To Be or Not to Be; Is the story changing in Rwanda?

By Eleneus Akanga

Some things, you just can’t buy. You either have them in abundance or they are scarce and rare. Their abundance often scams recipients into comfort zones where everything is assumed constant until that time when supply becomes skewed.

Then, we start reacting differently. Some people blame their handlers while others choose to place all the blame on others. Yes, others because it is easier to blame someone else than take full responsibility ourselves.

Most Rwandese of my age have grown up to the story that 16 years ago, their countrymen took to the streets and villages killing fellow countrymen on a scale never witnessed anywhere in the world. In what we have known as the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Rwanda is said to have lost close to 1,000,000 people, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus when the Interahamwe militia went on rampage. And that it was the Rwandese Patriotic Army under current president Paul Kagame who brought this sad chapter to an end by taking over Kigali in July 1994.

President Paul Kagame has built his reputation on this very fact and his government has been systematic as they have been consistent, in pressing forward this version of the story. With ending the genocide under his belt, President Kagame has seen his image soar and has rightfully won a host of accolades for his overall performance as Rwanda’s head of state.

Many around the world including former US president Bill Clinton were not shy to refer to him as one of the best leaders Africa has seen. He was on all accounts, a man of great integrity, so highly regarded across the globe that 8 months ago, any criticism of his style of leadership or version of events –as happened in 1994 – was bound to be viewed as nothing but a disgruntled rant from naysayers.

Just last month, President Kagame’s government came under heavy criticism for stifling free speech when it suspended two local newspapers Umuvugizi and Umuseso in the run-up to presidential elections. Then as the world opened their eyes up for the apparent lack of democracy in a country that had a couple of months earlier suspended and refused a visa to a Human Rights Watch researcher for a discrepancy in visa documents, Rwanda refused to register the country’s only genuine opposition parties in FDU-Inkingi and Democratic Green Party of Rwanda.

The coincidental shooting of Jean Leonard Rugambage the Umuvugizi editor whose publication happened at the time to be investigating the suspected assassination of Lt. Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa, a former army Chief of Staff in a foreign country and the murder of Andrew Kagwa Rwisereka, the vice chairman of the Greens did not help matters. Kigali and Kagame came under the spotlight.

But as bad press (or the truth) depending on how you look at it continued to come in, Kagame and his men tirelessly worked on his re-election. He pulled crowds each day on campaign rallies and as expected won comfortably with over 93 percent of the vote, giving him another seven year term.

For some time, the Rwandan story as told by the RPF and Kagame has stood unchallenged as we know it. Those who have dared question the official story have either been charged under the genocide law for negationism and genocide denial as with Victoire Ingabire, Bernard Ntaganda and a host of opposition party supporters arrested during a demonstration. American law Prof. Peter Erlinder had to endure a spell in a Kigali jail for expressing his opinions on what he thinks the Rwandan story should be.

But if the events in Rwanda in the run up to, during and after the elections have not provided the current government with something to really think about, the revelation that the national army may have committed crimes tantamount to genocide against Hutus in Congo will surely give everyone in government something to help argue.

A leaked report from the UN high commissioner for human rights says that after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Tutsi-led Rwandan troops and their rebel allies killed tens of thousands of members of the Hutu ethnic group inside the Congo.

If this is true, it brings into fore a hitherto untold version of the Rwandan story. It would appear that a government whose image has been created on bringing an end to the Rwandan genocide is the same government whose forces committed yet another.

According to the leaked report, “The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who were often undernourished and posed no threat to the attacking forces.” The report goes on to say the crimes committed by Rwandan forces amount to “crimes against humanity, war crimes, or even genocide.”

It is the heaviest ever statement ever written against the Rwandan government. We all remember how Kigali reacted three years ago when French Judge Jean Louis Bruguire issued arrest warrants for members of the Rwandan government; we remember too how the same government reacted when a Spanish judge accused Kagame and his men of atrocities. To think that Rwanda will let this go without a proper fight is akin to forgetting so easily, for if there is anything Kagame is so afraid of at this moment in time, it is a damning report showing or even suggesting complicity in an atrocity he has so effectively used against his enemies both real and purported.

Honey Moon Over?

Rwanda has long claimed it attacked Hutu camps in eastern Congo to pursue those responsible for the killings of over 800,000 Tutsis in the Rwandan genocide. But the report marks the first time the UN has accused Rwandan forces of deliberately attacking the tens of thousands of Hutu civilians who also had fled. For some time, Rwanda has received good coverage and good press from most western countries partly because Kagame was seen as a good chap to work with. Secondly the guilt of forsaking Rwanda in 1994 when she needed the international community’s help has curtailed the West’s moral ability to criticise the guy who is known largely for stopping the genocide.

No wonder Kigali was quick to dismiss the report. The country has threatened too, to withdraw any of its servicemen from UN peacekeeping missions if the report is published. Why threaten if you know you have nothing to do with what is alleged in the report? Either way, withdrawing troops would serve as testament that Rwanda is doing the right thing; there obviously would be no moral right for a country whose forces are genocide perpetrators to then go ahead keeping peace. Maintaining deployed troops in their designated locations will also bring into question whether accused troops should really continue in positions where they are paid for by an organisation in whose report they stand accused of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Way Out

I was speaking to one of the officials in Kigali yesterday and he seemed to agree that this is a very damning report. He however contends that it might help bring to into line, the possibility if there ever was, of the ruling RPF (majority of which are Tutsis) to sit down with Hutu representatives for an open debate that will seek to establish what actually happened.

He did not want to add any more voices to this assertion just like he asked me not to even think of quoting him. But even with such an open debate, the atrocities committed in Congo if proven to be true and linked to the Rwandan forces would call not only for open debates but successful convictions at the Hague.

I have even had my old friends in Kigali trash the report and instead heap the blame on the UN for in the first place; failing to pass UN Resolution 1706 that would have seen the organisation send more troops to Rwanda. It is one of those very old classic colonial thoughts where we Africans tend to easily refuse to accept responsibility and instead shift the blame to others. For, the question is not why the UN failed to send more troops but whether as a nation whose people had lived together and spoke the same language, we should have been involved in the kind of savagery that we found ourselves into before, during and now, after the genocide?

Over to you my little monsters…

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Author: ellyakanga

I am Eleneus Akanga. Welcome to my blog about my experience as a Rwandan journalist and all that comes with the trade in East Africa. It's been a great journey so far but very challenging at times. Join me, let's get cracking! ellyakanga@usa.com

11 thoughts on “To Be or Not to Be; Is the story changing in Rwanda?”

  1. i think the most interesting point is that Kigali has not denied the allegations, only that they constitute genocide.

    it is also important to remember that there are many other actors beyond the RPF that have killed, tortured and maimed in the DRC.

    perhaps the RPF fears that its funding of rebels will be revealed? (remember when they freaked out because the UN linked them to Nkunda and his ilk?)

  2. Very right Susan. I can see Kiagli lobbying heavily between now and when the report gets published to have the tone lowered. If the genocide charge or insinuation of a genocide is maintained in the wording, it will be very challenging for PK.

    They have to work extremely hard to change the perception. Looks to me that the tide is changing, soon or later, someone will have to say exactly what happened or is happening in Congo without mincing words.

    Nkunda was a sour deal, yes. Kigali is better with a grounded Nkunda than a Nkunda in the Hague.

  3. For one thing that makes this so called damning report is it is very ver very controversial and one may strongly agree with Kigali that it hugely flawed. Remember the period the report talks about was a time when the entire world was paying attention to what was happening. Hundreds of journalists were along the Goma refuge camps and deep in the jungles covering the war. It does not add up properly that CNN, BBC, Skynews, The New York Times, La Jeunesse Africaine, The Times, even the 24 France and Le Monde that are anti-Kagame would not have intensely covered those alleged atrocities. Were those atrocities committed at night? even though, how would thousands of the bodies disappear without any traces? Why would the UN human rights, Amnesty International, Human rights watch be that silent and let it go without calling up the world to stop those atrocities? I am not denying that there were no killings at all. There is no war fought without cost a life. But, I guess my questions are serious as well. The other side of the case too is the fact that the UN enthusiastically releases a report accusing the Rwandan army for the alleged atrocities supposedly committed in its (UN) presence. Well, that does not give any excuse to any crime. Notably as well is the UN’s credibility. The UN does not have any moral authority to accuse any party for crimes because it is heavily bloody as the same territory as well. Thousands of UN troops have been switched back and forth because of trading arms with rebels for minerals. Cases of UN troops raping girls are well documented and the good thing is the UN swallowed it and admitted the crimes. However, the more daunting scenario is the recent hundreds of rape cases and the brutal killings committed by rebels in the front-yard of the UN peacekeeping troops. It is ridiculous and outrageous that the UN would jump sniping their fingers to release a report accusing Rwanda for crimes. Again, that does not mean we should say Rwanda is clean. No, but it is being very naive, unfair, blind and condescending for everyone to board on the wagon attacking Rwanda and focusing on one side and also ignoring the fresh and barbaric acts committed against those innocent women and girls who we all know have not even healed physically from the cruelty they were subjected to. To me, anyone ignoring this case and relieving the UN of what happened just because it released a “damning report” is very disturbing as well. If we are to blame, no one should be severed.

