Why M23 wont be leaving Goma soon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Goma?

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

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

Withdraw or Advance?

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

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

Over to you…


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…

Did Paul Kagame Kill President Habyarimana?

As has always been the case, October 1, 2011 was meant to be just another day on Rwanda’s official calendar. The day meant to commemorate that audacious attempt when up to 50 gallant soldiers who in 1990, from bases in Uganda, attacked Rwanda, to try and get back to their motherland – a country most had hastily been forced to leave at a very young age or never been to.

But as Kigali prepared to let the day pass with as less pomp as has been the case over the years (notice that under the current regime October 1, has been celebrated with less ado), Theogene Rudasingwa, – a former Chief of Staff to President Paul Kagame, dropped a bombshell. In a statement released on his Facebook page, Rudasingwa (who it must be remembered is a former Rwandan ambassador to the United States) claimed that President Kagame not only is responsible for the death of Juvenal Habyarimana as he (Kagame) was the overall operations commander of the RPA at the time of the former president’s death, but that he (Kagame), “told me that he was responsible for shooting down the plane” – the plane in question here being the Falcon 50 jet (Reg No 9XR-NN) belonging to the Government of Rwanda and in which Presidents; Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi were travelling.

A powerful and indeed extra-ordinary revelation if you ask me. But before we go any further, let’s try to make sense of this claim.

When news about the claim started pouring out all over the internet, I tried contacting a few big shots I know in Rwanda to see if they would speak to me over this. Some did respond in an angry manner telling me to mind my own business and forget Rwanda. Others were dismissive of the news but one of them stood out. I will not say who but I can confirm he is a very senior official.  He did mention something which made me realise that I still have so much to learn about the dealings in Rwanda.

(Mr.) “Rudasingwa”, my source said “should not be taken serious because he is another deluded fool who like most of you and your ilk suffers from political excitement, excessive amnesia or perhaps the lack of it. You lot can continue to yap and yap but the truth remains that in Rwanda, we continue to match on. If indeed he was told by the president how about you ask him why it has taken him all this time to bring this out? And trust me he won’t have any answers to this. He is just someone who for reasons only known to him, and in part due to his greed, corruption and dishonesty fell out with the regime, and will now do anything to bring down what Rwandese have laboured to build, for years”.

I know most of this was a very hushed reaction to a statement that will and must be rubbing Kigali the wrong way but we cannot deny the fact that therein lies some good question – and until its answer has been found, Mr. Rudasingwa’s claim shall remain questionable. Yes, I say questionable but let’s not forget that questionable does not necessarily mean incorrect.

There are perhaps so many questions that Mr. Rudasingwa’s revelation will raise but one does stand out: Why now? The story of who actually downed the Falcon 50 and by so doing ended the lives of two presidents, and all on board including three French nationals has been running for over 17 years now. It has become part of Rwanda’s history although under the present circumstances, few will be learning about it in school (refer to the suspension of the teaching of Rwandan history in Rwandan schools). When Abdul Ruzibiza, first claimed to be privy to the actual shooting down of the said plane, Kigali reacted furiously. This was in 2006 and Mr. Rudasingwa was well in a position where he could, as he has now, added his voice to the hoarse groans of Ruzibiza. Imagine the reaction this would have received then? Imagine the amount of legitimacy this would have given the Ruzibiza testimony had a former Rwandan Ambassador to the US, and Secretary General of the RPF come out in support of the then less known former army Captain?

If we are to assume that Mr. Rudasingwa is right and that indeed President Kagame did confide to him that he (Kagame) had ordered the shooting down of the Falcon 5o, what happens next? What happens to the “details and facts” as gathered on the subject in the famous Mucyo Commission which after about 18 months of deliberation, research and inquiries, “established” that the idea of bringing down the plane “was the work of Hutu extremists who calculated that killing their own leader would torpedo a power‐sharing agreement known as the Arusha Accords?”

