Why Does Everyone Want A Piece of Rwanda?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So What Is This About?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…over to you people.

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!

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…

Big Spending Rwanda Imports, Exports and Re-Imports Executive Jets While on Aid Drip

It seems like a story that wont just go away. Impoverished Rwanda may have splurged on two expensive jets as a means to cut the cost of transporting President Paul Kagame to and from his numerous trips around the world but as Rwandese and indeed the world grapples with the news of how big a hole the jets drilled and continue to drill in the state treasury, news that one of the jets – Global Express ZS-ESA – was exported and then re-imported into South Africa adds a few questions to an already swollen questionnaire.

Details on a South African Civil Aviation Authority document show that on January 6, 2011, Repli Investment No 29 (PTY) Ltd, the South African registered company (co owned by Paul Nyirubutama, Paul Manasseh Nshuti and Sekoko Hatari) and to which ownership of the controversial jets has since been attributed, exported the Bombardier Aerospace BD700-1A10, only to re-import it 20 days later. Such obviously would seem to have been a very costly exercise given that it will have attracted duties from the revenue office as well as value added tax.

Efforts to try and get the details from the South Africa Revenue office were unsuccessful although they did return one email saying “they do not discuss individual transactions”. Whatever the case, the amount will have been sizeable given that South Africa charges an average of 20% as duty with VAT at 14%.

Rwanda and indeed Repli refuses to confirm how much was exactly paid for each of the two executive jets although estimates going by the market rate have put the cost of each at approximately $50 million. It would appear that up to $14 million worth of VAT alone might have been paid on one jet when it was exported and then re-imported.

A source in Kigali confirmed that indeed there had been a re-importation because “first somehow, someone believed that the delivered jet was not up to the agreed standard but also because there was a disagreement as to its interior design. A bit bizzare for a jet to be returned at such an expense but as this very source added, “the trouble was that there was a certain standard was needed and there was obviously someone who wasn’t particularly happy with the delivery. Plus remember these were jets which meant not only to transport the head of state but some notable VVIPs. Those incharge wanted the best value for the money”.

Value for the money indeed. And who can fault them. Considering that most private jets cost between $6 – 50 million, at 50, the Bombardier is among the best there is. If only the payment had not been drawn from state coffers. In a March 7, 2010 letter to the South African Times, Jean Paul Nyirubutama, the Counsellor in the High Commission of Rwanda, denied the jets were owned by the Rwandan government (or indeed President Kagame as many believe). Nyirubutama insisted “investments towards the ownership of the aircraft were made by private Rwandan interests and not by the government”. Very questionable indeed if you consider that three of the assumed owners had until then remained unknown businessmen in Rwanda. A friend of mine laughed one time when I told him that a group of three Rwandan businessmen were behind the purchase of the jets.

Apart from Sekoko Hatari, the other two have been and remain public servants. Many remember them as having and still being not as established to secure millions of dollars to purchase the executive jets “and that is even if it involved obtaining a loan,” one source added. “Tell me where would a man like Nshuti get the collateral to stake for any bank to give him or his business partners over 5 million dollars leave alone 100 million. I will not be fooled into believing this hogwash. It is a lie and the real owner must be having a laugh as these pawns take the heat. It is crazy, it is crazy Akanga.”

And you do not have to go far to see some sense in what this source was trying to say. Conducting big time business in Rwanda is as easy as conducting business in Italy. But whereas in the latter you have to have the blessing of Silvio, in the former, you must be willing to sacrifice for Kagame. It is that simple.

Many have been in this position before. Those who have successfully conducted big business in Kigali are the ones who have allowed the ruling party (read RPF under Tristar) to be part of their businesses. Either that or there is no business. Of course the government insists there is more to doing business in Rwanda than just knowing the right people – or being close to the main man – and in fact Rwanda has on two occasions posted some good scores with the World Bank business index for the favourable place to invest (thanks to the extensive PR courtesy of Racepoint et al). It has been projected and sold as the place where it takes less time to start up a business than it takes to secure a meeting with a high ranking minister.

What those details never tell you though is that in reality the opposite is true. Rwanda is also a place where it takes probably the exact same time to have your business crippled or plan squeezed. Local entrepreneurs will attest to this. Ask any government official why there still is only one  television station in the country 17 years after the genocide. The answer is a typical one – “remember the role of the media in our history?”. They will never tell you that on three occasions the government has been approached by sane investors (clearly different from the crazy Hasan Ngezes of yesteryear) and on three occasions the truth has been that the demands in terms of shares to the ruling party have been astronomically anti-business leave alone media independence.

But before I meander into the beatitudes of the incredible business climate that is Rwanda, I wonder if any of the many defenders of the regime in Kigali will at least come clean here once and for all on how much the two jets are costing us as a nation and whether there is a system in place to ensure that whatever was spent to satisfy the demands of our dear head of state. Some will say there is need for concern given that even with the jets story and furore it caused last year, monsieur PK has a year later chosen again to spend like a Saudi Prince, and again from our coffers, spending an imperious $20,000 a nigh suite in one of New York’s finest hotels. Will someone at least remind him that some of his people are struggling to raise enough for the brilliant Mituele, or even buy uniforms for their sons and daughters to attend his much publicised UPE schools, deep down in the village.