    1. Magnus, while I am pleased that you took time to make a contribution to this debate by posting a comment, I must say it is difficult to understand what exactly you are saying, leave alone what you stand for.

      As a writer, I would suppose that by now you should know that raising so many issues in one argument risks making an argument vague. You appear to be accusing the UN for failing to do anything but then in the same comment, point to the fact that they have accepted responsibility for the rape report. Are we to believe that the very questions that this coming report is seeking answers for should be neglected simply because the report is authored by an organisation we have come to dislike?

      It has to be admitted the UN not once not twice has faulted, but it is still a valid organisation. We should take each case and examine it on its merits. Lets not forget forinstance that any deaths irrespective of numbers MUST and ought to be inspected. There are people out there who have been waiting for years to know the fate of their loved ones in vain. I know of folks out there in Rwanda who did not agree that any killings ever took place in Congo. Now we have a possibility of bringing to light what actually happened, condemning the process would be very inhuman if only based on the fact that the messenger in this case is someone with a tarnished past.

      It is politics. The art of the possible yes but you should not get confused about what each of the parties says. As long as the report is there, the truth will always be verified. Have you forgotten that 2 years ago, Rwanda was using a report from some UN-Experts to hold her critics responsible and prove their link to the FDLR?

      Does it surprise you then that the same government that so fervently accepted a UN report of Experts in Congo is the same refusing a UN report on Congo massacres?

      Use your skills brother!

  4. For those who know the discipline and ethos of the Rwanda Defense Force (RDF) since the liberation war until now when the RDF has gained international credibility as an exemplary peacekeeping force, it becomes inadmissible to agree with UN report accusing Rwandan troops of possible genocide in DRC.
    How can the Force that stopped genocide in Rwanda, the Force that is at the forefront of bringing unity and reconciliation in the country is accused of genocide against the Hutu in Congo, where it has actually saved them from being used as human shields or dying of cholera outbreaks?
    Shocked by those baseless accusations, Rwanda is ready now to pull out its troops from peacekeeping missions if the UN publishes the report. ”We are waiting to see what the United Nations does with this report, but we are very seriously considering pulling out our troops” the Minister of Foreign Affairs and government spokesperson, Louise Mushikiwabo revealed, adding that the RDF contingent commander in Darfur has already been instructed to be prepared.

  5. @ jambo,

    You are right when you say that RPA or RDF must go home.
    The UN should go ahead and ask them to go home because you cannot have an army suspected of have committing a genocide doing a peacekeeping mission.

  6. The UN should publish the report ASAP (this is only making official what has been known to Rwandans since day 1), also the UN should kick out the Rwandan genocidal forces from ironically peacekeeping before they genocide anymore innocent lives.

    In the end, the truth will triumph!

    Come

  7. Akanga, I guess you just seem to see all the facts I pointed out as vague because of your own reasons. I took my time to read your article and share with you my opinion as well. You raised many issues in your article and some are confusing, but I did not call them vague, neither did I preach you on what you should know as a write.

    Anyway, my point was simple. I find it unfair when you dwell on criticizing Rwanda singularly, and take no time to question the basis of the report and the credibility of its publisher. That does not disqualify the validity of the UN.

