A student has organised a campaign to oppose President Paul Kagame of Rwanda being given an award by the Said Business School.
Salvator Cusimano, a postgraduate student at St Antony’s College, has started a petition against the visit on 18 May. 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.
Kagame is visiting 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 been a poor human rights record.
The petition, which was launched on 7 May, states, “The Oxford Business Network for Africa should cancel their engagement with Mr. Kagame immediately, based on his well-documented record of serious and ongoing human rights abuses within Rwanda and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“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 continues, “Bestowing any honour upon Mr. Kagame at a time when he and his government are becoming increasingly isolated in the face of mounting evidence of their gross human rights violations represents a serious error of judgment.”
As of 9 May, the petition has 712 signatures, with a goal of 1000.
Professor Peter Tufano, Peter Moores Dean at Saïd Business School, told Cherwell, “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.”
The award is being given by students, not the Said Business School.
Cusimano 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 time when the extent of his government’s abuses are becoming ever more apparent.”
He continued, “I set out with the hope that the Conference organizers might reverse their decision to reward Mr. Kagame, but more broadly to ensure that the Oxford community was aware of both sides of the story.”
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”.
Carina Tertsakian, a researcher of Rwanda for Human Rights Watch, told Cherwell, “We’re certainly concerned this kind of event gives the impression that everything is alright in Rwanda, and downplays the government’s continuing human rights abuses.”
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 first country which wasn’t formerly a British Commonwealth 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.