What happens to the French and Spanish indictments on members of the RPF and RDF which were partly based on Ruzibiza’s testimony? What happens to the new and revisited friendship between Rwanda and France who having severed relations over the indictments have since claimed to have buried the hatchet and agreed to work together “normally”?

And why did Mr. Rudasingwa choose to release his statement on a day which as a former comrade in the Rwandan army and by all accounts a historical, meant to commemorate the first attempt by Rwandan refugees and exiles to go back to their motherland? Is he so gullible not to have realised what attention this was bound to cause?

And what of Kigali? Usually, they come up in arms against any statement, news story or sound bite that is critical or contrary to the idea of praising the country’s achievements over the years. This time however, some four days after the sensational claim, we are yet to hear even a word from Kigali. Could the silence be a result of having had enough or is it a sign of admission knowing who Mr. Rudasingwa is or has previously been? Is it that they feel Mr. Rudasingwa has become so unbelievable that few will take notice of what he has to say? Or are they having been startled by the bombshell, planning a more measured rebuttal? Could it be that their main men at Racepoint are on holiday and thus until one reports to duty, Kigali has chosen to stay silent? Or is it a case of self censorship as has become the norm in Rwandan media?

If it turns out that what took the Mucyo Commission 18 months and about 166 witnesses to establish could have been unearthed by a single phone call or email to one of Rwanda’s former Ambassador, does the government get to pay the tax payer back for having “wasted” state resources and money on an inquiry whose results might have been got rather cheaply with the right people being questioned?

It remains to be seen why Mr. Rudasingwa chose Facebook to announce what clearly remains an astonishing revelation if indeed it is true. Rwanda is an oral society. In Rwanda the word of mouth is what matters. There is every possibility that what remains in terms of proof that President Kagame did indeed confess to having ordered the shooting down of the Falcon 50 is just Rudasingwa’s word. While this is hardly any hard evidence will most likely be inadmissible in most court rooms (especially international tribunals where if anything the case against Kagame might go) it does leave the suggestion – and based on how Rwandan courts or public inquiries conduct their business – that Kagame might at some point in the future be brought to book in Rwanda. What happens then if as a former head of state he is found to have been responsible for the downing of the plane? Remember as an oral society, the inquiry, or trial if any will just like the Mucyo Commission have to be based on witness testimonies most of whom will be saying such things as “I was told”, “I saw”.

Remember too that there are people who claim that it was the shooting down of the plane which caused the genocide (Kigali calls these negationists or where it suits, genocide deniers). I call them liars. Whereas an argument can be made that the shooting down of the plane did spark the genocide just like the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand is said to have sparked World War I, in my opinion, one loses the plot by claiming that without the downing of the plane, the genocide would never have happened. No. From my discussions with a few Rwandans (depending on how extreme or pro a given ethnicity those you speak to may be) I have come to realise that the role of the plane in the Rwandan story remains very contentious and a point of departure to some as far as our country’s history is concerned.

This is why whoever has something to say about the plane, who shot the plane and what the plane shooting led to must do so with caution and most importantly with facts based on tangible evidence. I wrote some months ago about the Habyalimana death which continues to haunt Rwanda. I argued then that it is crucial that the truth is established once and for all. The truth regarding the events leading to the shooting down of the plane. When the Mucyo Commission report was published in August 2008, some in Rwanda hoped and believed that the report findings would put to rest what clearly has been a protracted saga/story. It didn’t. And part of the reason it did not is because it is only believable depending on which side of the story one wants to be. Given that Rwandans are people who over the years have decided to be on select sides while acknowledging in public that we are on the same side, this is and was never surprising.

