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.

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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!

The Congolese Are Losing It

Etienne Tshisekedi is convinced he won his country’s presidential vote. Like his many supporters, he even thinks he is president. He is wrong of course but who can blame him?

Observers may have reported that they found evidence of possible vote tampering, vote inflation in regions of the country favourable to the incumbent President Joseph Kabila, and instances of vote suppression in areas known to be bastions of support for the opposition – but that is as far as it gets.

No one can say they were surprised by the Congo Electoral Commission announcement last week that incumbent President Joseph Kabila had won the election. Not even Tshisekedi supporters. For a while they knew this was coming. They cried foul, demanded that there be a transparent election, impartial electoral commission and monitors to ensure that the incumbent does not “steal the election”. All to no avail.

So as expected, when the results finally came out, Daniel Ngoy-Mulunda of the Electoral Commission made it known to the world that president Kabila (with a small p) with 48.9 percent of the vote had emerged winner with “President Tshisekedi” (with a capital P) at 32 percent coming second. It was official and it probably will remain so.

In most democratic countries, such a close poll would have been reason to celebrate. Who gets such close election results unless the country’s electoral process is democratic and the major institutions functional. But DRC is only democratic simply in name. The people who should have been celebrating their countries incredible democratic moment (no poll has been more close in Africa) were instead organising to take to the streets protesting what they saw as a “massive stitch up”.

That someone who barely got 50 percent of the total vote should go on to rule the country is another issue  and perhaps one I should leave for another day. Most constitutions in Africa are written in such a way that when it comes to national elections and choosing who to become president, the winner must get over 50 percent of the vote or there will be a re-run. Not in DRC. DRC is a special case and like I said I will leave this very issue for another day.

But why am I going into all this? You see on Thursday last week (Dec 8th) I stumbled upon an online story on Igihe (an online publication based in Kigali) that some suspected arsonists (read protesters) had attacked and tried to burn down the Rwandan embassy in Paris. After the incident, a statement signed by Ambassador Jacques Kabale, was reportedly issued asking Rwandans living around the town where the embassy is located to stay calm, and give a deaf ear to rumors about Presidential elections of DR Congo which is suspected to be the cause of the attack.

It seemed to me that this was an odd thing for the Congolese to do (if indeed they were the ones who had attacked the Rwandan embassy in Paris).

Then on Sunday (Dec 11th) I woke up to news that Scotland Yard had made 139 arrests following a demonstration in central London over the election result in the Democratic Republic of Congo. What? In the Paris story, the suspicion was that the attackers or the arsonists if you may, were unhappy with the way Rwanda continues to interfere in the politics of their country. Now I do not represent the government of Rwanda and even if I did I am no Louise Mushikiwabo (she is good at what she does) but if I had an issue with my neighbour or if my neighbour was constantly poking his finger into my face, torching his embassy in a foreign country is the last thing I would want to do. And this is irrespective of the provisions of the Vienna Convention.

But let us be clear here. It would be unfair to blame the Congolese opposition for the incident in Paris (if it even ever happened given that it only was picked up by igihe.come). While it is possible that some disgruntled elements within the Congolese diaspora were responsible for the Paris incident and intended it as a way of showing their disgruntlement against what they see as a frivolous foreign policy by Rwanda, it helps their cause not.

That alongside the events in London yesterday where Congolese protesters having turned up in numbers to exercise their fundamental right began to damage property, including cars and shops, as well as threatening members of the public has if anything, done more harm than good to their cause.

I sat down for a coffee with a good friend of mine (who is English and considers himself well connected to the Lib Dems) and throughout our conversation, he just could not understand why the Congolese would dare do such in London. “I don’t know what you think but I have always had this feeling that the Congolese  are a disorganised lot. I mean just loo at the amount of resources these guys have got but still their country has lacked any sense of direction”, he said to me.

I think they have lost it is what I said to him. The Congolese have lost it. You do not seek sympathy through destruction. Yes DRC has had its fair share of problems, foreign interventions and the race for minerals notwithstanding but there seems to be a general lack of initiative among the Congolese to find home grown solutions to their problems. The idea of blaming others for all their ills has got to stop. This is not easy of course given the amount of exploitation that goes on in the Congo and also the fact that everyone appears to want a bit of Congo. But surely, there has to be a way of expressing their concern (and especially outside DRC) in ways that are civil and ways which will not further alienate those involved casting them as hopeless crazy people.

But who knows? In a country that has been plagued by war crimes committed by foreign forces, excessive mineral looting and more than 6 million deaths, and all these at the silent watch of the powers that be,  perhaps acting crazy is not such a gruesome idea – after all? Can it really honestly be said that the Congolese are losing it or have they been pushed to breaking point?

Over to you my little monsters…

 

 

Joseph Bideri And Why He ‘Lived To Die Another Day’

By Eleneus Akanga

Joseph Bideri (bless him) was able to manage a grin last night as he headed home after a long bad day at the office but the former RPF chief propagandist knows things could have been a lot worse – but for some brilliant CYA moment.

Yes and before you begin scratching your head, CYA or (Cover Your Ass), is a common term used in overly litigious societies like the US to refer to the idea that whatever the situation, one MUST always remember not to leave themselves too exposed – refer to the law of torts.

The news yesterday morning that The New Times Editor-in-Chief had been detained following hours of interrogation at the hands of CID officers shocked even the finest of the TNT faithful but to many this was not surprising news. In a country where intolerance to corruption (again depending on how you define intolerance to graft) is somewhat an assumed mantra, reports of even the mightiest of all going behind bars are not that uncommon. So when it dawned on all that Bideri had been taken in, there was a sense of well, “not surprising”.

And like I wrote a few months ago, Mr. Bideri in yesteryear Rwanda was the cowboy with powers to succeed the laws of the land. While he will have been shocked by his questioning and subsequent detention at Kicukiro Police Station, he will have not been surprised. As someone who has been in the system for a while, he knows the terms of reference. Work for us and we will support you, challenge us or fall out with one of those who matter and you will be lynched.

