Paul Kagame and the politics of prison in Rwanda

You have probably heard the news. A few weeks ago, President Paul Kagame sanctioned the release of 2,140 prisoners in an apparent act of kindness.

There has been no official communication as to the disaggregation but a cursory look at the story so far points to a multitude of petty thieves, innocent folk – who should never have been in prison in the first place, and of course, the often-cited two political prisoners in Ms Victoire Ingabire and Kizito Mihigo.

As expected, Rwanda insists that none of those released is a political prisoner. How can they be, they say! To Kagame and his government, these are wrongdoers who deserved to be in jail and were inside legally. In fact, as far as the government is concerned, the freed prisoners should count their blessings for being out. It followed a suggestion earlier by one of the released that they had not sought pardon. The other day, whilst presiding over the swearing ceremony of Rwanda’s newest Members of Parliament, Mr. Kagame warned the government would not hesitate to return to jail, anyone who is perceived to not be towing the line. “If you keep acting like that, you may find yourself back there,” he said. It would appear that unknown to most, their release came with some strict rules against speaking out on how and why they were released. Incredible!

To Kagame: “In Rwanda, it is not pressure we respond to, it is our own thoughts. Where this country came from, we have learned that we must refuse to be a submissive people.” Contradictory, right? In one sense, Mr Kagame appeared to be appealing to Rwandans to not be submissive whilst asking them to submit to him at the same time. Independent thought is great and it must be promoted he seemed to say, but not when it is questioning my actions.

There is of course a reason for this. Mr. Kagame and his government would have preferred the story to focus on him and his act of compassion. He did not expect the headlines to be dominated by the story that Rwanda had released thousands of prisoners including two political prisoners. More than twenty years on, Kagame still sees himself as the only hero worth of praise when it comes to anything Rwandan. After all, he is the president. Not only that, he is the man whose forces stopped the genocide as the entire world looked on complicit or unwilling to help. That the international media chose to lead with the political prisoners angle instead of his act of compassion infuriated him. He had to make himself clear. You may be free but you all remain free because I so wish. Either you tow the line or you will be back to jail.

In Kagame’s Rwanda, prison has become a powerful symbol of power. A hammer with which to settle scores, against enemies real or perceived. A tool for clipping the heads of those with grand ambitions, be it in politics or in business. Those who have dared to challenge Kagame have either found themselves in jail or threatened with a trip there. Those less fortunate have been murdered or disappeared. Of course, like any country, Rwanda has criminals and wrongdoers and given its most recent history, it has people who deserve to be in jail. It is however a matter of fact, that post-genocide Rwanda continues to excellently use prison as a political tool.

I was there on Friday 6 April 2007, when Pasteur Bizimungu, Rwanda’s first post-genocide president was released midway through his 15-year sentence for inciting ethnic hatred. As with, Ingabire and Kizito, his release was communicated to a section of the media before hand. Having turned up to see him released, we were hoping he would share his thoughts with us. But a frail and visibly shaken Bizimungu only had a few words to say ” I want to thank the president for the pardon he has given”. Before adding: “It has taken me by surprise”. With that, Mr Bizimungu who said he felt very tired, was whisked away in a waiting Landrover Defender to an unknown location in Kigali and we have not heard from him since. Incredible, right?

As with Bizimungu, Ingabire’s statement upon coming out of prison was quite similar: “I thank the president who gave me this liberation,” she said as she spoke to the press after leaving Mageragere Prison in Kigali. The haste was apparent as journalists prepared to ask further questions. Before she could be ushered away, she was allowed one more question to which she answered: “This is the beginning of the opening of political space in Rwanda, I hope so.” That second question and Ingabire’s subsequent answer are crucial. Crucial in the sense that they revealed exactly how she felt. She may have been hoping, but the fact that she was willing to say something political immediately after her release says a lot about the type of politician she is.

In 2007, I was fortunate to interview Ms Ingabire shortly after I fled Rwanda. At the time, she was still in the Netherlands preparing to travel to Rwanda. Like many, I thought this was a dangerous endeavour but she was adamant she would go. She came through as an intelligent young mother, well aware of the dangers but prepared nonetheless to make the trip for a cause she believed in. I have interviewed a few politicians in Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda and very few have shown the kind of charisma I saw in Ingabire. It remains to be seen whether Kagame will let Ingabire be. Unlike most African politicians, she is no career politician. She genuinely believes that Rwanda and Rwandans can do even better. While I am glad she is finally out of prison, I hope that Kagame can find a way of working with her as she definitely has a role to play in Rwanda’s political dispensation.

It would of course be disingenuous to dismiss the importance of a presidential pardon, especially in the context of Rwanda’s recent history. As president Kagame himself rightly said, “if we did not give clemency, how many people would still be in prison?”. Without such schemes, thousands of Rwandans will be languishing in jail. The prerogative to pardon has seen many people reunited with their loved ones, improved community relations, and is ultimately helping with the healing process. Mr. Kagame must now learn to accept that he does not have to be the hero every time. Neither does he have to hog the headlines. As president, he must find it within himself to let people be. Dissent is healthy as long as it is conducted within the confines of the law. He must resist the temptation of using prison and the threat of prison as instruments for submission. As a bonafide christian, he would do well learning from Jesus’s sermon on the mount: not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing. It is one thing extending a pardon, but the true measure of forgiveness is how the forgiving part gets on with the forgiven.

How many people must Rwanda lose? Bizimungu currently lives in a sorry state. As a former head of state, there is much he could be offering to support the development of this country. Freeing 2140 is fantastic, it would be even great if all political prisoners, currently serving time in Rwandan prisons across the country, were freed. Diane Rwigara, Adeline Rwigara, Théophile Ntirutwa, Léonille Gasengayire and others come to mind.

Over to you Mr President!

South Sudan: What happened to hope?

On 9 July 2011, three years ago last week, the world joined hands to welcome a new state. A combination of high-level negotiations, persistent lobbying and, sometimes, puffed advocacy, had helped create a new country, aptly named South Sudan.

It seemed like a new dawn. Women, men and children – faces painted in the colours of the new national flag – braced the scorching sun to be part of their country’s history. You could feel the excitement. Even Omar al-Bashir, the President of Sudan, hitherto an adversary, was present.
Good will messages came in from all corners. David Cameron, who was represented by William Hague, said it was “an historic day, for South Sudan and the whole of Africa”. Barack Obama said it was “a reminder that, after the darkness of war, the light of a new dawn is possible”. Women ululated, men jumped up and down in joy, as young boys and girls waved paper flags – all full of hope. It was big news and the story of a new country was on the front page of most newspapers in the world.
How things change. There are many people in the world, including some South Sudanese, who did not even notice that July 9, 2014 marked the country’s third impendence anniversary. I still remember where I was on Friday 9 July 2011. I was up north in beautiful York trying to finish my dissertation. I remember receiving a Facebook poke, followed by a message from one of my fellow students (Sudanese) who was overjoyed at the prospect of an independent South Sudan. He joked that he was thinking about petitioning to change the name to something without the word Sudan in it.
So much can be said about the tragedy that has become South Sudan. It is hard to even believe that since fighting broke out in December last year between loyalists of President Salva Kiir and his rival, former Vice-President Riek Machar, an estimated ten thousand South Sudanese have been killed and over 1.3 million forced to flee their homes. While there remains a multitude of opportunities for the warring parties to get back together and for South Sudan to steady itself, I still believe that the country’s undoing was the general assumption that secession/independence would be the magic wand.
Attaining peace, as we all know, is a complicated process which involves many variables, and players. It might seem surprising to many how a country could suddenly go from the joyful scenes witnessed on that sunny Friday in July 2011 to the disastrous ethnic killings of the last few months.
The South Sudan experience has cast doubt on the argument for independence-driven self-determination. It begs the question: is secession the answer to solving protracted conflicts? Is there anything flawed with self-determination as we know it? Last year, I was at a talk about the situation in eastern DRC, organised by the Royal African Society, at the time when the UN group of experts had released a report accusing Rwanda of arming and supporting the M23. One of the speakers (a Rwandan) infamously suggested that eastern DRC should be annexed to Rwanda. Her comments irked the many Congolese present, so much so that the event had to be cancelled for hers and everyone’s safety. It seems to me that while the right to self-determination is a core principle of international law and enshrined in a number of international treaties, its application vis-à-vis the process of building peace (not peacebuilding) remains contentious. And this is not least because the likes of South Sudan have created drastic precedents, but also because it negates the fact that there are many variables in the peace maze and separation will not always necessarily translate into peaceful co-existence.
I’m not an expert, but I clearly believe that while it might be understandable for the sake of peace and nation-building to ignore and incorporate adversaries (including spoilers), for peace to work, and particularly so in young states, there has to be a way of ensuring that impunity is not condoned, and that wrongdoers – however powerful or well-connected – are held to account for their actions.
There are of course so many factors that could help explain South Sudan’s current mess, including for example, as my colleague Jo Robinson said to me, the lack of a collective, national identity, or the fact that the international community, which the new state relied so much upon financially in the lead up to independence, has since gotten tired of providing endless financial support. But it also cannot be denied that one difficult truth could be the fact that the major players in the country are corrupt monomaniacs putting self-interest ahead of state unity. I’m pretty sure that President Bashir does occasionally look south and giggle.
Long live South Sudan – if only!

The dark, hellish hand of other actors

FYI – This is my take on Pan Butamire’s opinion piece in todays New Times. You may want to read that before or after reading this post. Otherwise enjoy…

Why does it feel as if M23 was formed long before its precursor, CNDP? It’s hard to believe that it came into existence only last April.  And it’s even harder to believe that it managed to grab the attention of the world so forcefully. In D.R. Congo that’s filled to its brim with decades-old rebel groups, its few hundreds of mutineers so easily rocked the world. What is it that stamped it on our conscience with such poignancy and permanence?

Against all expectations, it has aroused such strong ire in the UN and super powers around the world are denouncing it with unprecedented rapidity. These shakers and shapers of the world who for 8 months appeared oblivious of foreign support to M23 have woken up only to realise, they ought to have done better earlier.

Look at how the UN quickly churned out a succession of reports on Rwanda that put her on the cross as the villain that mothered this howling monster. Donors shouting cut aid! And western media belting out messages of the real power behind M23 with bravado! Uganda, for its ‘milder’ support, was spared the cuts but given the lip. To Western countries and to the UN, the leading role the countries have played in searching for a solution counted for nil – because you can’t have your cake and eat it.

Then M23 captured Goma. We waited for the looting, child recruitment, raping, arbitrary killings and all the other atrocities that defined the howling monster as we had been made to believe. But, gladly, we were spared the anguish of a confirmation. When it became clear they would have to withdrawal from Goma, like FARDC, M23, who had hitherto been masquerading as a good lot, started looting at will. Their target – Goma’s central bank.

Perhaps before we begin questioning the reason behind this cacophony of aid-cut threats by these powers that we claim have ganged up together in a way never seen before, we should prompt ourselves with such questions as why the hell did we end up in this mess? We can’t say there was no warning. In today’s world, it is impossible to hide anything leave alone claim ignorance of such things as what one is doing in their neighbour’s backyard. If not Congolese themselves, members of the mainstream media, whose byword is unwavering objectivity, were bound to wake up to these things.

World powers may be admitting that the roadmap presented by regional leaders through the ICGLR represents by far the closest workable solution to the mess we find ourselves in. But while MONUSCO and DRC embark on doing their bit, the big question should be did it have to come this far? How is it possible that we did not see this coming? Besides, if we have got nothing to do with M23, why should we feel the need to defend its actions or even care what attention its troop movements is attracting in mainstream media and in capitals around the world? A toad does not flop in broad day light for nothing. Discussions on the ills which have dogged the DRC for a long time must not shirk the role of foreign actors in Congo – or we will be losing the point. Congo has been labelled “the rape capital of the world” not just because the government is weak and incapable of protecting its people but because other actors internal and external stand to gain from its instability.

Are rebels part of the powers at play in this region? Of course. Are foreign powers part of the powers at play in this region? Certainly. I think that over the past months, there has been enough evidence not to doubt this.

What of the recent rumour that the recently suspended DRC army chief, Gabriel Amisi, has actually been in a gunrunning racket to arm all the rebels in the country, except M23? What of the evidence or rumour that Rwanda’s defence minister, James Kabarebe has actually been commandeering M23?

Clearly, the judging by the force and bravado with which M23 made a march on Goma, the truth is that someone well capable was in command. It could be the accused or it could be that in Bishop Runiga and the wanted criminal Ntaganda, the rebels have some capable commanders. M23’s propensity to kick beyond reach is in fact beyond their own prowess! Surely there is a god-father or some godfathers. This, in some warped logic, would explain why Vianney Kazarama found it fitting to go on the rooftops of Goma and shout out that M23 were not going to withdraw from Goma until their demands were granted – even as the ICGLR summit and UNSCR 2076 called demanded immediate withdrawal. It may also explain why Kabila’s government, weak as it is, refuses to listen to and have a dialogue with M23. In such situations, it is always wise to play spectator – especially if you are as hopeless and hapless as Joseph Kabila.

Politicking aside, there is another element. How could MONUSCO allow M23 to cruise into Goma so easily? Given what happened, surely talk now in UN circles should be that of revising MONUSCO’s mandate to ensure that it has the capacity to not only pretend to be protecting civilians but also the power to engage should civilians and their property be at risk. The same media frenzy which has followed M23 and its backers could do much for the advancement of a call to revise MONUSCO’s mandate.

And you thought peacekeeping did not mean standing between belligerents? Wish these world shakers and movers would remain on the Congolese people’s side.

Looting for the sake of it: The trouble with FARDC

It is sad when a government in power cannot exercise control over its territory. Sad still when that same government has little or no control over its national army.

That the DRC is a country in crisis is no secret. A cursory google search will give you so much info as to the mess this country finds itself in than you probably can get inside Congo. This is a country, whose people, having lived through years and years of successive incompetent governments, are not sure what to expect anymore.

Last year, the Congolese tried changing the state of affairs by turning up in huge numbers to end their long suffering. Their attempts proved futile when the country’s electoral commission announced – to the surprise of many – that President Joseph Kabila had been re-elected. I have never met President Kabila but while some of his countrymen portray him as an out of ideas head of state, somehow, he has hang onto the DRC presidency for a good number of years. And that says much. Either, the Congolese voices are not being heard or democracy as we know is dead.

But this is not about Kabila. This post is much about the army he presides over – FARDC – than his failings as the man on top. When reports came through that the M23 were advancing towards Goma, the news was that rather than defend their positions, FARDC ran off. While this was expected perhaps given the superiority in artillery of M23 rebels over FARDC, reports that the Congolese army was pillaging and looting from the very civilian population it was meant to protect shocked the world.

Some have said FARDCs behaviour was expected given that these are soldiers who so often go for months without pay. No matter the difficulties, a national army, particularly in a country where private armies and rebels continue to roam with so much ease, should have the discipline and morality to know that unlike rebel armies, national armies do not steal from citizens.

No wonder M23 was able to get so much support after they took over Goma. Which national army behaves in the way FARDC have and expects citizens to have any faith in it? M23 may be a bunch of ragtag mutineers intent on destabilising eastern DRC but as long as an FARDC is stealing, harassing and mistreating those it is meant to protect, they (M23) shall continue to get the leverage and sometimes quite rightly, reasons for intervention.

A South African journalist filming in DRC today reported having his Kenyan cameraman almost lynched by a group of FARDC soldiers for apparently looking Tutsi. It may have been an isolated case of bigotry. It is possible too that this could be related to reports that M23 is supported, armed and commanded by Rwandan and Ugandan generals. Whatever the case, it will play well into the argument that DRC’s issues are deeper than just M23. President Kabila as head of state working with his government ministers must ensure that his government takes a grip – a grip not only around Kinshasha but the whole of DRC lest as one twitterer joked today, the end of M23 might be the beginning of N24.

Why M23 wont be leaving Goma soon

The UN has demanded they withdraw from Goma. A summit of four African heads of state sitting in the Ugandan capital Kampala yesterday (Saturday) called on M23 to “stop expanding the war forthwith and stop talk of overthrowing an elected government.”

There is also, it would appear, at least seemingly, some agreement within the international community that for any talk meaningful peace efforts to be undertaken in DRC, M23 must first stop their advance – or better, give up the fighting altogether.

But none of these appear to be about to happen. Despite the numerous calls for their withdrawal, M23 have made it clear they are not about to leave Goma. Not yet. Bishop Jean-Marie Runiga, M23’s political chief, told Reuters news agency that Rwanda and Uganda had no authority to order them to give up the city.

“We’ll stay in Goma waiting for negotiations. They [government forces] are going to attack us and we’re going to defend ourselves and keep on advancing,” he was quoted.

It would appear from Runiga’s statement that M23 are expecting an attack from government forces to which they will then respond by capturing more ground. The rebel outfit has proved to be more powerful than perhaps many thought. Just before the summit, M23, perhaps buoyed by the ease with which they took Goma, were already talking of going as far as Kinshasha. As a Congolese friend said to me yesterday, “with the international community and the world media focused on events in Gaza and Syria, we thought they might go for it.”

They didn’t. Instead they have zeroed on Goma where they appear very relaxed. I spoke to a Congolese diplomat in London earlier today who is convinced that even without the summit, it is unlikely that M23 would have gone as far as Kinshasha. “To do what? Their case has nothing to do with Kinshasha. They are confortable where they are and that is all they ever wanted. Nothing else,” he said.

If the Congolese government are aware of what M23 are looking for, why have they not managed to solve the grievance – after all, what becameM23 was once part of the Congolese army?

Why Goma?

Goma remains by far the biggest and agreeably most strategic city in eastern DRC. If one is to go by the assertions in a UN report released this week, it is nearer to Rwanda and Uganda – the two countries said to be providing support to M23. It has an airport and judging by the ease with which they captured it, and the way they were received, one might as well say M23 forces feel at home in Goma than anywhere else in the country.