This is why I think and believe that Mr. Rudasingwa, if anything must substantiate his claims. He must be willing to present himself to a credible judge, at a credible court and give his statement under oath – if he duly and clearly believes it. Then let justice follow its course. As it stands, his is another of those extra ordinary claims that we have come to regard as part of the Rwandan story. These days, it is even difficult to know which is which. Lt. Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa and Col. Patrick Karegeya escape and flee for dear life and the next thing we hear is that Kayumba used to be a thief who stole soldiers money and tractor spare parts, that Karegeya was untrustworthy and made a deal with Felicien Kabuga (Rwanda’s most wanted fugitive). Really? And we are told these by some leading public officials within the establishment in Kigali. Are we really to believe that Gen. Kayumba stole tractor spare parts and fertilizers? That Col Karegeya (under whose watch Rwanda had the best intelligence system in Africa) was a deceitful man – and that their (Karegeya and Kayumba’s ) story came to light after they had fled the current regime? My source did ask to ask Rudasingwa why he decided to come out this late. I probably should ask him why his government’s spin masters, only decided to come out on Col. Karegeya and Gen. Kayumba and by the way Maj. Rudasingwa, after the two had long left Kigali?

For those who have previously read Animal Farm, you will recall that at the end of the day, long after the animals had taken over the stewardship of Manor Farm from MAN, most could not believe the tyranny of some PIGS. They looked from pig to man, from man to pig and from pig to man again – it was impossible to tell which was which. There will be some Rwandans and peace loving people out there today who quite frankly must too be looking and looking and until some of the questions I raise above have been answered, they will continue to find it impossible to tell which is which.

Over to you my little monsters…

Hands Off Please, President Kagame is a Magnate

I live in London, in a modest one bedroom flat. Each month, I painfully transfer £620.75p to my landlord so he can let me stay. I have never stopped telling myself that this is a lot of money. A lot indeed considering that for the same amount, I could get a five bedroom detached and gated house, with a big garden, a swimming pool and a tennis court in one of the plush neighbourhoods back home. The good news is that I am paying this from my own account.

For now, I will whine and whinge but I must continue to work my socks off if I am to remain resident in my present address. I am also energized by the belief that as a student, life will get easier once I am done with my studies. Then, I so hope, to start earning more, and possibly buy myself a house.

But why all this rent and bills nonsense? You see as a Rwandan student who has been struggling all year around with my tuition, accommodation and food, I was shocked to learn that just this week my president travelled to the US for a UN meeting and spent £12,000 a night on a hotel room. It might have begun as a rumour but the thought of a man who in August 2010 was voted into power by an electorate 60 percent of which according to UNDP live in poverty (and 42 percent in absolute poverty) splashing out on luxury while on a foreign mission is yet to sink in.

When news first broke that President Kagame ( who many still praise for using aid money so effectively and being a down to earth head of state) was living in an expensive presidential suite at the luxurious Mandarin Oriental, those with a highly bent inclination to the regime in Kigali rejected the news as “utter tabloid gossip”. I remained sceptical but was never surprised. With African heads of state, anything is possible and one should never rule out anything unless they are absolutely sure.

Now that the hitherto rumour has been confirmed to be indeed the truth, I await the Rwandan government explanation as to the reasons behind this reckless expenditure. Four times I have tried to get in touch with those in the know in Kigali and no one wants to speak. Not even my most trusted source. An email to an old trusted general yesterday over the matter elicited a response akin to the kind you would expect from a chicken thief who’s been caught red handed drinking from the neighbour’s alcohol pot. “Hands off please”.

The news that the president of a begging state managed to sleep in a hotel which even the British PM (even though the UK might have afforded) thought expensive, will continue to astonish the world but as we await an inquiry into the Mandarin Oriental spree (accountability) questions must be asked as to whether our leaders are worth what they claim to stand for.

There is more to President Kagame than just the tough talking strict disciplinarian he has been portrayed as. While his peers in East Africa were being ostracised for spending fortunes on extravagant presidential motorcades and SUVs, Kagame’s admirers pointed to his well managed small convoy (usually consisting of his car, two land cruisers carrying his body guards and a third vehicle clearing traffic). However, the same man who on the face of it appears to be modest and down to earth, not so interested in a pomp lifestyle akin to most heads of states in Africa, was discovered to have spent more than 100 million dollars purchasing two executive jets – which he continues to use to ferry him for all his trips to and from Europe and the Americas.