There are a host of reasons as to why Mr. Bideri could have been summoned. Despite his unswerving service to the regime in Kigali, the man has had his own mishaps. Some versions (not official) claim he stole so much from the public coffers when he was the Managing Director at Rwanda Office of Information (ORINFOR). Late last year, there were reports that the reason he had fled to Canada was partly to do with allegations he had presided over a spell of tax evasion at The New Times. Again, I must emphasise that these were allegations and in most cases rumours which never got followed up by the relevant government agencies.

Part of this is the reason many will have been surprised to hear that Mr. Bideri was behind bars potentially staring at a possible fast route to the infamous Kigali 1930 prison.

So What Happened?

It is difficult to tell exactly what happened at Kicukiro Police Station. I tried contacting a few folks back in Rwanda and not even the insiders know what exactly happened. It seems Mr. Bideri’s arrest was never on the cards (as in imminent) until it happened so even insiders were surprised. What we do know though is that his interrogation began at the CID offices in Kacyiru before ending up in an arrest and detention at Kicukiro. From this we can deduce that whatever the case, Bideri’s arrest was engineered or conducted with the knowledge of someone within the National Security Service (NSS) who as we also now know, was working in cahoots with the Rwanda Police Inspector General Emmanuel Gasana.

After hours of waiting, a disheartened Bideri began to demand answers from his interlocutors. His demands fell to deaf ears probably because there was never a proper charge sheet and the powers that be for all that time were trying to find something to associate with the TNT boss. Given his experience working with the system in Kigali, he became aware of what was likely to happen and realised tha the only way out was jail.

It was then that Bideri being the smart boy he is, decided to text a reporter at the AfroAmerica publication to report he was being put under arrest. The former propagandist also realising that his tormentors had been so delusional to leave him with his phone contacted his work place to let them know what was goin on.

According to The New Times, “Bideri telephoned the Ag. Managing Editor, James Munyaneza, at around 7p.m, and told him he had been arrested over stories The New Times published recently about the ongoing controversy revolving around Rukarara hydro power project in Nyamagabe District, Southern Province.” The news of course came as shock to the young folks at the newspaper and while they normally would have let it go, the journalist in James Munyaneza (one of the few remaining real journalists in the country) saw an opening and wanted the matter reported. The other version has it that Bideri personally asked for the story to be published. And whatever happens now, when all this is done with, Bideri might look back and thank his stars that the story of his arrest and detention came out in the pro-government newspaper.

Story Pulled Down

Those holding Bideri were still smarting from the fact that they had scored one past their nemesis only to be overwhelmed by the amount of interest his arrest was generating on the web around the world. Rwanda remains a very tricky nation and one which given what happened in 1994, continues to attract attention, not least too because of the regime’s crackdown on free speech and freedom of expression. Thus any story about freedom of expression in Rwanda usually generates so much traffic and interest. As people took to on-line forums to debate and make sense of what they were reading and hearing, the police and NSS realised the story had moved faster than they thought. Bideri was already 3-0 up and the reaction was well in his favour.

Already, both CID and the police had struggled to find answers to the question :why is he being held. Their answer: “You will get to know all the details tomorrow” was not cutting it. The tomorrow they were talking about had arrived and they still didn’t have answers. The New Times, the newspaper which the regime has consistently used to push stories against those it wants to destroy and bring charges on had also been compromised by its boss. It was already leading with the story that Bideri had been detained.

This would have been fine but there was another problem. While the NSS and Rwanda police would have preferred a stronger and more compelling charge against the big man, The New Times and all the other publications which picked up the story had already projected the charge as being something to do “Rukarara stories.”

Rukarara Stories?

Probably until (yesterday) not so many people outside Rwanda had paid that much interest to the Rukarara project. Not any more. Rukarara Hydro Power Plant which was meant to help solve Rwanda’s power shortage problems has turned out to be a money spinner for spineless politicians and businessmen who are only intent on fleecing the country out of even the little we borrow. While the government has sunk over 23 million dollars into the project (originally projected to produce 9.5 MW) Rukarara is struggling to even produce a meagre 5 MW. Incredible given the amount which has been spent on the project.

And according to the powers that be, The New Times’ mistake it turns out, was commissioning reporters to tell stories in a way “which portrays the project as a total failure and the government as having not delivered.” So Bideri, was indeed being done for allowing stories about the project to be published in a way that made it look like the country whose regime prizes itself on efficiency and good service delivery was failing or had failed to deliver on a power plant – despite spending millions of dollars on the project.

What Next?

Bideri may have woken up from his dream but he just like those of us who are familiar with the dealings in Kigali, will be well aware that this is not the end of his nightmare. There are powerful dark horses towering over bodies of weak pawns on what many see as the unpredictable Rwandan game of chase. Along the way some will be crushed, others will survive. While I cannot wish jail for a man who for the sake of his daily bread has had to do all sorts of things including engaging in smear campaigns against perceived and real enemies to the Rwandan regime, I owe it to him to remind him (and those like him) that in Paul Kagame’s Rwanda, no one is indispensable. Bideri should count himself lucky that he was able to Cover His Ass in time. This time he was lucky, the next he may not be as much. From experience (JB Sanyu, Eddie Rwema, David Kabuye and Ignatius Kabagambe) the top job at Rwanda’s mouthpiece is not the easiest of them all. The good news for Monsieur Bideri is that he was always part of the people who sacked all his predecessors. Perhaps he is “unsacakble” but I am not sure he is “unjailable”. Now that he has survived, he should get to the very bottom of the Rukarara Project to unearth the real problem or the same Rukarara Project will be the last government project for which report he ever presides over as TNT boss. At least he has some sympathisers. Canada anyone?

Over to you my little monsters…

Is Rwanda Losing What It Has Gained Since 1994?

By Eleneus Akanga (reposted)

The script most of the world has about Rwanda is of a nation on the verge of losing what it has gained since 1994. Not surprising. Sixteen years ago, Rwanda, many will agree looked a complete write off. The mess that was the genocide had left the country on its bare minimum, with no clean water, no hospitals, no justice system or infrastructure and a people who saw themselves as either victims or perpetrators.

So much needed fixing. The marauding Interahamwe had been defeated, the killings halted and a new government promised so much in terms of development and getting the country back on track. At the centre of all this, a certain Maj. Gen Paul Kagame, was pulling the strings. After successfully leading the force that took over Kigali, he embarked on forming an inclusive government, with the aim of uniting Rwandans. Not to credit him for trying or at least for the economic progress that Rwanda has witnessed during this period, would be unfair.