Some people have also suggested that with M23 feel Goma is the bargaining chip they needed against President Joseph Kabila. Despite initially stating his unwillingness to talk to the rebels, President Kabila has since changed his mind – it would appear. On Wednesday this week, Kabila said he would study the rebels’ demands and consider negotiating with them. Such statements will galvanise M23 whose main aim some have insisted is gaining more leverage against the government in Kinshasha.

Withdraw or Advance?

The BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse in Goma says it is unclear whether the rebels’ capacity matches their ambitions. In Col. Vianney Kazarama, M23 have a very committed spokesperson. So committed that his statements have sometimes appeared so detached from recent events but he seems to be relishing his role. Kazarama is convinced the rebels have got the momentum and that only serious negotiations with Kabila can prevent an advance on Kinshasha. This, despite calls from the summit organised by his purported backers, that his fellow fighters withdrawal from Goma.

May be he has a point. Following the Kampala summit today, M23 will feel their recent antics have paid off. By agreeing to speak to them, the DRC government have elevated them beyond marauding mutineers – a tag they previously were associated with – to a rebel outfit with concerns that need addressing. Question remains, will they actually leave Goma?

Over to you…

London Despatch

Little known but committed Victoire Ingabire is a woman of all seasons. She has since her arrival back in Rwanda been trying to familiarise herself with the developments so far in a country she left 16 years ago. A career accountant-turned politician, she hopes, subject to the registration of her political party, to contest the forthcoming presidential election this August. Many agree she stands no chance but her introduction into the Rwandan political fold has already created a few surprises. Government propagandists under different pseudo names are already engaged in a tarnishing campaign to ensure all she says is never believed. Already, her political aide has been arrested and jailed over a Gacaca court conviction that Ingabire’s supporters and sympathisers believe is faked.

But as Kagame prepares to assume yet another seven year term, the world has been introduced to a politically charged mercenary type of society where opposition politics…

View original post 1,243 more words

Why Does Everyone Want A Piece of Rwanda?

There is perhaps nothing intrinsically inherent in Rwandese like the love for their country. Ask anyone inside or outside Rwanda (no matter their differences in say political ideology) and the answer will most likely be the same – I love my country.

The need to love our country or “gukunda igihugu” as it is known, is something we have mastered and come to cherish. Since the days of our fore-fathers, the mantra has been that we won’t be there as Rwandese without Rwanda. Rwanda gave birth to the Rwandese and so as a matter of fact Rwandese are obliged to respect the motherland – “urwatubyaye”.

This alone does not even explain the unending love Rwandese exhibit for their mother land. Having been at the receiving end of some over the top divisive politics, hate speech and near deliberate misses from the international community – a combination of which helped fuel the worst genocide in modern day history – Rwandans have learned to love and respect themselves. They have for instance learned to say “Never Again”. They love the country with a thousand hills, they love the country in which beautiful smiling children wake up every morning ready to go to school despite some of them coming from families where unlike in most western capitals, the idea of 3 meals a day is prospective rather than assured. They love it here because this is their country and they continue to hope that  things will only get better.

There is no doubt that Rwanda is a fascinating country. The progress this country has made since the genocide is remarkable. This, partly to some good and guided leadership provided by President Paul Kagame, his team of ministers, the Rwandese people and of course the donors. Or should I say Rwanda’s development partners (I know the government and third world countries these days prefer this other second phrase when talking about those who donate money or lend to them).

With success comes fortune, visitors, and a host of associates. Today, Rwanda receives more foreign visitors each week than it received every month before and immediately after the genocide. It may seem like an exaggeration but it is indeed true. Make no mistake some of these are people Rwanda needs. I am talking about committed do-gooders. The wonderful folks from all over the world, who come ready to unleash their philanthropic love on the people of “Rwagasabo”.

But they are not alone. Alongside theese do-gooders the Rwandese have been subjected to a host of other moody clients. The sort, who see Rwanda and Rwandese as a means to an end. A way to be in the black. Some form of making a mark, a buck or very often a name. They sit and read. They try to imitate and pretend. They are here to be with us. They try to gain our trust, pretend to dislike the things we don’t like even when they have no reason for such but simply to create rapport and be part of the great force that is “Les Rwandese”. They write, comments, stories, publish blogs and get involved in discussions about Rwanda. They conduct research and dedicate most of their time to the country. They are our “friends” but only just.

Make no mistake, we love them. Oh yes we do. Rwanda has come from so far and has surprised many. It is not surprising therefore when people come from all over wanting to have a piece of it. However, being us (Rwandese) we also demand that whoever wants to involve themselves with Rwanda first  get their facts right. Secondly, we demand too that they make their arguments sensible. And thirdly that they keep their pieces strictly within reason. This is the gist. It is not how much you are willing to sympathise with us (Rwandese) but also – and quite sensibly – how much you are willing to help make the situation better.

