How Boris Johnson’s Rwanda trip became the Boris Johnson thing of all time

“The weather is absolutely gorgeous here in Rwanda today,” beamed Boris Johnson to a cavernous marquee of suits.

“Here’s an amazing statistic – it’s actually hotter in London!”

Actually it wasn’t. The East African city of Kigali was warmed up to 27°C, while London sunned itself to 24°C.

But attention to detail isn’t always a top priority for our Prime Minister, who, like a car salesman, resorts to his awkward charm to sell Britain abroad.

On a three-day visit to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the Tory leader took his usual form and accelerated it.

Still recovering from sinus surgery at dawn Monday – due to an old rugby injury, he said – he boarded his private jet for an eight-day diplomatic trip.

Boris Johnson enjoys the coolness – or the heat – of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali



There was no Peppa Pig at the Commonwealth Business Forum, but delegates applauded as he described the alliance as a “miracle fertilizer for business”.

(“S***, then?” a weary observer in Rwanda later told us.)

At one school, he sat in a high chair and looked confused as children read him a story about Hetty the unhealthy hen.

He drew the children a rudimentary pencil sketch of a doctor with a circle for a head, which a teacher quietly folded as he left the room.

At one school, he sat in a high chair and looked confused as children read him a story about Hetty the unhealthy hen


(Getty Images)

The Prime Minister praised the “successful” plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda with President Paul Kagame (but not, um, Rwanda’s human rights record).

And this despite the fact that none of them have been sent to Kigali yet.

Everything so far, according to Boris.

But there’s a problem with his freewheeling style. When it starts to go wrong, it goes really wrong.

Enter Prince Charles. The heir to the throne, who branded the asylum plan “appalling”, had scheduled a cup of coffee with the prime minister at 11am on Friday.

What could go wrong? A lot, as it turned out.

Boris Johnson and Prince Charles only met for 15 minutes and 10 seconds


(Getty Images)

Downing Street spent days valiantly insisting that the Charles “showdown” was no such thing and that the asylum plan was barely on the agenda.

But Boris Johnson couldn’t help but tell broadcasters he would “of course” urge the prince to be “open-minded” about politics.

From what I understand, some quiet conversations of unknown politeness ensued with Clarence House and Downing Street screeched their boss into reverse.

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The Rwanda plan is now “unlikely,” we were told, and the prime minister dutifully refused to divulge the beans in his 15-minute, 10-second “chinwag.”

By then it didn’t matter that much anymore – because Boris Johnson had bigger concerns.

The night before polls opened, I sat across from him in a private jet suite and asked if he planned to stay if he lost both Thursday’s by-elections.

“Are you crazy?” he protested.

Boris Johnson spoke to reporters including the Mirror before leaving for Rwanda


(Getty Images)

24 hours later he actually lost both by-elections.

Now some of his Tory critics planning at home could have the same verdict on him.

4,000 miles from home, the prime minister’s first reaction on hearing the news was to go for a 6am swim at his heavily guarded hotel.

The pool at the Radisson Blu was surmounted by a room tower. Perhaps other world leaders looked down on his efforts and felt his pain?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives for the Heads of State and Government retreat in Kigali, Rwanda



He was barely drying himself off when the Prime Minister received a call from Oliver Dowden confirming even worse news – he was resigning with a foul letter.

Officials were scrambling to find loyal substitutes for the party leader’s televised interviews, while Mr Johnson held a 7am meeting with aides.

He told them he would not be coming home early from his trip to CHOGM, the G7 and NATO – and he steadfastly refused to resign.

He was speaking with Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Chief Whip Chris Heaton-Harris as rumors spread that Mr Dowden was part of a plot to oust him.

Boris Johnson with the President of Rwanda Paul Kagame


Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)

And he burst onto TV screens just after 8am in Rwanda, saying he would “move on” to solve the cost of living crisis.

As Friday dragged on into Saturday, the Prime Minister was asked the same questions over and over again – and his argument became more dramatic.

He insisted that losing a by-election at half-time was “not exceptional” despite Tiverton’s worst defeat in by-election history.

He said he wouldn’t change, telling the BBC: “If you say you want me to undergo some kind of psychological transformation… that’s not going to happen.”

Boris Johnson addresses a press during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kigali



With a slight nod to Trump, he mistakenly said he was “very fortunate to have received a larger mandate from my group, which I got in 2019.”

That’s despite the fact that 59% backed him on a Boris or No Boris vote of confidence, while 51% backed him in a 2019 three-horse race with Hunt and Gove.

Finally, speaking at the opulent, whitewashed residence of the British High Commissioner, he even told me that he was “actively considering a third term”.

I had only asked him if he would serve a second one until 2028/29. But he took it and ran, saying: “Right now I’m actively considering the third term. And you know what could happen then.”

Mr Johnson said he would “move on” to solve the cost of living crisis



Allies of the PM are still furiously blaming intense media coverage of the Partygate scandal – broken by Der Spiegel – for much of Boris Johnson’s woes.

“I don’t think the diet of people with Partygate is helping them understand what this government is up to,” a source said.

“Partygate’s endless reportage and Kremlinology is nonsense if you choose to talk about it on and on and on.”

Mr Johnson with Mrs Carrie in Kigal


Chris Jackson/Pool/REX/Shutterstock)

Whoever you blame – Boris Johnson or the media for reporting (accurately) what he does – all agree that it’s all a huge distraction from the real deal.

Even the Prime Minister, who lost his attempt to oust Commonwealth leader Baroness Scotland (delaying his press conference by three hours), received little attention.

The Commonwealth Summit was the first in four years after two delays due to Covid and we arrived as morning mist rolled over the beautiful hills of Kigali.

Roadblocks and armed police littered the streets as our van sped through and world leaders scurried back and forth between sterile, sparse convention centers.

The prime minister praised the “successful” plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda


Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)

In a brightly lit hemisphere similar to London’s City Hall, which one prankster dubbed the “blue b****ck,” leaders spoke about food security, investment and girls’ education.

At a dinner hosted by The Five Foundation, a charity dedicated to ending FGM and other violence against African women, I listened intently to the participants’ stories.

They made the same points over and over again – that they loved the Commonwealth but didn’t want to be just any outpost for Britain. Instead, be an equal partner.

They had detailed, thoughtful visions of African nations becoming more self-reliant rather than taking help and giving back.

And they spoke poignantly about how many poorer nations have been left behind by the richer powers in Europe during Covid.

The theme that stayed with me was that the world outside of the UK is constantly advancing and evolving, making our place in the world just a little bit smaller.

Of all the things he spoke about at the summit, Boris Johnson was most thoughtful about world affairs, particularly the war in Ukraine. He knows we live in a changing world.

But as long as he fights for his political life, it will be harder for him to do anything about it.

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