When Paul Kagame took it to Twitter

President Paul Kagame has a way of inspiring himself and those who work for him. He is cunning, can be inspirational, forceful, confrontational and sometimes, has appeared slightly “deluded”.

But you have to give credit to a man who feels so passionate about his country that he is willing to take on any critic of his on the ground, at home, away from home and in the air (read cyber space). That President Kagame chose to take on Ian Birrell on Twitter is only surprising if you know nothing about Rwanda’s strong man. Kagame famously in 2006 said that he was not ready for any lessons from Westerners who he accuses of looking on as Rwanda was going up in flames in 1994. Argument: you must have helped Rwanda during the genocide to criticize him…really?

As someone who fought the genocidaire, won the war and therefore helped stop the genocide (at least according to his account), Kagame feels that his figure should tower (literally) above everyone else’s when it comes to Rwandan issues. “No one has the moral right to judge me,” he keeps repeating. President Kagame breathes Rwanda, believes in Rwanda and feels Rwanda. Typical patriot, you may say but is he?

Sometime last year, I wrote here about the self made Lord of Rwanda that PK has sought to become. Those who know him wanted to believe me (not that I was really intending to have anyone believe me) but his henchmen were up in arms against me, writing and sending me all sorts of emails and comments, some worth the dustbin. The vitriol and abuse I got from Kigali was overwhelming – sometimes, incredible. Why you may ask? Paul Kagame has made himself, or forced those under him to make him the father figure of modern Rwanda (somehow he may be depending on which sources you read). But in doing so, he has been left to assume that everything Rwandese rotates around him, and this is his problem.

When anyone (read critic) questions what is going on in Rwanda, say for instance why there is no free speech, no political space or why human rights organisations are being prevented from freely doing their work, PK and his supporters take this to be a direct attack on the president. They forget that such questions, especially like the ones about freedom of speech, political space and other freedoms are policy questions. Now, while PK is head of state, he is not the sole maker of policy in Rwanda. Policy in the country is or ought to be a result of decisions by policy makers in the country who must or should include parliamentarians, heads of government institutions, ministers and where applicable, some members of the civil society. Any question about government policy should therefore be a direct hit at those who made the policy not the president himself.

But PK being the self effacer and control obsessed manager that he is, he always takes this to be a direct question aimed at his manner and nature of rule. Instead of arguing that this is government policy aimed at say for instance ensuring that the country does not revert to the olden days of hatred, ethnicity and or sectarianism, he starts blabbing about how no one has the right to judge him!

In the twitter exchange with Ian Birrell, President Kagame was asked why he feels “no media, human rights group or even the UN has the right to criticize him”. While he did not directly answer the question, his response was clear. Kagame feels that these organisations have got their own “serious flows”. He did not elaborate as to which flows he was talking about – at least from the transcript on Birrell’s blog. Granted, Birrell was somehow too confrontational and slightly harsh by referring to Kagame as deluded, but if PK felt the need to continue their discussion on Twitter, he should have besides pointing out Birell’s abusive use of words, gone ahead to clearly explain why he feels no one has the moral right to criticize him.

He did not. He instead, and I am assuming here, called Rwanda’s Minister of Information, Louise Mushikiwabo who defending her boss came in with the mother of defences.  Ian what so complicated? can critic but u hav no “moral”(key word)right: PK saved lives, built country n gave hope”, she said. According to Mushikiwabo, PK is “unbwogable” should never be questioned because he is a hero, a life saver and a giver of hope.

You begin to see the reason why PK behaves the way he does. He has been made to believe that he is Rwanda’s saviour, Stephen Kinser even referred to him as the Man Who Dreamed Rwanda’s Rebirth.  Bill Clinton has showered him with all sorts of prizes for excellently guiding Rwanda out of the rubble to a respectable status as a nation. He continues to get as many accolades as possible from people and institutions most of them Western, who feel his position in global politics has been elevated, and thus wish to be part of the story. Tony Blair has been making endless runs into and out of Kigali as special adviser to PK. It is things like these that have made the man “unbwogable”. It is writers like Kinser that have made the man feel like he is a demi-god, well above everyone and particularly insulated from criticism.

If you are a journalist and you happen to be critical of his style of leadership or even question his government’s policy on selected aspects, you are immediately branded anti-Rwanda (a traitor if you are Rwandese). If you are a researcher and you choose to say what the government feels is wrong (irrespective of whether you previously have said good things about the leadership), you immediately become an enemy, someone who can not be trusted and thus must leave. This way Rwanda has managed to control what goes into the public domain, been able to preserve a smooth and clear public image which projects it as an efficiently well managed nation – the panacea for more foreign aid. It works, has worked for PK and whether we want it or not, he will still enjoy this father figure for some years to come. Question though is, is this productive as far as Rwandese are concerned?