A friend of mine at The Hague came across one blog today morning and so passed it over to me to “have a read”. Its title: Fighting the “White Saviour” Mentality. The blog entry was by a one Rena Deann Ali (An American) and a Facebook friend of mine. Interesting.

As her intro Rena wrote: “I came across this status update on Facebook earlier today. This is from a woman that many Americans think is doing a great work in Rwanda. In the interest of privacy, I’ve hidden the names of both her and the people she was discussing.  My intention is not to demonize this woman in particular, but to point out the wrong attitudes and behaviors that are often displayed by Americans and other Westerners wanting to “do good” in Africa.” Never mind that Rena is also American she appears to be somehow wary that she might be about to demonise someone hence the disclaimer right in her very first paragraph.

So What Is This About?

It turns out Rena was referring to Suzette Munson. Suzette is an American lady (I have never met her neither have I Rena) who like some Americans travelled to Rwanda and having witnessed the dire needs of this beautiful country’s people, decided to do something about the situation rather than sit and write about what she had seen (she could have easily opted for the latter and many before or even after  her have).  No. Suzette instead set up Love 41 as an online retail business with a mission to give 100% of profits to orphans, widows, and street kids in Africa.

According to an interview she gave to Ryan Eggenberger Love41is an online store with the end goal of helping the poor in Africa. “We sell leather products that I’ve designed: bags, bracelets, earrings, t-shirts, scarves, belts, etc. And this is just opening the door. We will soon expand into mens and kids.  All the profits from Love41 go back to helping orphans, widows and street kids through education, job creation, and love. We’re getting them out of poverty. The website itself elaborates on this.”

There is actually a record of her work inside Rwanda. I spoke to three government officials who told me they were aware of Suzette’s wonderful work in the country. So besides being “part of a fairly wealthy American family” like Rena says, she definitely is or has so far made a difference to the lives of some Rwandese people. Already Suzette has adopted two boys in the country and is helping them grow including visiting them regularly as she can’t move them over to the US.

One look at this and you will think, well what then is the fuss here? Well, at about 12:48pm in Kigali yesterday, Suzette updated her Facebook account with the following status:

She was out visiting someone’s home (probably a friend or something I don’t know) when she came across an ailing man. Concerned as any sensible person would, Suzette arranged to have this person (an old man who according to her looked like he was dieing and must have weighed like 70lbs) to hospital. At the hospital,  the doctor there apparently tried at first to play ping pong with her and her patient claiming they had run out of space and had no more beds left to admit the ailing man (it is not common practice in Rwanda to get doctors behaving like this but you do occasionally get rogue ones especially deep in the countryside who act like part time thinkers)

The lady even spent her whole day there waiting and pleading with the head doctor to provide some service (seeing that this was the best hospital around that area). Just imagine how many people in this world would spend their entire day attending to and advocating for the admission into hospital of an old dieing Rwandan man they have never met or seen? Incredible devotion if you ask me.

Not so according to Rena. “Not so fast…while this man’s life may be saved, the dignity of many others has likely been shattered,” she wrote.

To illustrate her point, she continued: “Consider the scenario: A white family from the United States is coming to bring gifts to the sponsored children of a poor Rwandan family.  The parents of these children are likely feeling some measure of shame because they are unable to afford to give their children the types of gifts these Americans have brought.  Who do you think the child will respect and admire more – his parents, or the gift givers?”

“Next, they come into the home and find a gravely ill man.  Their immediate reaction is to insist that he be taken to a hospital. This is belittling to the family who has been caring for this man until this time. Suddenly their care and judgement are being questioned as people who just stepped into the situation are determining what is best for him.  Finally, even the staff at the hospital is marginalized in the attempt to help this man.  When told that the hospital does not have the capability to take on another patient, they continued to insist that the man be cared for at that facility, and refused to let up until they got what they wanted. But at what cost?”

“It’s true, an extra bed was found for the man.  But it is unlikely that he was initially turned away because of fear of nonpayment — after all, he arrived in the company of a well to do white family. Likely the hospitals resources were already stretched thin, and they knew the best care for him could be found somewhere else.  But their knowledge and experience were ignored in the quest to do something good for this man.”

“This is the fallacy of trying to “do good” in Rwanda, or elsewhere in Africa without proper knowledge or understanding. When the experiences, knowledge, and competencies of a people are ignored, you diminish their worth in your eyes, in the eyes of others, and sadly sometimes in their own eyes as well.  Rwandans do not need to be saved by Americans, or any other Westerners.  They should be treated with respect they deserve as human beings and children of God.”

