Kigali, Rwanda –
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $250 million in new food aid Thursday and blamed the growing threat of famine squarely on Russia as he prepared to meet with leaders whose nations are feeling the pain of famine.
The prime minister is in Kigali, Rwanda, for a meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government, where he hopes to rally support for Ukraine in its war against the Russian invasion and provide assistance to combat the conflict’s geopolitical fallout.
Trudeau emphasized blaming Russia for skyrocketing energy and food prices that have left millions of people in Africa and other parts of the world struggling to feed themselves.
The Commonwealth is made up of 54 independent countries with historical ties to the British Crown, which together represent about 2.5 billion people. They range from some of the world’s richest economies to some of the poorest.
However, 10 of those countries abstained from a vote at the United Nations in March to condemn the Russian attack, and Trudeau sought to take advantage of the difficulty they now face in feeding their own people to bolster international opposition to Moscow.
“Russia is responsible for the global food crisis we are facing now,” he said during a press conference on Thursday.
“The illegal invasion of Ukraine, the choice to blow up Ukraine’s granaries over the past couple of days, and the continued blockade of the port of Odessa by Russian ships to prevent grain from going out – into the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere around the world – are real concerns for all of us here.”
The new funding to tackle the food crisis, which Trudeau said will include money for the United Nations World Food Program, in addition to the nearly $500 million Canada has donated since January to help tackle food insecurity in the developing world.
As Trudeau seeks more allies to oppose the Russian invasion, he also faces questions about his plans to raise concerns about the actions of some Commonwealth members — starting with the host nation, Rwanda.
On Thursday, Trudeau became the first Canadian prime minister to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the last resting place for more than 250,000 of more than 800,000 Rwandans, including Tutsis, moderate Hutus and others, over 100 days.
The Prime Minister laid a wreath at a cemetery and crossed himself while members of the Rwandan army guarded and played a somber tune on the trumpet.
Contemporary concerns about human rights abuses in Rwanda were raised under President Paul Kagame years ago. This included the arrest and prosecution of opposition figures, bloggers and opposition commentators.
Trudeau and Kagame, whose countries abstained from the UN vote on Russia, attended a roundtable discussion Thursday to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on businesses and plans to revitalize the global economy.
But the meeting scheduled for Thursday has been postponed.
Asked what he plans to say about Rwanda’s human rights record when he met Kagame, who has been in power since 2000, Trudeau suggested his focus would be on looking for ways Canada could help the country.
“We are there to support each other and there to move obstacles forward in the field of human rights,” he said. “Of course we will take a closer look in each conversation at the challenges different countries face and look for ways that Canada can help.”
This is the first time Commonwealth Heads of Government have met in person since 2018. The 2020 summit, like most events, has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trudeau arrived in Kigali on Wednesday but the official welcome party begins on Friday. Leaders are expected to sit in a series of closed-door meetings on Friday and Saturday.
Several world leaders, including Trudeau and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, attended a black-tie welcome reception and state dinner at the Kigali Convention Center Thursday night, but others chose to stay home.
Those absent include Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
Instead of a Commonwealth summit, Modi and Ramaphosa met roughly with Russia, China and Brazil to cement ties between their countries as part of the BRICS summit hosted by Beijing on Thursday, named after the countries involved.
Although most leaders arrived without one, Trudeau wore a mask as he walked down the convention center aisle toward the reception. He tested positive for COVID-19 nearly two weeks ago.
Rwanda is the first leg of Trudeau’s three-nation tour that will also include attendance at the G7 summit in Germany and the NATO summit in Spain, both of which will include a heavy focus on Russia and Ukraine.
This report was first published by The Canadian Press on June 23, 2022.