Did Belgium refuse to accredit the diplomat chosen by Rwanda to occupy the post of ambassador to Belgium? The habits and customs arising from the Vienna Convention, which governs diplomatic relations between nations, do not require them to justify their decisions in this matter. Furthermore, it is customary for friendly nations to use traditional diplomatic channels to communicate their point of view and submit it for debate if necessary.
These diplomatic traditions do not appear to have been respected in the present case. It was in fact through the Belgian press and RFI that we learned, at the end of July, that Brussels would have declined the accreditation of Vincent Karega as the new ambassador of Rwanda to replace Dieudonné Sebashongore, who had completed his mandate at the beginning of 2023. However, until now, Belgium has not made any official declaration concerning the acceptance or not of this accreditation.
On July 24, the website of the non-profit organization Jambo News had the headline, to rejoice: “Belgium rejects the appointment of Vincent Karega as ambassador of Rwanda”. It was surprising that such information was given to an online media outlet from an organization made up of opponents of the Rwandan regime. It was only after this announcement – unsourced – on the Jambo News site that we were able to read a handful of reports corroborating it – always from anonymous sources – in the mainstream press.
The reaction from Kigali was not long in coming and one could read in the press in Kigali: “It is regrettable that the Belgian government seems to have given in to pressure from the government of the DRC and to the propaganda of denialist organizations and activists.” accused the spokesperson for the Rwandan government. “This does not bode well for our bilateral relations.” And the response from Brussels was not long in coming either: “Belgium will communicate on this subject through diplomatic channels,” indicated a spokesperson for the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Brussels, also contacted by the ‘AFP.
If no one disputes that Belgium’s choice in this matter is sovereign, it nonetheless remains strange that a decision of this importance, likely to deteriorate diplomatic relations between two friendly countries, could leak via an associative media such as than that described above. Is this an inexplicable incompetence or rather a deliberate mark of contempt towards Rwanda? Would Belgium have adopted similar behavior towards a non-African nation?
Should we deduce from this that well-placed sources at the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintain direct connections with this association openly hostile to the authorities in Kigali? The affront to Rwanda, in this case, would appear both intentional and deliberate.
Assuming it is credible, the information relating to the Belgian decision will undoubtedly delight Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi, whose government expelled Ambassador Vincent Karega in October 2022 in accordance with the anti-Rwandan position displayed by the DRC during the two last years. Is it a question, for Brussels, of attracting the good graces of this country to the detriment of its long-standing relationship with Rwanda?
According to Jambo News, the refusal of accreditation of Ambassador Karega was allegedly motivated by the role attributed to Rwanda in the assassination of the former head of Rwandan intelligence Patrick Karegeya, on December 31, 2013, in a South African hotel as well than by the recurring accusation made in Kigali of tracking down its political opponents into exile. Despite the persistence of these accusations, Rwanda has always clearly indicated that it has no responsibility for the death of Patrick Karegeya or that of other opponents who met a tragic end. Furthermore, Vincent Karega, Rwanda’s ambassador to South Africa at the time, scrupulously followed the line expected of a diplomat, refraining from calling into question the investigation carried out on site. He ended up leaving South Africa at the end of his second term before being appointed ambassador to the DRC.
The Vienna Convention, according to which Belgium is not required to justify its decision in the event of refusal of accreditation of a diplomat, should have guided the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
But in the current situation, it is unlikely that Rwanda will meekly accept what it could only see as an unwarranted gesture of contempt. It is not in Kigali’s habit to play in the dramatic register but the minimum that we must expect is that Kigali will not submit another candidacy and that the post of ambassador will remain vacant for a long time. On the other hand it will be reciprocal for Brussels. When the time comes to appoint a new ambassador for Belgium in Rwanda, the chances are good that Kigali will return the favor, without having to go find an anti-Belgium online media to disclose its decision. And we are therefore heading towards a cold season between Brussels and Kigali, the length and intensity of which we do not yet know, but which, given the available information, could have been avoided. It would then be up to Belgium to restore the diplomatic relations that it had thus imprudently and unnecessarily damaged.
Is the game worth it?