Rena, are you completely out of your mind? How gullible can one be? So in your sane mind, this poor dieing man should have been left on his death bed to probably perish in the next few days all in the name of preserving the dignity of his family (who quite clearly did not have the money or facilities to care for him (for otherwise why was he at home and not in hospital given how ill he was?) or the hospital staff (who despite first claiming they had run out of beds finally managed to find that extra one for the ill man)?

I wonder why you chose to conclude that there is a worry that the young children receiving gifts from the Americans will respect them more than their family. I have received gifts from so many people (outside my family) since I was born but it has never occured to me that I should disrespect my guardian or relatives.  You don’t get it. In Rwanda we love family. Poor or rich, your parents will always be your parents. This is the mantra that children are brought up with. You accuse the gift givers and Suzette of taking away the dignity and reputations of so many but in stating why, you too conclude by assumption and quite wrongly that, such actions are likely to harm the family dynamics in terms of respect. I suggest you do some research before coming up with some shocking and presumptuous blog entry about someone who as a Rwandan I find very helpful. Leave alone myself, I am sure many more Rwandans, and indeed level headed people out there, agree that life is worth more than dignity. What is dignity without a life?

I see you have been following this lady for some time which is good. Good to have an American following up another American for the Rwandese. Yes you did highlight her mistake when she wrongly claimed and published on her website that 70 percent of Rwandans were alcoholics. This was wrong. And once it was made clear to her that this was not the case, she apologised. But to still use that bit of comment (a comment she has since changed by the way) against her and in an incident where her deed was this time around in the best interest of a Rwandan family, and particularly an old man in dire need of medical attention, spells vendetta.

Rena, you are free to try and seek homage from the regime’s self appointed online critics – the sort you wheedle and get in cahoots with so as not to be subjected to their harsh and constant slanderous attacks. You are free too to try and paint yourself as being pro-Rwandese which is a very good thing. You are free to express your solidarity with the Rwandese in the promotion of their  dignity – Agaciro – like president Kagame called it. But this, dear friend, must be gone about in a sane and sensible way. Every attack against whoever ought and must remain within reason.

Do not be like those biblical Pharisees who being so gullible, thought Sabath was more important than Man.

…over to you people.

Porcupine politics or empowerment politics?

An interesting piece from uncle Pan. And a good read too. Over to you people…

By Pan Butamire

Another opposition party has been thrust onto the crowded arena of political parties, usually with hardly a member, that are frequently being formed by self-exiled Rwandans.

Asked on BBC why he could not go back to Rwanda and form his recycled Rwanda Dream Initiative (RDI) party there, Twagiramungu gave his usual snooty chuckle and answered with a question: “Atari ukunsetsa se, urabona najya muri politiki y’ibinyogote?” (If it’s not for making me laugh, can I join porcupine politics?)

To this date, I’ve not figured out what he meant and yet that seemed to be the core assertion of his message. But that’s his stock-in-trade – to make high-sounding statements that leave his audience in the dark as to what he is saying. Apart from trying to insult people, what message was porcupine politics supposed to convey?

A porcupine is a huge, graceless rat by the standards of other members of the family of rodents. It is known to wear a coat of needle-like quills that it uses to advantage against predators. But, contrary to common belief, when a porcupine lets off its prickly missiles, it does not aim and only throws them off at random.

If in Rwanda porcupine politics is what prevails, then, does it mean a huge number of Rwandans behind this politics without knowing it has no clear direction for their advancement? And since it is earning high international ratings, does it mean it has blinded the international community and the positive change that they are seeing is not real?

I think we should read zero in this man’s utterances. He is a man who revels in ambiguous hyperbole. We know him in 1991, the days of “Rukokoma”, when he was berating the Habyarimana regime for not sharing out ministerial posts to different parties, even as the regime was engaged in killing its people. His concern was not his fellow citizens.

We know him as presidential candidate in 2003 when Rwandans brushed him off with a 3.62% vote. Bewildered as to why his winding hyperbole did not impress, all he could do when asked about the election was to wonder why Rwandans were making him laugh. To him, rejecting his politics of insults that did not propose any policies was an effort to entertain him. Clearly, a man devoid of an idea to sell.

I can understand it when Twagiramungu and his fellow oppositionists in exile express such outrage against, and sneer at, their fellow Rwandans in the country. But, pray, why do they hate innocent animals so? Why is it that they always equate whatever they hate to porcupines, snakes et al? It’s a sad commentary on the intelligence of these politicians. No wonder Nature herself seems to militate against their having another shot at leadership.