No one denies the fact that presidents must and ought to be protected. In the case of Rwanda where the position of the president reigns supreme, and given the country’s history, one might understand the need to ensure that the head of state stays safe and well. And if the protection can be only achieved through hiring and residing in a safe hotel, then so be it. But such protection must be within a certain context, reasonable and some will say, necessary. If President Kagame had for example been visiting Kabul or Mogadishu where as we know security concerns are high one might understand the need to hire or reside at an expensive hotel. But this was the US. Many will say, one of the safest countries in the world. American authorities including the FBI and CIA will have known in advance that dignitaries from all over the world were coming to stay so you can rest assured their security was granted.

It will have been safe to stay in any of the good hotels around, just like some other heads of state or prime ministers did and  not necessarily the most expensive there was. A more modest hotel room of say £3000 would have done just fine. While it still would have been four months worth of my rent and enough to cater for a year’s Universal Primary Education tuition for 3000 Rwandan children, it would have been reasonable.

But does it really matter if a sitting head of state from a poor developing country decides to splash out on a trip out of his land? Should we really care that President Kagame while on a trip to the US suddenly decides to literally “sleep and eat like a queen or King”?

Some have argued that the president may have been outrageous with his hotel bill but we should not forget the fact that he was also in the US to solicit some business and investment for Rwanda. Indeed one outrageous argument was advanced just yesterday that the US trip followed the French trip from which Kagame raised close to 3o million Euros in investments and grants to Rwanda. The idea being that with all this money raised, £12,000 on a room should not be seen as a bad move. I wont say this sort of reasoning is stupid because it is.

As an offender, Kagame is entitled to a defence but this sort of defence is utterly out of order. First it negates the fact that this is not about where Kagame stayed but how much he paid to stay there and whether this was the best option possible. Secondly, it assumes that the money raised was for Kagame and therfore he had authority over it forgetting the fact that the aid advanced or grants given were forwarded to Rwanda as a State not its head of state.

I am not sure the government will want to get to the bottom of this but I wish those in charge could. If it was to turn out for example that PK footed the £12,000 – a night hotel bill from his own pocket, then like myself and my rent, he can sit down and hope for the same next time or even better if he works hard and earns more. Otherwise events in New York have only helped heap more scorn and ridicule to an exposed dancer whose moves people were already beginning to doubt. Someone had better call Racepoint. Over to you my little monsters…

Reshuffle in Rwanda: But Should We Really Care?

The announcement days ago that President Paul Kagame had sanctioned changes in the leadership of the country’s security services was received by many as good news.

Rwandese nationals across the  world and indeed other nationals who have been at the receiving end of the heavy handed former National Intelligence Security Service (NSS) chief, Col Dr. Emmanuel Ndahiro, could hardly hide their joy. Many took to internet forums and online publications to express their happiness.

To them, it must have somehow felt like justice was being served. And who can blame them. When you have been intimidated, tortured, maimed or harassed by a person as powerful as Dr. Ndahiro, any action that seeks to make him less popular can be easily confused as a remedy.

So there we had it. Maj. Gen Karenzi Karake, who last time we heard was being rounded up for misconduct, was now replacing the most powerful man in Rwanda today.

The good doctor (or Doctor Evil to some) was sent to the ministry of defence – what for? This we are yet to learn. Col. Tom Byabagamba, who previously headed the elite Presidential Guard Brigade and who not long ago was reported in local media to have fallen out with President Kagame before being sent on study leave, came back in as the chief of the newly created anti-terrorism unit. Yes, Kigali needs this unit, given the number of grenade attacks around the country in recent months!

And who else to complete a great gimmick. Col Dan Munyuza – who the online version of Umuvugizi – says he is the man whose voice is heard on the recorded telephone conversation between 3 Rwandese plotting the killing of Col. Patrick Karegeya in South Africa and “many more others”, was served as the pudding to what to me, has been a dodgy buffet of a reshuffle.