There is going to be the argument about the time spent in power. People can rightly argue that he has had so much time to do what he has done, and that with as much aid that Rwanda has received during his tenure, any fit-for-purpose human being would have performed.

This may be true but you still would have needed someone with character. While President Kagame has the character, has had the luck, agility and steady fastness, he truly is no saint. So often, he has been discovered as wanting in statesmanship, democracy and ability to engage perceived enemies.

Mr. Kagame is from the school of thought who consider dissent as being irrational, uncalled for, and therefore, something which must be fought. To Kagame, leaders are meant to be respected and any divergent views must be expressed directly through stipulated channels (in most cases, composed of his most trusted lieutenants) and on which he has ultimate control. In doing so, he has centralised power, creating or promoting a circle of top trusted friends, who many see as the inner circle, that is out to make or break Rwanda. Remember, this is a government, which accused their predecessors of promoting the infamous “Akazu” a top circle grouping of Juvenile Habyalimana’s trusted cadres, believed to have executed the genocide.

So, when Hilary Clinton, says that “We really don’t want to see Rwanda undermine its own remarkable progress by beginning to move away from a lot of the very positive actions that undergirded its development so effectively,” she has a point.

Culture of Silence

Rwanda’s problem has been and continues to be the inexplicable silence embraced by her citizens who despite having mixed feelings about what is going on inside their country choose to either pretend that everything is right, or keep numb about all. Silence in Rwanda, is a virtue. Anything said, risks being misinterpreted for the bad and after years of experience, Rwandans have learnt to gag themselves, or control their speech. It is a culture not only of silence but self censorship as well.

While silence insulates some of the prevalent anger from some members of society at say such things as governance issues, imbalance in power, lack of political space or a not very fair policy, some say, on unity and reconciliation, it encourages pretence. In Rwanda today, there are people who believe that the government should have borrowed a leaf from South Africa’s handling of apartheid, when dealing with genocide and its effects. But because such rhetoric risks being interpreted as a way of inciting public anger, a possible crime under the genocide ideology law, many choose to stay silent and instead moan about it to friends and relatives under closed doors. The government then, gets the feeling that the policy is working when in actual fact, it is the silence and the fear of persecution or being wrongly misinterpreted, which are keeping argument, at bay.

Normally, when members of the public are so afraid to speak out, the onus falls on the media to express people’s views. But the media in Rwanda remains dysfunctional. Weeks after a critical journalist was shot under circumstances that we may never establish, another, Saidati Mukakibibi, has been arrested for comparing Kagame to Hitler. The state maintains her writings would have incited public disorder and promoted divisionism. I asked a government minister if Kagame has become so incomparable that trying to find a comparison amounts to a criminal offence. On top of insisting that I don’t quote him, the minister believes “the police should not have over reacted to someone’s personal opinion although the president deserves respect”. Hitler, the minister added, “can not be the best comparison you can have”.

If Hitler is worse a comparison, then who is, I asked?  He hung up before answering. My chat with the minister goes to explain what many struggle to see with Rwandan politics. In Rwanda, you either, dance to the melody of “Kagame is Lord”, “the best we ever had” and keep your bread, or challenge his views and risk being done for either corruption, genocide or immorality. If a minister finds it hard speaking to journalists, even when he is giving a plain statement, imagine how it must feel being a local and standing out to challenge the establishment, inside Rwanda?

Is there hope?

A friend of mine asked me this particular question the other day on Facebook. While I believe in hope being abundant, I know it takes some convincing to tell people it is there when you have pregnant mothers being imprisoned for attending peaceful demonstrations, opposition party members like Bernard Ntaganda, the founder president of PS-Imberakuri being denied their constitutional right to bail and some opposition party activists simply disappearing, as in the case Andrew Kagwa Rwisereka of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda.

The future looks not so clear and I am sure there are so many Rwandans out there, who would love to see Clinton, demand freedoms from Rwanda’s iron man, instead of meandering around diplomatic language and deploring the fact that Rwanda is in danger of losing what it has gained since 1994.

America, just like other Western countries should rethink their relationship with Mr. Kagame, not for his sake but that of democracy and Rwandans.  Like Timothy Kalyegira put it the other day, for all the fine wine, decorations and music at a wedding party, it is resolving differences, balancing needs and compromises that are the core of a marriage.

Over to you my little monsters…

Rwanda 17 years later: what is the truth?

NOTICE: Yesterday, after a post by Nkunda Rwanda which I published on this blog, Gerald Caplan contacted me asking me if I had given consideration to his essay before running Nkunda Rwanda’s piece. As editor of this blog, I have since decided to run his piece too so readers can read through ( those who have not read the two pieces) … over to you my little monsters!

By Gerald Caplan

The editors of ‘Remaking Rwanda’ tell us they are presenting ‘a comprehensive account of post-genocide reconstruction…Debates on contemporary Rwanda are often polarized and polarizing,’ they understand, and promise to do better. ‘We have tried to offer a more nuanced appraisal, though one that is ultimately critical.’

Such a book would be welcome, even indispensable, to illuminate a country and especially a government that attract wildly different points of view. But this is not that book. Despite the promise of its editors, ‘Remaking Rwanda’ is another pure example of how utterly unbalanced the RPF’s critics can be, so blind to their own biases they apparently cannot even recognise them. Only such blinkers can explain how a book that is anti-Kagame from the first to the last page, that entirely fails to mention, let alone record, the miracle of reconstruction that has taken place in the country in the 17 years since the genocide, can be presented as comprehensive and nuanced.

Don’t get me wrong. It is only right and proper to recount, as a number of chapters do, the disappointing record of human rights violations and democratic abuse that has characterised much of the RPF’s period of governance as well as the notorious record of the Rwandan Defence Force in the Congo. Indeed, this book was completed prior to the squalid events of the past 18 months or so, more or less the period surrounding the 2010 presidential election, so that this period is not included. Throughout 2010, in what sometimes seemed like an unending torrent, story after story poured forth of beatings, killings, attempted killings, harassment, arrests, abuse and intimidation of politicians, journalists and former comrades who had in common their opposition to the RPF government.

