Yesterday, i awoke to the news that Ignace Murwanashyaka, leader of the notorious Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (known by its French acronym, the FDLR) a rebel outfit that has terrorised life out of DRC and Western Rwanda residents had been arrested in Germany.
I was happy but not amused. Happy because, Germany, (a power which had always backtracked on an official arrest warrant) had finally exercised its mandate. Happy because, while the FDLR as a force might not be defeated with this incredible arrest, the action is a big nip in the bud that will more likely weaken the savage outfit. And i call it savage for reasons.
Now, you might think the arrest of a top FDLR’s commander should come as big news to anyone who has lived in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, followed its politics, and or at least has relatives there – for those not in Africa any more. Hell no!
And this is why i am fundamentally different from most of my colleagues. You see, these days, i have started drinking coffee. Every morning before entering the office, i grab a cup of it at my nearest Starbucks outlet and will very often end my day with another, if my friends insist! It was at London’s Caffè Vergnano 1882 last evening, that i met this guy whose utterances and serious support for the arrested rebel chief made me wonder if really, Murwanashyaka was or is a hero.
First, he asked me not to refer to the arrested FDLR leader as a rebel chief but instead Doctor. I thought this was odd, but was willing to respect the man if indeed he is a doctor. Secondly, he argued that the same Murwanashyaka that i was referring to as a rebel and confrontational figure was indeed pro-peace. He went on, “while MONUC might have given protection to Congolese citizens and Rwandan refugees living in Eastern Congo, Murwanashyaka’s FDLR made sure Rwandese were not left out. He stood for the rights of those Rwandese whose lives have been made horrible by events in Kigali. To us and those who have met him, he is a hero”.
A hero? You surely are kidding about this one mister, i told him. But my colleague is not the type to believe even the simplest of explanation. Despite labouring to explain the atrocities committed and meted on DRC and Rwandese civilians by the FDLR, he still stuck on his argument to the point when we parted. In this country, he is entitled to his opinion and i can understand why he thinks so, but only because am too liberal!
There must be something about heroism that most Rwandese are ready to misuse the word even if the facts are crystal clear. Today, so many of us are so intent on being labelled heroes or at least labelling those they know, so. In the US, Paul Rusesabagina made headlines when he was labelled or granted hero status by the Bush administration for his role in saving lives at Hôtel des Mille Collines during the genocide. Brilliant gesture indeed if you were one saved, but his story has since been dissected to levels that leave us wondering if he really is or the Americans got it wrong. But lets leave this for another day!
In 2008, Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) awarded medals to forty-nine war heroes, for their bravery and resilience in the campaign to liberate the country. In July, 2009, the country also awarded medals to President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Federal Republic of Ethiopia and the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania for their contribution in the liberation of Rwanda.
To put this into context one has got to know why these medals were handed over or continue to be handed over and whether they (medals) mean anything more than just pieces of bronze, gold or silver. I figured out from my chat with the guy i have been talking about above, that there seems to be a race to name as many heroes as possible in any of the camps available in the Great Lakes region. It is tricky, while majority Rwandese know of FDLR as a band of thugs so keen to destabilising their country irrespective of some relative peace, the FDLR and sympathisers see their fighters as nothing short of heroes, fighting a regime in Kigali, which they believe is the fountain of all their suffering in Congo.
And like i told the guy, Ignace Murwanashyaka can only be called a hero is looked at as an Interahamwe. He chose to lead an army part if not all of which, is composed of the very ruthless fellows that wrecked havoc in Rwanda by spreading and conducting mass murders during the genocide. His ideals might not be the worst but as long as he still remains known to most as the leader of the FDLR, his chance of convincing many a Rwandese that he can deliver and save lives to gain hero status, are all but limited.