Paul Kagame Mitchell, Andrew Backers and friends of Paul Kagame
By Jason Groves
Andrew Mitchell overruled Foreign Office advice to hand £16million of British aid money to a controversial African dictator accused of fuelling a bloody civil war.
A senior Foreign Office source told the Daily Mail that Mr Mitchell’s decision to lift the freeze on aid to Paul Kagame’s Rwandan regime was a ‘mistake’ which would damage Britain’s reputation for standing up against human rights abuses.
Mr Mitchell, now David Cameron’s chief whip, is reported to have overruled his own civil servants by making the decision in his final hours as International Development Secretary last month.
Half of the money will go directly into the Rwandan government’s coffers – despite fears that it will be used to fund a murderous rebellion in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
One human rights campaigner yesterday described the move as a ‘parting favour’ to President Kagame, a personal friend of Mr Mitchell.
The revelations will pile pressure on the chief whip, who is already fighting to save his job after being accused of hurling foul-mouthed abuse at police officers who stopped him riding his bike through the gates of Downing Street.
Labour yesterday called for the publication of the civil service advice received by Mr Mitchell. Shadow International Development Ivan Lewis accused him of putting ‘personal friendship above proper foreign policy considerations’.
The Department for International Development insisted his decision had been ‘based on advice from policy officials within the department’, but refused to detail the advice.
In June, a United Nations report produced detailed evidence showing that Rwanda is backing the notorious M23 militia which is leading a bloody uprising in the DRC.
The militia, led by alleged war criminal Bosco Ntaganda, is accused of widespread murder and rape and has driven 470,000 people from their homes in recent months. Kagame, who was re-elected in 2010 with 93 per cent of the vote, has also been accused of suppressing political opponents and journalists in his own country.
A senior Foreign Office source said: ‘The evidence against Kagame’s regime is absolutely overwhelming. The UN experts’ report found incontrovertible evidence that there had been support from Rwanda to the M23 rebels in terms of supplying weapons, uniforms, tactical advice and command and control assistance. There was also evidence of Rwanda fomenting strife in the area.
‘Most people in the Foreign Office think the time has come to take a really tough stand.’
Sources close to the new International Development Secretary Justine Greening have indicated she is also unhappy about the decision and will review it when the next aid payment to Rwanda is due in December.
Foreign aid accounts for more than 40 per cent of the Rwandan government’s income, and Britain is the country’s single biggest donor, giving £75million this year. A £16million aid payment was frozen at the end of July following the publication of the UN report. It was released just six weeks later on Mr Mitchell’s last day in office.
Aid freezes imposed by the United States, Germany, Holland and others remain in place.
In a statement last month Mr Mitchell said he was releasing the cash because Britain had a ‘responsibility to protect the poor’ in Rwanda. He said he had ‘sought assurances’ from Kagame that he was not abusing human rights.