Rwandan leader went to Arsenal game as country marked 30 years since genocide

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The president of Rwanda, whose police force has asked the country’s people to restrict football-related activities during the 30-year anniversary of the Rwanda massacre, is facing questions after flying to the UK and watching Arsenal play Bayern Munich.

Paul Kagame visited on Tuesday 9 April to watch the Champions League match in north London. Before the match, he visited Rishi Sunak at No 10 Downing Street, after giving civil servants just a few days’ notice of his visit. They discussed the UK’s deportation deal, which aims to send asylum seekers to Kigali to be processed there.

The Rwanda national police’s website tells Rwandan they should withdraw from celebratory and sporting events in the week after the 30th commemoration of the 1994 genocide, which took place on 7 April.

According to the website, “restricted activities during the commemoration week include projecting football matches, sports competitions, betting games, concerts, theatres and playing music not related to the commemoration; wedding and other mass celebrations”.

A spokesperson for the Rwandan government has rejected the criticism, saying that the police website is “wrong” and does not reflect the Rwandan government’s policy.

However, Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, an opposition leader in Rwanda, said: “It is understandable that the people in Rwanda and abroad question the fact the president went to watch a football match during the period of mourning for the victims of the genocide against Tutsi – especially since the authorities here in Rwanda had issued directives during this period. It creates confusion among Rwandans,” she said.

Kagame, 66, has been at the heart of Kwibuka, the Rwandan word for remembrance, which aimed to pay tribute to the more than 1 million men, women and children who were massacred over a 100-day period.

He has also been vocal of his support for Arsenal on social media, with his posts on X about the north London club dating back to 2011.

His country sponsors the Visit Rwanda sponsorship deal that covers Arsenal’s men’s and women’s teams, as well as the tourist board’s agreement with Bayern.

Home Office staff first learned of the visit five days before the match, sources said, while Downing Street regarded it as a surprise. “He was here to see the football and came in to see the prime minister to discuss a number of things including the Rwanda partnership including getting flights off the ground,” one No 10 source said.

After the Downing Street visit, Kagame was seen being driven to north London by an entourage of cars, escorted by two police motorbikes.

Kagame was last re-elected as president of Rwanda in 2017, having first taken office in 2000. He was elected to serve his seventh term with 98.8% of the vote, according to the Rwandan National Electoral Commission. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the election “took place in a context of very limited free speech or open political space”.

A number of key opposition figures have disappeared, or been murdered or kidnapped, inside and outside Rwanda. At least six Rwandans living in the UK have been given letters from special branch warning them that they face possible execution after they defied Kagame.

Kagame leads the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) party, which has been credited with helping to defeat the civilian and military authorities responsible for the killing campaign.

A Rwandan government spokesperson said the police appeared to be basing their demands on old guidance, which had since been updated. “[The Rwandan police] misspoke when they put that guidance up. In the past, these have been the rules, but as the country has moved on so have the guidelines,” the spokesperson said.


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