Of course in a tragic sense, the RPF’s human rights record is just one more example of the way so many of Africa’s leaders have betrayed their people for the past half-century. But there are two reasons why the RPF so often comes under fire. First, if it is held to a higher standard than most of its peers, which it often is, that’s because their leaders have always presented themselves as operating at a higher standard than other governments. Second, while Rwanda has genuine security needs that might call for harsh measures, few of the human rights and democracy violations and few of the killings in the Congo can be justified by these needs.

So there has been no shortage of reasons to criticise Kagame and his government, and Straus and Waldorf had little difficulty pulling together the work of some 18 foreign scholars and eight human rights activists, supplemented by two Rwandans, all of whom share a deep loathing for Paul Kagame and his government. All have spent time in Rwanda, many of them (even some that go overboard) contain important information, and many of their criticisms seem to me justified. In the end, this makes the unrelenting negativism and the total lack of balance all the more disappointing.

For the volume contains not a single essay, and barely a single word, recounting the astonishing recovery the country has made since July 1994 and demonstrates little or no sympathy for the enormous, almost intractable, challenges the RPF government has confronted since then. When in history has a post-conflict government, taking over a devastated and traumatised nation, been faced with the spectacle of survivors resuming their lives in the very same community (or on the same hill) as those who tried to exterminate them?

This failure is a shame. It sets the book up for easy dismissal both by the Rwanda elite, in the contemptuous way they demonstrate for criticism of any kind from outsiders, and by the blindly adoring political, corporate and religious VIPs whom Kagame has attracted. But how can they take seriously a book that offers not a clue why so many African visitors to Rwanda envy Rwandans so deeply? They return home railing bitterly at the failure of their own governments to provide the services Rwandans take for granted like safe, clean, orderly cities, decent roads, and officials and cops who do their jobs without demanding bribes.

Readers would learn nothing about the modest health insurance available almost universally, the professional care that mothers get in giving birth, the milk that malnourished children receive, the all-but universal enrolment of all children in primary education, the vast expansion of higher education, all with no one asking about their ethnicity. They’d know nothing of the relative sophistication of its HIV/AIDS program, the efficiency of the public service, the professionalism of government ministers, the pleasure UN agencies and foreign embassies find in working with a government that actually works.

They’d have no idea Rwanda was one of the four countries in sub-Saharan Africa to meet the Millennium Development Goals on sanitation. They’d never know that most corruption has been eliminated, that women play a major role in all aspects of governance, that violence against girls and women is being combated, that attacks on gays, unlike in so many African countries, were quickly snuffed out by the government, that capital punishment has been abolished, that Rwandan soldiers and police officers play a significant role in UN and African Union peacekeeping operations.

These things matter when you’re judging a government. It doesn’t mean that they compensate for, or minimise, the abuses noted earlier. But they are integral to a genuine overview of a very complicated country that cannot be described in either the one-dimensional blackness of some of its critics or the purer-than-pure whiteness of its local partisans and foreign groupies.

One might also have thought that in 25 essays on post-conflict Rwanda, at least one could be devoted to the phenomenon of genocide denial. Yet in the entire volume there are fewer than two pages on the subject, tucked into an essay by Lars Waldorf. And might we not reasonably have expected a chapter or two on the real menace from unrepentant Hutu extremists in the west and the FDLR criminal militia in Congo whose leaders operate freely in Europe and the United States? And on the threats from those muzungu like Gerard Prunier and disaffected diaspora Rwandans who openly promote the bloody overthrow of the Kagame government. Rwanda remains vulnerable in real life, but not in the pages of ‘Remaking Rwanda’.

OPPOSITION POLITICS AND THE GACACA EXPERIMENT

Perhaps it is the passionate hostility to the RPF government on the part of so many of the contributors that leads them to so many distortions, oversimplifications, double standards, and such lack of perspective and context. Take, for example, Joseph Sebarenzi, one of the two Rwandans represented in the book, a Tutsi genocide survivor who later fell out with Kagame, fled, and wrote a damning book about his experience.

It is perverse of Sebarenzi to claim that presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire returned from Holland to Rwanda in 2010 intending to mount her campaign based on ‘constructive opposition’. It is only too evident that Ingabire, who was known to consort in Europe with some dubious allies, pitched up determined to provoke the government, as both her statements and her relationship with American lawyer Peter Erlinder did. Erlinder, a long-time active denier, surely was begging for trouble when he suddenly materialised in an already tense country to assist Ingabire. In my view, government officials were strategically foolish in both cases for taking the bait and for their wretched treatment of Ingabire, her assistant and Erlinder.

Indeed, ‘Remaking Rwanda’ co-editor Lars Waldorf, in his essay on how the RPF has exploited genocide (undoubtedly true at times), agrees. In choosing Erlinder as her lawyer, he observes, Ingabire ‘showed spectacularly poor judgment or perhaps something more sinister. Either way, it played straight into the government’s hands, seeing to confirm some of the charges against her.’ Far more of such empathy for the government’s perspective would have made this book considerably more convincing. But there is precious little.

Or take the chapter on the plight of the multitude of prisoners locked up after the genocide by Carina Tertsakian, a human rights activist. That they were held in abysmal conditions I’ve never heard anyone deny. Here’s Tertsakian’s conclusion: ‘Just as prisoners were at the bottom of the government’s list of priorities in the years following the genocide, so former prisoners remain at the bottom of the pile today…There is no recognition of the hardships they have suffered and, correspondingly, no support for them whatsoever. There are no counseling services, at least none that they feel able to use, as they tend to assume that these are reserved for genocide survivors…’

Frankly, this sounds like a delusional rant from someone from a galaxy far far away. Prisoners are at the bottom of the priority list in virtually every country in the world, rich and poor. No prize for guessing how many of them receive counseling services or help finding a job.

The gacaca experiment is duly covered in ‘Remaking Rwanda’, and the assessments are predictably negative. Personally I have been persuaded by Phil Clark’s latest study that these harsh judgments and those by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are largely unfair. (See my review of Clark’s ‘The Gacaca Courts, Post-Genocide Justice and Reconciliation in Rwanda: Justice without Lawyers’, in Pambazuka News,) Clark was a speaker at one of the conferences on which ‘Remaking Rwanda’ is based but he has no article in the book. I have no idea why.

