Visit Rwanda!

Is Boris Johnson using the Rwanda and the Northern Ireland issues to divert attention and so help him cling on to power despite the mutiny by his own MPs over the so-called ‘Partygate’ affair?

Boris Johnson with Rwanda’s Paul Kagame
Boris Johnson with Rwanda’s Paul Kagame

Rwanda, officially the Republic of Rwanda, is a landlocked country in the Great Rift Valley of Central Africa, where the African Great Lakes region and Southeast Africa converge. Located a few degrees south of the Equator, Rwanda is bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Rwanda is one of the twenty poorest countries in the world, yet its authoritarian president Paul Kagame, who has been in power since 2000 and was re-elected in 2017 with the approval of 99% of the votes - has spent huge state funds in sponsorship agreements with football clubs that are owned by billionaires.

The slogan ‘Vist Rwanda’ is emblazoned on shirt-sleeves, training equipment and on advertising boards during home matches of both Arsenal and Paris-Saint-Germain, two top European football squads. This is the exposure that results from a £10 million-per-year sponsorship agreement guaranteed by the Rwandan government. Kagame, by the way, is a fervent supporter of Arsenal.

Opponents of the Kagame regime say these sponsorships are intended to hide human rights abuses by diverting attention away from the negative press through news about sports.

According to Human Rights Watch, public life in Rwanda is marked by “threats, intimidation and mysterious deaths” and the British foreign office has even urged Rwanda to investigate allegations of “deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture”.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson has found other ways of co-operating with Kagame by proposing to send illegal immigrants to Rwanda. The Rwanda asylum plan, officially the UK and Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership, also known as the Rwanda asylum scheme, Rwanda plan and Rwanda deal, is a British government immigration policy, whereby individuals identified by the United Kingdom as illegal immigrants or asylum seekers will be relocated to Rwanda for processing, asylum and resettlement.

According to Boris Johnson this would “save countless lives” and would break the business model of “vile people smugglers”.

The United Kingdom will pay Rwanda an ‘economic transformation and integration fund’ amounting to £120 million, and will also fund each immigrant between £20,000 and £30,000 for their relocation and temporary accommodation.

Upon arrival in Rwanda, migrants will be temporarily accommodated in the capital Kigali as their claims for asylum are processed. If successful, migrants will then receive permanent residency in the country and be offered permanent accommodation. It is expected that all claims will, at most, take three months to be processed. Once in Rwanda, migrants will not be allowed to return to the UK to seek asylum. Rwanda has stated that they will not accept immigrants with criminal records, or anyone who is under 18 years old.

The first flight under this plan received legal clearance from the High Court in London and was scheduled for last Tuesday (14 June 2022). A last-minute intervention by the European Court of Human Rights led to the cancellation of this flight.

Many have criticised this plan describing it as appalling. The entire senior leadership of the Church of England has denounced it as an “immoral policy that shames Britain”. The Rwanda policy has also been criticised by senior Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders in Britain.

According to the UK newspaper The Times, when making remarks ahead of the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Kigali next week, Prince Charles expressed his opposition to the policy several times, saying that the government’s whole approach is appalling. It seems he is particularly uncomfortable about it amid fears it would overshadow the meeting.

Meanwhile the British Government has unveiled a draft bill to revoke certain elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the tailored-made agreement that currently regulates the trade of goods between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state. The protocol ensures the land border between the two sides continues to be invisible and respects the peace deal that put an end to decades of sectarian violence.

Northern Ireland follows EU customs rules, has remained part of the Single Market for goods and applies EU law on VAT in order to avoid border checks between the two sides.

Maroš Šefčovič, the EU Commission’s vice-president and leading Brexit negotiator has reacted by announcing that the Commission would relaunch legal action against the UK, while declaring that the EU will be very firm and calm but at the same time proportionate in its response. Asked if Brussels would go as far as to suspend the EU-UK trade deal, which has been in place since January 2021, the vice-president told Euronews that ‘if this bill is approved as it is, I cannot exclude anything and all the options have to be on the table.’

Is Boris Johnson using the Rwanda and the Northern Ireland issues to divert attention and so help him cling on to power despite the mutiny by his own MPs over the so-called ‘Partygate’ affair?

Holy smokes!

I was shocked and surprised with the Curia’s reaction to a sentence in my piece last week. In fact, it turned a molehill into a mountain.

People who only read the Curia’s press release must have thought that my article was an all-out uncouth personal attack on Archbishop Scicluna – whom I sincerely respect – when, in fact, the main thrust of my piece was intended to be an endorsement of his stated position against corruption.

I did not write, or imply in any way, that the Archbishop closes his eye to corruption or mismanagement when the Maltese Church and/or the Curia are somehow involved. Unfortunately, many who only read the Curia’s press statement interpreted it by concluding otherwise.

The Curia’s statement said that under Archbishop Charles Scicluna’s stewardship, administrative and governance structures within the archdiocese had been strengthened through a range of measures aimed at bolstering transparency and accountability. These included the setting-up an Internal Audit Unit reporting directly to the Internal Audit Committee whose members act at arm’s length from the Archbishop’s Curia; the appointment of a money laundering reporting officer; a request for proposals from external auditors; a Whistleblowing policy and the designation of two staff members as whistleblower reporting officers; and the setting up of a procurement office to further segregate duties and reduce the likelihood of error or fraud.

This, of course, begs the question: Why did Archbishop Scicluna feel the need to take these drastic measures?

Quod erat demonstrandum.