Yet for the past 18 years they have seen enough examples to have understood Rwandan politics. For working with the ruling party towards the common goal of nation building, the ten or so opposition parties in the country have had their way. Today, they participate equally in the leadership of the country because they contributed in making sure that the constitution rules against the case of winner-takes-it-all. They have contributed in making the ruling party – the party that won elections – take a collaborative approach to the governance of this country.

Here, politics is a science and it belongs to citizens, whether they are independent of parties, in opposition or in the ruling party. It groups them together to make collective decisions on how to advance their well-being. All citizens are involved in the search for solutions to their problems and in making sure their leadership works with them and co-ordinates these decisions. To Rwandans, politics is a process that empowers all of them equally.

Here, there is no place for individuals who play politics. The manipulative kind who use intrigue and heckling to take advantage of innocent citizens. The opportunistic lot who use devious ways to play at past misconceptions as a way to win citizenry support. The archaic politicos who think the environment is there to be abused and not preserved. The citizenry has long been juggled around to serve the self-seeking interests of these double-dealers and have had it up to here.

So, dear foreign-based brothers and sisters in opposition, why don’t you stick to manipulating the politicians in your new-found homes while there are still those naïve enough to swallow your anti-Rwanda wails? And it had better be fast because I see their number dwindling fast and Mugesera home-comings swelling in equal measure! Soon you might not find a single sympathiser to rummage around their pocket for that one-way ticket back to your abandoned home.

Otherwise, politics in Rwanda is the politics of nation building, development, empowerment, unity, justice, self-worth, others and, yes, reconciliation – with you too.  Come and you’ll see that when it comes to politics in Rwanda, a porcupine can teach you a thing or two. At least it knows that it enjoys as much respect as humans and that reciprocity is honourable.

Call politics in Rwanda porcupine, snake, cockroach, anything. It’s people-premised and it’s putting Rwanda among respected nations of the world.

Victoire Ingabire And Why I Love Political Cases

Her supporters insist she is “Rwanda’s Aung San Suu Kyi”. Others know her as the “messiah who having returned to flee Rwandans from President Paul Kagame’s tyranny”, was arrested – first on tramped up charges, put under house arrest, provisionally released only to be arrested days later and charged with promoting ethnic divisionism, propagating genocide ideology and trivilaising the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis.

A very heavy charge sheet if you ask me but is it really? In case you missed it, this was on April 21, 2010. Some two years later, the prosecution is still looking for evidence. Never mind too that this is a case which first a prosecutor and later the president were both quoted saying that there was enough evidence to convict her on almost all the charges.

To her supporters and perhaps those who have been following the case closely, it was not surprising learning that Ms Ingabire’s case was adjourned yet again, today as her defence team asked for time to review some fresh evidence provided by prosecution. One can only assume that the new evidence reportedly obtained from the Netherlands by the prosecution was availed to the defence on the eleventh minute as a strategic move to catch them off guard for why else would the same people who not long ago (in the same case) complained of not being given enough time by the defence, fall in the same trap?

Some commentators have branded this a political trial. And you can not fail to see why. Between April 2010 and February 2012, this case has been itemised with numerous postponements. It has become a cat and mouse case. When prosecution has not requested time to solicit and submit new evidence, the defence has sought for time to examine and look at the freshly presented evidence. Such requests of course do take time and amidst this quandary, the defendant continues her incarceration.

Add to this the challenges which will come in the form of checks on procedure – issues  such as; does the High Court have jurisdiction to try the accused for acts or omissions amounting to genocide ideology given that the evidence against her is based on say comments made prior to the publication of Law N° 18/2008 of 23 July 2008 in the Official Gazette on 15 October 2008? Does the same Court have jurisdiction to try the accused for any act or omission which the Prosecutor suggests amounts to complicity in terrorist acts done prior to the publication of Law N° 45/2008 of 9 September 2008 in the Official Gazette on 6 April 2009? Or even still, can she be tried for acts done outside Rwanda?

And assuming a solution to all this is finally found, what happens to the literature that has been written or said about this case be it from political commentators, newsletters, blogs and sometimes political party websites?

While it is easy to explain or understand the reasons behind the protracted nature of this case, it remains in the government’s interest to quickly bring this case to trial. The more it drags on, the more the interest (both local and international). Not only will this put the Rwandan judiciary on the spot, it will also require that the prosecutor be sure he has what it takes. This of course means he must be willing to allow for the defence to examine and where witnesses are provided, agree to their cross examination.

And given the nature of this case, never mind the trajectory it has been taking since Ingabire first appeared in court, all eyes will be wide open. Alas to whoever bungles. No one said this was easy. I might be apolitical but like in that other Mc Donald advert “I am loving this”.

…over to you little monsters!