Human Rights Watch’s show-no-mercy approach to Rwanda, which characterizes too many of the essays in ‘Remaking Rwanda’, was spectacularly demonstrated again as recently as June with HRW’s latest gacaca report, ‘Justice Compromised: The Legacy of Rwanda’s Community-Based Gacaca Courts’. Leslie Haskell, the author, introduced her report to an audience in Kigali. Despite the title, Haskell told the audience that she didn’t actually believe gacaca was a failure though she did think the courts had violated some rights. Asked what alternative to gacaca she would have recommended, she surprised her listeners by saying the gacaca courts were really the best solution to Rwanda’s challenges. Finally, the Dutch ambassador, Frans Makken, told Haskell that he considered the title of her report to be quite inappropriate and that he found the entire document to be ‘harsh, unfair and unbalanced’. That stands as a general indictment of a great many HRW reports on Rwanda over the past decade, and those of Amnesty International too for that matter, both of which are cited often by contributors to ‘Remaking Rwanda’.

WELCOME DEVELOPMENTS?

In Rwanda in July, a well-connected friend and other officials insisted to me that the government was well aware of the bad press it had been receiving for its abuses of democracy and human rights and was taking active steps to address them. For example, prompted by Cabinet, parliament is about to pass a Freedom of Information Bill, described by the organisation ARTICLE 19, which campaigns for free expression, as ‘one of the hallmarks of government accountability to its people because it facilitates citizen participation in decision-making processes’. The group is cautious, going no further than stating that the bill offers ‘a glimmer of hope’ for more free expression in Rwanda.

Welcome developments are also afoot in the field of media, at least officially. Rwanda TV and Rwanda Radio are to become public broadcasters instead of state broadcasters, in theory a world of difference to be enthusiastically embraced. But even in countries where the public broadcaster is a key component of the broadcasting system, such as Canada, no government ever appreciates being criticised by the broadcaster that the same government funds. Of course the funds belong to the country, not the government, but it’s a distinction many governments tend to forget. Some Rwandans themselves wonder whether their government will end up allowing anything like the independence that the BBC and CBC have. We will know soon enough.

The government is also moving to introduce self-regulation for the media in place of state regulation. Ending government interference in media content should be a huge step forward. But if self-regulation merely means self-censorship, with wary journalists censoring themselves when it comes to criticising the government and the president, it will be dismissed as merely a propaganda stunt by a government that still can’t abide criticism by a free press.

There is also an initiative to modify the much-criticised genocide ideology law, used too often to silence any criticism of the government and to disqualify opposition politicians who can’t possibly be considered promoters of genocidal ideology. But the balance is a fine one – the right to free expression but not the right to incitement. This is a real issue, not to be scoffed at. Freeing the Rwandan press in the early 1990s by then-President Habyarimana led directly to the emergence of flagrantly anti-Tutsi hate media, which played a central role in the subsequent genocide. No one in government forgets this, nor should they be expected to. While the government must learn that not all disagreement is subversive, good-faith critics of the government (and many critics show little good faith) must recognise that not all criticism is legitimate dissent, especially in Rwanda.

Whether these related initiatives are anything more than an elaborate public relations exercise designed to counter the negative attention Rwanda has attracted in the past year is too early to say. We can simply hope.

ECONOMIC CHALLENGES

A repeated theme of ‘Remaking Rwanda’ focuses on the ongoing economic problems that Rwanda faces and I applaud the essays that make this point.

‘Rwanda’s high growth rates are deceptive in that they hide large and growing inequalities between social classes, geographic regions and gender…Wealth is concentrated disproportionately in the hands of a small group, primarily anglophone returnees from Uganda…That trend appears only to be getting worse…Economic progress has been particularly limited in rural areas; the benefits of economic growth remains concentrated in the hands of a small class of agricultural entrepreneurs while the majority of Rwandan peasants confront worsening living conditions.’

An Ansoms, a specialist on poverty and inequality in the Great Lakes region, is appropriately trenchant here as she brings together two areas that have received inadequate attention from outsiders, agriculture and ideology:

‘The new elite portray the solution to rural poverty as a matter of adopting “a good mentality”. The president frequently states that each citizen has a responsibility to overcome her own poverty…The Strategic Plan for Agricultural Transformation refers to the peasant’s ignorance and resistance to productivity-enhancing measures that go beyond traditional subsistence farming. This elite view disregards the institutional barriers that small-scale peasants face such as land scarcity, climactic change, crop diseases, limited options to diversify incomes, no cash reserves, and the lack of safety nets…There is a profound mismatch between the Rwanda elite’s ambitions and the rural realities on the ground.’

These are important points well worth making. But again a larger perspective would have been useful. Increased inequality has become a characteristic that defines our era. (I write as the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon spreads around the globe.) What’s true of Rwanda could be said about most of the world. This is no singular misdeed of the Kagame government, as these essays almost imply. Yes, growing inequality is largely a function of the free market dogmas the Rwandan government so zealously embraces and which ‘Remaking Rwanda’ resolutely fails to explore. But the analysis applies equally to all those governments around the world that have succumbed to the false promise of neoliberalism as peddled by much of the economics profession and the IMF and World Bank.

THE CHALLENGES AHEAD

There is great self-satisfaction among RPF officials and supporters about the remarkable strides their country has made in the past 17 years. In July 1994, or even when I first visited the country five years later, today’s progress would have seemed literally unimaginable. From that point of view, the self-congratulations that characterises any gathering of the elite is quite understandable. But the line between a realistic sense of accomplishment and hubris, or excessive, distorting pride, is a thin one, as some of the leadership have begun to understand. There may even be an internal struggle within the government between hard-liners who will hear no criticism of any kind and those who know the government has made serious mistakes that must be faced up to. The need to find the right balance between legitimate security needs and acceptable dissent is not a simple one, but it is urgent.