PK will argue that the Rwandese came out in large numbers last year in August to show their unrelenting support for his rule. That as long as the Rwandese are happy, he does not care. And why should he really? Why should he bother about a group of people asking him to be reasonable or not to be deluded if the Rwandese (the people who elected him) are happy with what he is offering? To answer this, you need to know exactly what these Rwandese in question truly think of their president. Unfortunately, with free speech non existent, without an independent media, a functional civil society and the ever looming divisionism and genocide ideology laws, this question will never be answered. And as we wait for that time, Paul Kagame will continue to make claims, claims that may be true but which are not about to be put to test. As we thank Ian Birell for getting us into the mind of PK (for those who didn’t know) we should perhaps say bravo to Mr. President, for coming clean and telling the world who he actually is.

Over to you my little monsters!…

The UN Mapping Report, What Next?

With details having been leaked to members of the press and the public, it was clear that no amount of sabotage, pressure or blackmail from anyone would hold back the publication of what has turned out to be the most incriminating report ever, about the activities inside DR Congo, of the many foreign forces who occupied that country from 1997-2003.

But as innocent Congolese tried to come to terms with revelations on the international scene, of what they had previously known for so many years and tried to explain albeit with no success, politicians and state propagandists set out to find ways of toning down the words used. It should be noted that while there has been talk of efforts by the leading suspects in the crimes mentioned in the report, this was never about proving genocide. The UN, following years of suffering meted on Congolese people by marauding foreign armies and local militias thought it important to investigate what many had reported as deteriorating human rights abuses in that part of Congo, a spell dating back to the days when foreign armies entered the country.

So I will not go into arguments of whether the report has been successful in exposing the fact that there was genocide in Congo, who committed it, who the victims were or whether those responsible should be brought to book. The report is clear on these four aspects. For purposes of continuity and justice to those who lost lives or loved ones in the said atrocities (or war if you may) it is important that we dwell on what next, after this.

That the report was leaked to the press and later to members of the public before its publication has its own interesting bits. Speaking to a high profile source in the Rwandan government last week, he told me and I quote “I must say that to us, it is even better the report was leaked. I am not sure if any government whose forces are mentioned in this report, would have felt comfortable finding answers to the press the morning after the report’s publication. It would have been a nightmare”.

To this official the leaking of the report gave the accused governments enough time to plan a rebuttal. The scare mongering and professed threats that we saw from countries like Rwanda and Uganda for instance (threatening to withdraw forces from UN peace keeping missions) was devised as a means of giving the “offenders” room to think about what to say “and if possible to try and through friends in the UN, reach a compromising decision on how to phrase some of the contentious phrases in the report”.

At the end of the day, when the report finally got published on October 1, the damning accusation of a possible genocide committed against Hutus by the Rwandan forces as highly linked to in the draft report, was rather given a very soft dimension and the Rwandan army was not singled out but instead the report chose to use the word “foreign forces”.

Accordingly, it is now up to the DRC to try and seek prosecutions for those implicated if it feels and wants to. And this is where I take issue with international justice. Here, you have innocent civilians (including the young, sickly and elderly) being systematically murdered by the so called “foreign forces” in what can be argued as a deliberate attempt to finish them off, and all you get is a “you can go ahead and press charges if you want” sort of thing.

It gets irritating when you consider that the DRC is led by a gentleman who many know has no underlying intention to upset those who have helped him become who he is, by accusing their armies of the most heinous crime known to mankind. And the other option? Reparations, yes you read that right, reparations?

Did these foreign forces not go into Congo partly to carry out their mission (which is a subject of this report) and to loot? Reparations would be alright if they were what the innocent Congolese who lost their family members and loved ones needed. These people need no reparations; they are more interested in justice, an end to the savagery and the unending many wars that have ravaged their livelihoods. They want to be able to return to their homes, live in peace and be able to go about their daily lives without worrying about unexplained deaths of their sons and daughters or the rape of their wives and children.

The idea of reparations would be not very bad if it did not spell more misery for the Congolese. A country like Rwanda for example whose budget is part sponsored through foreign aid can not, in anyway, get the amount DRC will need to settle the atrocities committed by its (Rwanda’s) army in Eastern Congo. So what would that mean? It means if DRC insisted on reparations, Rwanda would instead find some other reason to go back into Congo, take control of the mineral rich parts of Katanga region, loot as much, sell that (assuming the US and Europe buys it without asking where it came from) to be able to raise enough to settle the reparations bill. We are talking of a good 5 more years of more misery. And who wants this? Certainly not the Congolese people, they have had enough.

There is a clear line between illegal and legal. It is clear that whatever the motive (intent) foreign forces (or Ugandan and Rwandan forces) committed crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes which ought to be punished for. The culprits are well known, these forces were not commanded by some supernatural object, but officers and men who may or may not still be serving in the said armies. For the sake of lasting peace, the world ought besides calling on the DRC to prosecute, insist that if President Joseph Kabila’s government keeps dithering about justice, the international community through and internationally recognised court, should take over the case.

The people of Congo and the innocent Rwandan who had sought refuge in that country deserve to be treated humanely and accorded all the rights that we humans have come to enjoy as per the universal declaration of human rights. Impunity bleeds conflict and a sense of betrayal; it should and must be fought.

…now over to you my little monsters