By appointing Col. Munyuza as head of foreign intelligence, the Commander in Chief was simply stating quite clearly that no matter the evidence (supposing he is proven to be the man on the phone in that telephone conversation on Umuvugizi),” the Butcher of Kigali” as some have since labelled him is still a close and trusted confidant of PK when it comes to foreign intelligence missions.

If we stop and pose for a second, it becomes clear that this was never a reshuffle as in the real meaning of the word but a change of guard. Reason I think people should not be too quick to celebrate.

Very few will have forgotten that not so long ago, the Rwandan government came on the radar of not one but two countries: (South Africa and the UK) as having sent hit squads to eliminate its perceived enemies resident in those said countries. If this was not embarrassing enough, the idea that the said missions – which were meant to be secret by the way- had not only gone wrong but also left enough clues linking them to Kigali should under normal circumstances, have warranted the arrest and questioning of those involved – or at worst, a resignation. But these are not normal circumstances, nor are we talking humanity here. People will say, hey do not be too judgemental, the case is being investigated in SA and until there is proof that these attempted killings were engineered or originated in Rwanda, the suspects remain free people. Really? Well why not, lets give them the benefit of the doubt. In a more democratic setting, such an accusation (and it is a big accusation) would have at least prompted an inquiry. It is or at least has been so damaging to the country and we can not allow a few bad apples to spoil the image of the nation. But who cares? Instead, we had a classic government denial and the dear Louise Mushikiwabo stating very clearly that the government of Rwanda does not threaten the lives of its citizens wherever they live. How I wish this was true.

Many will have thought that revelations in the numerous newspapers around the world that something strange and as sinister had been planned by the Rwandan Intelligence on citizens in foreign countries should have provided PK with enough ammunition to attack whoever was in charge. Never. In today’s Rwanda, the bespectacled Dr. is as powerful as his bespectacled Commander in Chief. Besides being cousins, the two share so much in common and unless you suffer from dementia, it would be naive to even begin to believe that this is a reshuffle that has any major effect as to the overall state policy. To those who have suggested that it signified PK’s lack of trust in his most trusted lieutenant, you better think again.

Exactly the very reason I think personally, that those celebrating should hold their guns. Because if this was not some gimmick, Dr. Ndahiro and his group should now be behind bars. Plotting the murder of, or sanctioning the elimination of Rwandan nationals wherever goes not only against the provisions of our Constitution but also is in breach of the duties and responsibilities of those holding public office. I do not remember anywhere in the oath that our public officials take before assuming office, where it is written that they pledge to engage in the elimination of fellow citizens. And don’t even begin talking about that nonsense called national security because that does not cut it.

Sending the Dr to the ministry of defence is another way of saying ” well as long as you do my biding, I will never forsake you”. But behind the politics of the recent reshuffle, we mustn’t forget the fact that some innocent Rwandans will have lost their lives and no one has the right to end another person’s life irrespective of political position. I say Rwandese deserve accountability and we must demand it now.

Remember in 1998, aware that the world was beginning to realise his war against the Hutus, the government (some will say Kagame) carried out a reshuffle appointing then Lt. Col Emmanuel Habyarimana the minister of state in charge of defence. Yes, in charge of defence (a post that has since disappeared and which honestly was as useless as anything but only aimed at cooling down tensions and part of an elaborate appeasement policy).

That was in 1998, and so much has happened since but if you asked me if that or the reshuffles that followed had any bearing on the betterment of the wrongs of the time, my answer is a clear no. Politics is a game and Paul Kagame is at centre court! He will be celebrating that his latest attempt to serve aces against an opponent (a world that was opening up and beginning to question his moral authority to lead given his aides’ dark history), seems to have worked. As for those celebrating the reshuffle as a good gesture or move towards sanity, I ask you to read between the lines.

There is more to fooling people than doing the right thing.