Of course other immense challenges still flow directly from the genocide. As both Armenians and Jews can testify, even after 96 and 66 years the burdens of such a catastrophe do not disappear. Seventeen years is just a beginning. Issues of justice and reconciliation, of security, of survivors’ needs both material and psychological, all are still urgent and difficult.

But there are other hard trials yet to face. For all its post-1994 progress in so many areas, Rwanda has a long way to go. If it’s UN Human Development Index is trending up, it’s because it was so far down; even now, it stands only at 155th of 172 countries measured. If steady advances in health care and rudimentary social services have occurred, two studies released in 2009 reported that half of Rwandan children suffered from malnutrition and 51 per cent of those under five suffered from moderate or severe stunting. If Rwanda is doing better than other African countries in approaching some of the Millennium Development goals, these data on hunger and malnutrition place it among the 10 most affected countries globally, even worse off, unbelievably enough, than DR Congo. While campaigns to stop violence against women are to be applauded, their need was great; as of 2008 figures, 31 per cent of females were experiencing violence, most often from a partner or husband. A Gallup Poll last year found that 79 per cent of Rwandans see rape as a major problem.

Rwandans proudly trumpet their determination to be self-reliant and dependent on no outsiders, yet half of the country’s budget comes from foreign aid. For 2009-10 that budget was under $1.5 billion for a country of over 10 million people (and a birth rate growing far too fast), with GDP at about $12 billion. Singapore, the government’s avowed role model, equally resource-poor, has a population of under 5 million, a budget of around $30 billion and a GDP at $290 billion. Rwanda remains one of many very poor undeveloped African countries.

Earlier this year, writing in the Guardian, Stephen Kinzer, author of ‘A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It’, summed up a view held by many foreigners of good will who have Rwanda’s best interests at heart:

‘When President Paul Kagame of Rwanda won re-election in August [2010], he could look back with pride on his accomplishments. Rwanda has emerged from the devastation of genocide and become more secure and prosperous than anyone had a right to expect. The central task of his second seven-year term, which by law must be his last, is to add broader democracy to this security and prosperity.’

Anyone who has read Kinzer’s book knows of his admiration and respect – though not blind respect – for Kagame. Yet here he pleads with Kagame to forfeit the authoritarianism that was perhaps once justifiable, to end the ‘paranoia and ruthlessness’ that a guerilla war may have necessitated, and to embrace instead ‘tolerance, compromise and humility’. What Rwanda needs, he too agrees, is much more political space.

‘[Kagame] still has the chance to enter history as one of the greatest modern African leaders. There is also the chance, however, that he will be remembered as another failed African big-man, a tragic figure who built the foundations of a spectacular future for his country, but saw his achievements collapse because he could not take his country from one-man rule toward democracy.’

Just as it was the absence of political will that led the Permanent Five members of the UN Security Council in 1994 to abandon Rwanda, so it is now the political will of the RPF government that will decide the future of the country. The leadership speaks eloquently about Rwandans determining their own destiny, shaping their own fate. In terms of creating a genuinely democratic culture constrained only by legitimate security issues, it has a reasonable opportunity now. For worse and for better, Rwanda has made history repeatedly in the past 17 years. For better or for worse, it is bound to make history again.

Gerald Caplan, Remaking Rwanda and the Struggle for Democratic Reform

By Nkunda Rwanda

Among President Paul Kagame’s modest list of western promoters, there is perhaps no equal match for Gerald Caplan’s loud, spirited and consistence defense of the regime. Caplan defiantly refuses to reconsider his position even when faced with the clearest evidence that Kagame is treading towards the wrong direction of history. As such, his writing in particular, “Rwanda 17 years later: what is the truth” need to be read with deserving caution.

Many of Kagame’s advocates have jumped off the bandwagon or are abandoning “the sinking ship” to borrow from Saif Al Gadaffi’s premonition. One of them, Stephen Kinzer earlier this year cautioned Kagame in light of the increasing concerns of grave human right violations .Kinzer, is Kagame’s well known biographer whose flattering view of “Rwanda’s rebirth and the man who dreamed it” has gained wide publicity. Like many others, he has had some serious rethinking.

On January 22nd this year, in the heat of the Arab spring, Kinzer penned an article arguing that, “Kagame’s authoritarian turn risks Rwanda’s future”. In Kigali, it was not well received. Kinzer might be a close friend, but the regime did not appreciate the criticism he raised. Instead, the government-run newspaper issued a combative response with an equally matching arrogant title, “Kinzer didn’t get it!” They blamed him for being incapable of understanding the “realities of Rwanda’s troubled past and thus fails to understand her chosen path to a brighter future”. Ironically, the same newspaper had faithfully reprinted all his praise-full columns, including one written in the same month attacking Human Rights Watch for espousing “human rights imperialism” because of their unyielding criticism of Kagame’s dictatorship.

Predictably, the regime continued launching a series of attacks against Kagame’s biographer. At times it seemed to get too personal. For cautioning Kagame, Kinzer got quickly vilified as another ignorant muzungu (“white person”) easily susceptible to manipulation. If Caplan were to criticize Kagame even in the slightest way, I am sure his case would follow a similar fate. This is neither an exaggeration nor a matter of speculation. Re-imagining Rwanda, the book Caplan sharply criticizes, is written in memory of Allison Des Forge, whose book was the first comprehensive account on the genocide. Before her death, Kagame had already declared her persona non grata–and she was never allowed to visit again. Her only crime was to criticize Kagame and the RPF. Unfortunately, such is the reality of Kagame’s Rwanda, something Caplan continues to ignore.

Caplan the lone Academic

Caplan has defied the winds of change. At present, he regards himself as the one remaining and truthful defender of the Rwanda genocide’s narrative. That is why he believes it is his duty to counter the “foreign groupies” who authored “Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights after Mass Violence”. Caplan considers the more than two dozen academics to be “blinded to their own biases“. Another individual he considers blinded is the French academic, and expert on Rwanda, Gerald Prunier. Since Prunier is not one of the contributors of the volume, one wonders why Caplan deemed it fitting to attack him in this essay. Grudgingly, he accuses Prunier and the “disaffected diaspora Rwandans“of openly promot[ing] the bloody overthrow of the Kagame regime. For an academic of his repute, it is rather disheartening that no single citation is given to back what are otherwise serious allegation.

