KIGALI – Rwanda will remember the Covid-19 lockdown for many things, but none more than nabbing two fugitives in the space of three months.
Paul Rusesabagina was bagged in Dubai after being on the run since 1996. Mr Hotel Rwanda joins Félicien Kabuga, who was arrested in Paris on May 16.
Rusesabagina, former manager of Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali, has lived in Belgium and the US. His story in the 2004 Hollywood motion picture starring Don Cheadle, Desmond Dube, Fana Mokoena, Tony Kgoroge and Noxolo Maqashala portrays Rusesabagina as the Samaritan who begged, cajoled and bribed the genocidaires to save lives.
This earned him international praise and many human rights awards, including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. He now faces terror-related charges in Kigali.
Kabuga, on the other hand, is accused of funding, advocating and organising the genocide itself. He was arrested in Paris, where he had lived – after stints in Switzerland, Tanzania, Kenya and Democratic Republic of Congo.
The reason for this successful arrest of people wanted on genocide-related charges is multidimensional and worth interrogating.
Rwanda is one small African country that has faced lots of international scrutiny for its miraculous recovery from a humanitarian catastrophe and for the leadership of President Paul Kagame.
People like Kabuga and Rusesabagina have been enemies of the state for a while, but somehow eluded arrest because Rwanda did not have the international stature and currency to lobby the support of countries in which they were hiding.
Rwanda could not take these countries on because it was still busy doing the bare minimum of post-conflict reconstruction.
Forgiveness without denying responsibility enabled the country to forge unimaginable unity to give the country the necessary momentum.
The other pillar has been decisive leadership. Kagame channelled the psyche and ethos of his compatriots to create an African phenomenon. He ruthlessly prioritised investment while pushing good governance. He relentlessly pressed for continuous improvement, chastising his compatriots to never be complacent, even when the world started to take Rwanda seriously and praise it for its accomplishments.
Yet, that was not enough to get the co-operation of the rest of the world to secure the arrest or repatriation of people like Rusesabagina and Kabuga.
However, in time, the world realised that Rwanda was not going to be browbeaten to change its ways, especially those things that worked. This, combined with diplomatic finesse, tilted the scales in Rwanda’s favour.
Rwanda’s rapprochement with France, mainly under President Emmanuel Macron, shifted the loyalty of developed countries like France, Belgium and others towards Rwanda.
Macron was trying to entrench La Francophonie (the French Commonwealth, whose secretary general is surprisingly a former Rwandan minister) in Africa, and found a willing partner in Rwanda – where French as a language is not promoted by the government.
Not so long ago, the two countries were closing each other’s respective embassies and trading accusations; but are now partners.
The lesson for Africa is simple: focus on bettering yourself and on delivering results, do not be bullied by superpowers, make diplomacy serve your interests.
* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of “Africa is Open for Business”, media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.