Rwanda reacts to slave auctions by opening its doors to African migrants

Mahmud Turkia, AFP | African migrants arrive at a naval base in Tripoli, Libya, on Oct. 11, 2017.
4 min

Rwanda has offered to provide refuge to as many as 30,000 African migrants suffering slave-like conditions in Libya, the foreign ministry announced Wednesday.


A week after US network CNN broadcast an exposé of a slave auction of African migrants in Libya, the fallout of the shocking footage has gripped the continent and the international community.

On Wednesday, just as France was calling for an emergency UN meeting over slave-trading in Libya, Rwanda announced that it was willing to provide refuge to around 30,000 African migrants suffering abuse in Libya.

"Rwanda is currently under discussions... to see how we can help in welcoming migrants held captive in Libya," Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told AFP. "It has just been decided, so numbers and means are still under discussion, but Rwanda estimates the number to be welcomed is around 30,000," she said, adding that this figure "is not confirmed yet but an estimation".

Displaying Rwandan ‘soft power’

“African solutions to African problems” has long been a favoured slogan at international gatherings and in capitals across the continent. The latest announcement represented both, a demonstration of solidarity and a chance for Rwandan President Paul Kagame to display Rwandan soft power, according to Jean-Claude Félix Tchicaya of the Paris-based IPSE (Institute for European Prospective and Security).

“This is a very politic gesture, also in terms of 'soft power'. So, I think that the [Rwandan] president will do everything to ensure that these people are properly received," explained Félix Tchicaya.

Although Rwanda is Africa's most densely populated country, over the past two decades, Kagame’s “economic miracle” has seen the tiny, landlocked nation manage a growth rate of between 6 to 7 percent, enabling Kagame to sweep three consecutive elections, not to mention a constitutional referendum allowing him to stand for a third term in office.

But with a population of nearly 12 million, engaged mainly in the agricultural sector, Mushikiwabo acknowledged that her nation, "may not be able to welcome everyone, but our door is wide open."

In a Twitter posting on Wednesday, Mushikiwabo acknowledged that “Rwanda is small, but we will find some space.”


The AU issues an appeal

Rwanda’s offer followed a call by the AU (African Union) for help across the continent. "I appeal to all member states of the African Union, the African private sector and African citizens to make financial contributions to help alleviate the suffering of African migrants in Libya," said AU Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat on Tuesday. "I urge member states that have logistical means to make them available to facilitate the evacuation of African migrants who wish to leave Libya."

Responding to Rwanda’s offer, Mahamat said he was “deeply appreciative” of the offer, in a Twitter post.

Speaking to AFP, Mushikiwabo noted that, "Given Rwanda's political philosophy and our own history, we cannot remain silent when human beings are being mistreated and auctioned off like cattle."

"What the [Rwandan foreign] minister wants to say is that Rwanda itself has experienced tragedies,” explained Félix Tchicaya, referring to the 1994 genocide, in which around 800,000 people, mostly Tutsi, were killed. “The country now has a virtuous political philosophy according to which, she [Mushikiwabo] could not ignore the tragedy of this slavery,” he explained. "But she could have said it three weeks ago, she probably had the information, like millions of people. It is good that Rwanda has reacted, but it would be better if it sparks a response [by African governments] to address the daily problems faced by African citizens,” that Félix Tchicaya noted, lies at the root of the migration problem.

(With AFP)

This article has been translated from the original, which appeared in French.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning