and called the conflicts a DRC problem.

Scholars from Rwanda, Africa, and the US have written an open letter to Secretary Blinken calling for a partnership free of condescending and moralising positions.

“Refusing to take a holistic approach to the Congolese situation in all its complexity and with all its political, economic, and sociocultural ramifications would be counterproductive. We ask that the USA not ignore the existence of these hundreds of armed groups––in particular FDLR––that are responsible for widespread bloodshed in eastern Congo.

“We strongly urge you to earnestly consider the fact that the Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese are victims of exclusion, public incitement to hatred, and massacre,” reads the letter signed by 30 scholars including Alphonse Muleefu, Professor of Law at the University of Rwanda.

Rwanda and the US have bilateral partnerships in different areas including health, security, and energy. The US government has been among the largest contributors to Rwanda’s health sector with an annual investment of about $116 million in the last three years.