Observing the British press over the last couple of weeks, one could be forgiven for thinking that Rwanda has a very important role to play in daily English life. You have the Guardian, the Daily Mail, The Independent, the New Statesman, the Mirror, and the grand daddy of them all, The Times, all publishing page after page of stories targeting Rwanda’s leadership.
Here are a few choice headlines that I was able to compile. ‘Rwanda’s Strongman ‘, ‘Minister threatens to freeze aid to Rwanda after Times report into hit squad’, ‘On the run from Rwandan assassins: ‘Paul Kagame has no mercy. He is a killer’, – Times, Kagame was once the darling of the West’, ‘I knew hit squads would be coming for me, says president’s former aide’ (all published by The Times on Monday).
Let’s continue. ‘Andrew Mitchell’s funding for Rwanda to be scrutinized’, ‘Andrew Mitchell under fire over Rwanda aid’ (all published by The Independent). The Daily Telegraph joined in with a few choice headlines. ‘Labour is ignoring the real Andrew Mitchell story’, How Andrew Mitchell turned his anger on me as did the New Statesman with its own article, ‘Why did Andrew Mitchell reinstate aid to Rwanda on his last day at DfID?’
Over the last couple of years I’ve observed British media practice and all I can say is this, if you get in their sights, then God help you. They are relentless; they recycle each others stories and attempt to build public ire until it explodes in a scandal of momentous proportions, leading to either an official’s sacking or resignation. The question that many people, uninitiated in the ways of British life will ask is, “why is press and by extension, the British public, getting on ‘our case’?”
Like I’ve said before, ‘all politics are local’. Don’t for one second think that any of these journalists and editors really cares about Rwanda, Rwandans or the challenges that this country faces. They are simply moving their own class and political wars onto our doorsteps.
Mike Hale of the New Statesman, used his column to complain about money going overseas when “billions have been cut from defence budgets … and billions more will have to be cut from welfare… why(is) ring-fencing aid such a high priority in such difficult times”.
The Conservative Party of Prime Minister David Cameron is taking a lot of flak because it is going about, trying to dismantle aspects of the British welfare system. Of course this isn’t being taken lying down by Labour, Lib Dem and unions. So, if they can get any ammunition, any ammunition at all, they will use it to hammer the man until he’s forced to abandon his political programmes and disappear whence he came.
Enter parliamentary Chief Whip and former International Development Minister, Andrew Mitchell.
On September 19, he attempted to leave 10 Downing Street on his bicycle by cycling through the main gate. He was then stopped by police officers who directed him through the side gate. What followed was a heated exchange of words. The exchange was first reported on the front page of the Sun newspaper on the 21st, under the headline: “Cabinet Minister: Police Are Plebs”. The story claimed that the official called police “f—– plebs”, “morons” and told them they had “best learn your f—— place”.
What followed was a quick apology from Mitchell, a statement from the Prime Minister and then came the political fall out and faux outrage. The Shadow Defence secretary Jim Murphy (a Labour Party MP) said, “some of these Tories are foul mouthed spoilt little brats and now one caught.” The Police Federation of England and Wales (which is engaged in running battles with the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government) said it was “hard to fathom how someone who holds the police in such contempt could be allowed to hold a public office“.
A Daily Mirror columnist went even further, calling him high-handed and arrogant, and then dragging the entire Conservative Party into it.
Its leadership was, the writer said, “out of touch; a privileged caste dominated by men with limited experience who are trying to run the country without having much clue what the country is like.”
Members of the opposition political establishment, with the help of willing journalists, are doing everything they can to force the Prime Ministers hand, thereby weakening him. While the outbursts were unable to gain enough traction publicly the press and Opposition latched on to Mitchell’s last decision as International Cooperation minister, which was to unblock sixteen million pounds of aid to Rwanda. All of a sudden, Karegeya, Rene Mugenzi, Ntaganda, Ingabire became relevant to the British taxpayer and a new ‘scandal’ was born.
By attempting to link Mitchell, and by extension Prime Minister Cameron to Rwanda, what we are seeing is local politics being played in an international arena. Unfortunately, we are in the firing line this time. But it shall pass, give it three weeks.