    When the UN released the report accusing Ingabire of her links with the FDLR, you did not come out to say, hey..see the woman has serious questions to answer here, like what you just did in your article. No.

    Instead, you find it more important to criticise Rwanda and question its version of the genocide.

    Do you see my point? I am not at all excusing anyone for taking people’s lives here. Besides, I do not agree with you that most Rwandese of your age, including me, have not heard about the allegations in that report.

    We have relatives, friends, we read and some of us are journalists, we have asked questions about it.

  8. Akanga, Akanga, all a long i have considered you a mere negative commentator on issues that concern Rwanda but i nver imagined that you would sink as low as questioning the official UN stand on the genocide of Rwanda. Its not that i am surprised that a nobody like you who is fighting to justify assylum which has been going smooth so far (what with for the first time touching the hair of a white woman, sleeping on a decent bed, eating a balanced diet, etc, etc) but then what do you aim to achieve this time? perhaps genocide deniers have promised you better dog biscuits?

    Indeed you expect Rwanda to put up a spirited fight – we are fighters, you know that. That makes the allegations advanced by the report that our troops targetted children, the elderly and the sick inadmissible because only cowardly troops do that. More over, the discipline of RPA troops is not questionable – since the beginning of the struggle, in spite of allegations by people with thinking like yours – reviosinists who always think negatively.

    Rwandans know too well that their troops are not in the wrong and that the so called ‘report’ is nothing but part of the larger scheme of the ever growing crowd of anti – Rwanda crusaders who want to incite chaos in Rwanda because in their crooked way of thinking, it is either their way or the high way. Believe me, progressive and patriotic Rwandans – who are the majority, will emerge victors in this wave of negativity.

  9. I now have a clear idea of why President Paul Kagame thinks it is better to hire the services of Racepoint. When you have the likes of Gigi on your employ, it would be suicidal to believe they will deliver you to the promised land.

    Gigi, to start with, and for purposes of clarity, if you are man enough, I dare you to use your real name. I believe in people standing for what they believe in and hiding under pseudo names is not a sign of competence. That is why, when I write something or say anything, I make sure my name is on it. I don’t shy away from responsibility.

    If I understand what you are saying, you seem to acknowledge that the Rwandan genocide as we know it is a result of a UN definition which according to what you say, should not be questioned, right?

    But you criticise and accuse of revisionism, those, who are pointing out the existence of yet another story of crimes against humanity and a possible genocide, in a report prepared by the same organisation you so confidently invoke.

    Now, where is your point? I am struggling to get your point because instead of labouring to explain your grievance or opinion, you chose instead to waste time hurling insults at me – which i accepted because until someone tells you your mistakes and uncivilised way of arguing, you may never realise that you are probably looking ludicrous.

    The trouble I have with people like you Gigi is that you lot are quick at passing judgement. You are very free to label me a genocide revisionist, feeding on dog biscuits from genocide deniers but please once you are done with this, make a positive contribution to this debate.

    Your argument that because of asylum I now sleep on a decent bed, touching a white woman’s hair and eating a balanced diet raises yet some other serious issues. One, that you are either so stupid to believe so or two, that Rwanda and indeed Rwandans are living in dire circumstances. Why, you may ask? If as a journalist I went to school, studied up to university and managed to get a job in Rwanda working at one of the “best newspapers” in the country but still in your own words could not manage a decent bed or a balanced diet, what is the ordinary Rwandan’s situation? Would you then be surprised if someone reading your comment concluded that Rwandans are really worse off than any other citizens in the world?

    Until you learn to refrain from anger and myopic reasoning, you will always come through as a very absurd and disgruntled naysayer whose only motive is to further tarnish your bosses’ image.

    Rwanda needs people with brains, people with the skills to analyse issues, and suggest ways forward. Rwanda needs people who are willing to look at any incidents not only with an impartial sense of feeling but with an objective mind. Unfortunately for those you work for, and for our country, you are far from even realising what a complete waste you are. And with you surveying the internet and making a complete mess of everything there is to talk about, who can blame the government for spending millions of dollars paying Racepoint!

    Remember this though, you think you are free because you are hiding into the imperious frame of that pseudo avatar called Gigi, when judgement day comes, you will be judged as you…and many will remind you this for they actually know you by name.

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