Our Burning Planet


Greens shamefully praise Rwanda’s anti-plastic campaign

Greens shamefully praise Rwanda’s anti-plastic campaign
The clean, litter-free streets of Kigali, Rwanda, which are strongly enforced by authorities. (Photo: Flickr)

Serial human rights abuser Rwanda has once again hoodwinked greens and the West, this time over its anti-plastic campaign. As environmental causes go, the reduction or elimination of plastic is perhaps noble. But greens have once again chosen to ignore Kigali’s appalling human rights record, putting an environmental agenda ahead of the dignity and welfare of Africans. 

Rwanda’s atrocious human rights record is as transparent as a zip-lock plastic bag, but conservationists would rather not peer inside. Shamefully, gullible greens always stand ready to embrace Paul Kagame’s regime if it advances their cause. 

In Rwanda’s latest bit of clever PR spin, the central African state has joined forces with Norway to launch a “High Ambition Coalition to end plastic pollution.” Ambition is certainly one thing Rwanda is never short of when it comes to its campaigns to woo the West. The announcement was made in Kigali’s English-language mouthpiece, The New Times

“The High Ambition Coalition, launched on Monday, August 22, 2022 was first initiated following the historic UN Environment Assembly resolution passed in March 2022 to start negotiations of an international legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution. The coalition to end plastic pollution will issue statements and undertake inter-sessional work on essential elements and issues to inform the negotiations in order to develop a landmark treaty by 2024,” The New Times said. 

Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda

Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda attends a session at the 51st annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, 24 May 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE/Gian Ehrenzeller)

This was breathlessly picked up by Greenpeace, which issued a statement lauding the initiative.

“It is encouraging to see countries come together and take urgently needed actions towards a plastic-free future. This move shows that our governments are slowly recognising the threat plastics pose to life on this planet, to our ecosystems and the climate,” it quoted Greenpeace Africa’s Climate and Energy Campaigner, Nhlanhla Sibisi, as saying. 

Kigali is of course famed for its clean streets and Rwanda has for years banned the import of plastic bags. What is often left unsaid is that both the bag ban and the litter-free streets are enforced with an iron fist.

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“The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) continues to target those perceived as a threat to the government. Several high-profile critics have been arrested or threatened and authorities regularly fail to conduct credible investigations into cases of enforced disappearances and suspicious deaths of government opponents. Arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities is commonplace, and fair trial standards are routinely flouted in many sensitive political cases, in which security-related charges are often used to prosecute prominent government critics. Arbitrary detention and mistreatment of street children, sex workers and petty vendors occurs widely,” is how the widely respected NGO Human Rights Watch sums up the situation

That Rwanda is a sinister police state is beyond dispute, its atrocities — including the murder of high-profile dissidents on South African soil — are widely documented by a number of writers and researchers, including veteran journalist Michela Wrong in her outstanding book Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad.  Western guilt over the failure to stem the 1994 genocide has been skillfully tapped by Kigali and Kagame.

I have written before about Rwanda’s manipulation of Western conservationists, highlighting the unsavoury point that South African rhinos translocated there by the NGO African Parks are far safer than the country’s human dissidents, who remain the prey of a predatory state. This perpetuates the damming view that Western conservation NGOs and their backers are more concerned about the plight of Africa’s animals than that of its people. 

Now, the war on plastic — which has wreaked an environmental toll, including in its production process, while also playing a significant role in spreading global economic prosperity — has been bagged by Rwanda as another crass opportunity to bolster its green credentials and garner the stamps of foreign approval and funding that it craves.

One wonders if there would be so much gushing praise if, say, a European government with a deplorable human rights record such as Russia or Belarus teamed up with Norway on this front?  

The answer would almost certainly be no, which raises an uncomfortable question: Why would you turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in Africa but not elsewhere? 

The green movement’s embrace of Rwanda tarnishes and discredits the wider conservation agenda. It is a reeking cultural pollutant that should be eradicated. DM/OBP

Absa OBP

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