Protestors criticise Kagame at Said Business School

Protestors marred the visit of Rwandan President  Paul Kagame to Said Business School on Saturday, hurling dozens of eggs and other debris at the front of the business school in order to inveigh against what they claimed was Kagame’s record of genocide and corruption.

At his speech inside the school, Kagame was questioned by business school Dean Peter Tufan on his human rights record, among other issues.

Kagame visited Oxford to receive the “the inaugural Distinction of Honor for African Growth Award”, an award organised by students at the school. Having been President since 2000, he was central to the reconstruction of Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. However, critics argue that his regime has presided over human rights abuses.
 
 
Salvator Cusimano, a postgraduate student at St Antony’s College, launched a petition against the visit. The letter, which has been signed by tutors including the founder of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre, states that Kagame should not be invited due to his allegedly undemocratic record.
 
 “Inviting Mr. Kagame to accept an award suggests that the Oxford Business Network for Africa, the Saïd Business School, and the University of Oxford condone Mr. Kagame’s actions, and sends the wrong message about the University’s commitment to peace, development, and human rights”, it said.
 
Professor Peter Tufano, Peter Moores Dean at Saïd Business School, told Cherwell before the protest, “The Oxford Africa Business Conference is a student-led event, held by the Oxford Business Network for Africa, a student organisation.
 
“We prize open discussion and in line with the University’s Freedom of Speech policy we have not sought to prevent the students from extending this invitation. President Kagame’s presence in the Saïd Business School does not imply any endorsement by the School or the University of his views or actions. We are aware that President Kagame is considered by some to be a controversial figure and there will be the opportunity for those present to challenge him as appropriate.”

Cusimano has previously told Cherwell, “I’m organizing the campaign not because I oppose Mr. Kagame’s visit; I think that it could have provided a platform for an excellent discussion if framed appropriately. I started the campaign because the event was not only happening without any apparent critical discussion, but was lauding him at a timewhen the extent of his government’s abuses are becoming ever more apparent.”

President Kagame visited to give the keynote speech the 5th Annual Oxford Africa Business Conference. Conference attendees arriving at the business school Saturday morning were met by a group of a dozen protesters wielding signs stating, “Paul Kagame = War Criminal / Stop His Impunity;” “Kagame a Criminal in Power Rwandans Need: Justice, Democracy, Free Expression;” and “Peace in Congo.”

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The protestors also distributed literature claiming “Kagame has more blood on his hands that Hitler: 6,000,000 Congolese 500,000 Rwandans.” The literature also blamed Kagame for the assassination of four former Rwandan presidents. 

At noon, when the hundreds of conference attendees converged for lunch in the foyer, which has a full glass façade facing south onto Park End street, protestors, whose numbers reached around forty, launched raw eggs, water bottles and other debris at the glass window.

Conference attendees responded mostly with laughter, as over a dozen Oxford University security guards and Oxford City police, two of whom were on horseback, enforced a fifteen metre barrier between the protesters and main façade.

President Kagame and his entourage entered the business school through the rear in order to avoid the protestors. Shortly after one o’clock he spoke in the Nelson Mandela Lecture Theatre on the catalysts behind sub-Saharan African economic growth, before answering a series of questions from Tufan, the Dean, and audience members.

Tufan initially praised Kagame’s economic policies, before launching into a critique of his human rights record phrased in the form of diplomatically-worded open-ended questions. Kagame responded that these critiques were predicated on incorrect facts, and that most of his critics were foreign, whereas an overwhelming majority of Rwandans approve of him. 

According to Amnesty International, “opposition figures and journalists remain in danger of arbitrary and impartial prosecution” and Freedom House has said that Rwanda is “not free”.

Yet Kagame’s regime has been praised by some commentators, with Bill Clinton describing him as “one of the greatest leaders of our time.” Rwanda was the second country which wasn’t associated with the British Empire to join the Commonwealth in 2009. Until last year, the UK contributed £21m in development aid to Rwanda annually, and Tony Blair remains an unpaid government advisor.