To be fair, Caplan’s concern for genocide denialism exceptionally stands out. In the past, he has zealously confronted those he suspected of being sympathizers of negationism. After the publishing of Edward S. Herman and David Peterson’s book The Politics of Genocide, Caplan was the most vocal among those who scorned the book. He accused the two academics, and other genocide deniers of “gleefully drink[ing] each other’s putrid water”. Moreover, in the same commentary, he adviced them (the deniers) to start reading and quoting the genuine authorities on the Rwanda genocide. Among the long list of names he gives are: Scott Straus, and Catherine Newburry, who are among the contributors of this volume. What has changed? One is tempted to ask.

It is important to mention that even in his criticism of Herman-Peterson he has failed to mount a formidable challenge. Herman-Peterson argue that the conventional narrative of the Rwandan genocide has turned the victims and the perpetrators upside down. They claim that Paul Kagame is responsible for genocide having started a war of aggression, assassinated two sitting heads of state and killed many Hutus both inside Rwanda and in the DRC. I believe there is evidence to support at least two of the claims.

As I have argued previously, Kagame is the most obvious culprit in the murder of the former president. To judge whether the 1990 invasion of the RPF was legal or not would largely depend on the extent to which Uganda aided them. So far, few accounts of Rwanda genocide have expressed a keen interest in this question. Regardless of whether the invasion was necessary or not, it is important, I believe, to consider asking the questions previously poised by Rene Lemarchand whom Caplan identifies as the “doyen of the historians of Rwanda and Burundi. The questions are, “Would the genocide have happened without the RPF invasion?” And also, “would the genocide have occurred had the 1994 assassination of Habyarimana not occurred”. Lastly, while Herman-Peterson have the right to contest the official narrative, they are wrong if they deny that the genocide against Tutsi did not occur.

It is my opinion that crowing the Rwandan genocide story with misinformation and lies only helps to further undermine the genocide itself. There is enough evidence from witnesses (here Scott Straus’ contribution is invaluable) that the genocide against Tutsi was well coordinated from top-down. However, this does not absolve the RPF of its own responsibility. Neither does it imply that everything the RPF says should be taken in at face value. There is no contradiction here, if there is evidence, one can believe that the 1994 genocide against Tutsi happened and still condemn the RPF for their role in it. Similarly, and as evidence seems to show, the RPF might have ended the genocide against Tutsi (in Rwanda), but gone ahead to perpetrate another one against Hutu (in the DRC).

Unfortunately, sometimes it appears as if Caplan is no longer interested in the question of the Rwanda genocide. Of Course this is quite puzzling if considered that Caplan was among the pioneer academics who wrestled with this question. In 2000, he was commissioned by the African Union to investigate the Rwanda genocide. The results were an impressive, lengthy document which he title, “Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide”. The document is important because it gives a comprehensive discussion of the genocide while exploring the failures of the international community as well. However, the 293 paged documents falls short on at least two important counts. (1) it does not handle the question of Habyarimana’s assassination, (2) it discuss the atrocities committed by the RPF troops both in Rwanda and in the DRC. In other words, it does not deviate from the officially rubber-stamped narrative.

Seen this way, Caplan’s function sometimes appears to have been reduced to that of a Spanish inquisitor, relentlessly trying to defend the canonized truth. But how can we claim to have perfect knowledge of a genocide, which occurred less than two decades ago and whose perpetrators are still being tried? I suspect that such a strategy, which obviously supports the Status Quo, is meant to stifle dialogue and conversation on the tragic events that have wrecked our country. The laws against genocide ideology and denialism, heavily criticized by rights groups, are nothing but an affront on intellectual freedom and a naive desire to control history. In this context, the words of US editor Charles A. Dana are particularly useful: “Fight for your opinions, but do not believe that they contain the whole truth or the only truth”. It is laughable that some people would claim to have a monopoly on how history should be understood.

17 years later, what is the truth?

In his scathing critique of Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights after Mass Violence, Caplan asks “what is the truth?” However, a more objective question would have been “what are the facts?” If the question is posed this way, Caplan’s essay might begin to make much more sense. Both the authors and Caplan essentially agree on a few facts. They contend that Rwanda’s human rights situation has failed to improve, and that the regime is not significantly different from the previous one. In the words of Aloys Habimana the African director of Human Rights Watch, the “the dancing is still the same even though the stage has undergone a switch of dancers” (354).

The only sections of the book that might qualify for a serious diversion from RPF’s dogma are the contributions of Filip Reyntjens, “Waging (civil) war abroad” and “Bad Karma: Accountability for Rwanda Crimes in the Congo” co-authored by Jason Stearns and Federico Borello. Specifically, the three allege that the Rwandan army committed possible genocide against members of the Hutu ethnic group in the DRC. Surprisingly, Caplan a devoted scholar of genocide ignores this monumental allegation in his entire critique of the book. His reasons, though unstated are not so difficult to see. If Kagame is accused of genocide by such organizations as the United Nations, then defending him against those who criticize his poor human rights record might be futile. Hence, it is easier to ignore the charges all together and this is exactly what Caplan opts to do.

Caplan’s other point of contention is that the authors of the volume have failed to appreciate the complexities of Rwanda. Perhaps they could have done so, he argues, had they invited more Rwandan scholarsr rather than relying on Mzungu. There is some fairness in this critique. Rwanda’s story is often overwhelming told by westerners and Rwandans are rarely accorded the opportunity to weigh in. However, even allowing Rwandan to articulate their story does not seem capable of appeasing him.

Two of the contributors, Aloys Habimana and Sebarenzi Joseph are Tutsi survivors and human rights activists. Yet, Caplan thinks it is enough to dismiss them at whim for their alleged “passionate hostility to the RPF government”. The only substantive critique of the two authors, Caplan offers, is fitted into a singular paragraph in which he attacks Sebarenzi for his alleged support of Victoire Ingabire’s cause. In particular, he is outraged at Sebarenzi for suggesting that Ingabire represented “constructive opposition”. Perhaps Caplan is not ready to seeing Hutus and Tutsi uniting for democratic reform, but many of us believe that this is where the future of Rwanda lies.

Democracy vs. Economic growth

Caplans biggest disagreement with the authors of Remaking Rwanda is that they failed to acknowledge the achievements of the Rwandan government. He draws a list of the accomplishments that begins to sound like a platform for the dictatorship’s re-election campaign. It may well be true that Kagame has provided clean water and decent roads, but is that enough to justify political oppression, murder and disappearances? Since he is writing at a time when despots who enthusiastically swam in this kind of political logic are being dislodged by their citizens, one might have expected that Caplan would have thought twice.

Take the example of Libya before the fall of Muammar Gadaffi. The regime provided services earning impressive awards that would make Kagame salivate with jealousy. His country ranked an impressive 53rd on the Human Development Index and 70th on the quality of life. The regime had zero external debt. Moreover, electricity, education and health care was provided free of charge to all citizens—among a long list of other benefits. Of course there are many differences between Libya and Rwanda, but the point here is that economic development should not be used as a justification for political oppression.

Does Kagame have the right to muzzle the press?

On media the struggle for media freedom in Rwanda, Caplan noted that: “Freeing the Rwandan press in the early 1990s by then-President Habyarimana led directly to the emergence of flagrantly anti-Tutsi hate media, which played a central role in the subsequent genocide. No one in government forgets this, nor should they be expected to.” If this is true, it is partly due to the immense pressure from the RPF at the time demanding free speech. In any case, it is not free media that is responsible for fanning hate. On the other hand, there was never free media in Rwanda–not even during Habyarimana’s days. The media was always attached to partisan interests—mostly close to the ruling party. Unfortunately, in this regard, not much has changed in Rwanda in today. Newspapers that write non-RPF sanctioned stories are continuously being ejected.

The media reforms that Caplan boasts about, would be welcome if they were real. In the past, the government has announced ambitious reforms, but in practice little has changed. At the moment, there is a serious media crisis in Rwanda as all the independent media is virtually absent and their journalists are either dead, in exile or imprisoned. If the government wants their reform-packed rhetoric to be taken seriously, a good way to start would be to release journalists currently serving sentences due to illegal sentences.

Outside the rhetoric meant to appease donors; however, the government shows no sign of relenting. In June 2010, journalist Jean Leonard Rugambage was gunned down as he drove to his Kigali compound. In May 2011, Jean Bosco Gasasira the editor of Umuvugizi was sentenced to two years. His paper was banned and an imitation of it was started by government intelligence agents. The situation is alarming, but the likes of Caplan having little to lose, ignore our plight. How different are they from the Belgian troops that abandoned helpless Tutsis at the verge of their deaths? This is a question for them to answer.

One such media reform hoax was the 2005 establishment of the Media High Council to serve as a self-regulatory organ. Unfortunately, the council has become a cozy bed for Kagame’s allies, who use the platform to terrorize independent journalists into conforming. Upon realizing the scam that it was, and due to mounting pressure from her parliament, Britain decided to halt funding. It later turned out that Rwandan authorities had been using this organ as a tool to further political repression. There is no reason to believe that this is no longer the case.

Finally, the reforms would mean nothing if the constitution—the highest law in the land, continues to deny people their reasonable right to free speech. A report by Amnesty International titled, “Safer to Stay Silent: The Chilling Effect of Rwanda’s Law on “Genocide Ideology” and “Sectarianism” released last year brings to light this struggle. Of particular concern, is the vague definition of genocide ideology in a manner that “constitutes an impermissible restriction on freedom of expression under international law”. It appears that this law can be used to punish even children as young as 12 years old.

When the above draconian laws are supplemented with the regular ingando (“indoctrination”), they fulfill the function of instilling fear into the general population with the sole agenda of controlling discourse. Here, it is worth noting that after Victoire Ingabire called for the prosecution of RPF officers suspected of having participated in massacres, she was immediately charged under the genocide ideology law. When a citizen cannot complain about the wrongs of his/her state, you they are living under a crazy dictatorship.

Gay and Women Rights in Rwanda.

The insinuation that gay people have rights in Rwanda is, at best, a creative work of pure fiction. Granted, Caplan is right to suggest that a proposed amendment to criminalize people who “encourage or sensitize people to same-sex sexual relations or practice” were never considered. However, there is no explicitly clause that safeguards gay rights. In reality, gay people face discrimination on a daily basis from a society that is less accepting. Anti gay sentiments are rife in religious circles and policemen have arrested individuals for being gay (OHCHR). Instead of painting a rosy picture that is nonexistent, Caplan would have done better—urged the government to consider making the necessary reforms for our gay brothers and sisters.

Throughout history, some of the most heinous regimes in this world have scored great achievements in transforming their societies. It is true that there have been improvements in the situation of women in Rwanda; however, their access to political power has largely been misunderstood. Indeed, in a nation where political competition is severely curtailed, claiming that women have the highest representation in parliament has little or no meaning. In Rwanda, women can only be powerful in as much as they accept to be used as political tools by the ruling regime.

If they are the majority in parliament, it is not due to popular mandate, but it is due to their devotion to the ruling party or their being selected as a party ornament. Such an arrangement might help win Kagame international awards, but it does not help the cause of democratic reform in Rwanda. Neither does it satisfy the feminist conceptualization of a fully, independent and powerful woman. In fact, these women are (sadly) used as tool by the ruling elites to hoodwink the international community in favor of an anti-reformist agenda. The manipulation goes this way, “we have the highest number of women in parliament, why should anyone lecture us on democracy?”

Lastly, power in Rwanda is highly concentrated in a few hands, most of them ethnically Tutsi and with close ties to the military. Furthermore, women are lowly represented within the army structures. This is a concern that vibrates even among diplomats in the capital. As such, unlike in democratic countries, parliament in Rwanda lacks any actual powers. It can as well be said to be a branch of the executive.

Conclusion

The process of democratic reform is unstoppable human quest. Though some people may choose to ignore it, the suffering and oppression is too apparent. Even more, the so called “economic transformation” will not weaken our resolve for freedom. It is just is just a question of time, we believe. In the meantime, the international community better be on the right side of history. For, to borrow the words of Samora Machel, “A luta Continua!”

Source: http://newsrwanda-nkunda.blogspot.com/