Rwanda: Mixed Legacy for Community-Based Genocide Courts


Rwanda is about to complete one of the most ambitious transitional justice experiments in history, blending local conflict-resolution traditions with a modern punitive legal system to deliver justice for the country’s 1994 genocide. Rwandan President Paul Kagame described the initiative as an “African solution to African problems.” [1] Since 2005, just over 12,000 community-based gacaca courts—deriving their name from the Kinyarwanda word meaning “grass” (the place where communities gather to resolve disputes)—have tried approximately 1.2 million cases. They will leave behind a mixed legacy.

Some Rwandans have welcomed the courts’ swift work and the extensive involvement of local communities, stressing that gacaca has helped them better understand what happened in the darkest period of the country’s history and has eased tensions between the country’s two main ethnic groups (the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi). Others are more skeptical: some genocide survivors complain that not all perpetrators were arrested or punished adequately for their crimes. Some of those convicted and sentenced to decades in prison maintain that trials were seriously flawed, that private individuals and government authorities manipulated the course of justice, that gacaca became politicized over the years, and that ethnic tensions remain high. On both sides, there are doubts, as well as tentative hopes, about gacaca’s contribution to long-term reconciliation.

This report acknowledges the enormous challenges the Rwandan government faced in choosing a system that could rapidly process tens of thousands of cases in a way that would be broadly accepted by the population. It explains the government’s decision to use gacaca to deal with the extraordinary circumstances it faced after the genocide and describes the government’s attempt to strike a balance between conventional due process and the overwhelming need for swift justice.

The report notes some of gacaca’s main achievements. Using dozens of cases, it also illustrates the price paid by ordinary Rwandans for the compromises made in the decision to use gacaca to try genocide-related cases, including apparent miscarriages of justice, the use of gacaca to settle personal and political scores, corruption, and procedural irregularities.

This report is not the first evaluation of the gacaca process. Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) and Penal Reform International (PRI) have monitored the process closely since it began and have issued dozens of detailed reports on a range of topics related to gacaca. Rwandan human rights organizations, in particular the Human Rights League of the Great Lakes (LDGL) and the Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LIPRODHOR), have also followed the process and have reported their findings. Books and scholarly articles have been written on gacaca as well. This report draws inspiration from these writings and raises some problems which have already been documented by others, but strives to analyze the gacaca process specifically from a human rights perspective, noting its accomplishments and its limitations in this context.

When the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), currently the country’s ruling party, first took power in July 1994 after ending the genocide, it was confronted by the need to deliver justice for the killings of more than three-quarters of the country’s Tutsi population, as well as numerous Hutu who opposed the killings or tried to protect Tutsi. In total, more than half a million people perished in the span of only thirteen weeks. The challenge would have overwhelmed even the world’s most advanced justice system. In Rwanda, the task was made even more difficult because the genocide had killed a large number of judges and other judicial staff and had destroyed much of the judicial infrastructure.

A few months after the end of the genocide, Rwandan prisons were bursting at the seams with genocide suspects. By 1998, around 130,000 prisoners were crammed into space meant for 12,000, resulting in conditions that were universally acknowledged to be inhumane and that claimed thousands of lives. Conventional courts began trying genocide cases in December 1996, but had only managed to try 1,292 genocide suspects by 1998. At that rate, genocide trials would have continued for more than a century, leaving many suspects behind bars awaiting trial for years and even decades. The process might have been accelerated had foreign lawyers and judges been brought in to help, but the Rwandan government rejected such proposals.

Instead, the government proposed to set up community-based courts to try genocide-related crimes using the customary gacaca model. Aimed at speeding up genocide trials, reducing the prison population, and rapidly rebuilding the nation’s social fabric, the new form of gacaca, like its customary predecessor, would be run by local judges and would encourage participation of local community members. One of the government’s aims in encouraging community participation was to make ordinary Rwandans the main actors in the process of dispensing justice and fostering reconciliation. A series ofgacaca laws would regulate the genocide trials, mixing certain basic fair trial standards with more informal procedures.

Some government officials feared that gacaca might not be the right mechanism for genocide trials, given the gravity and complexity of the crimes. The customary form of gacaca had only been used for minor civil disputes—involving property, inheritance, personal injury, and marital relations—with more serious cases, such as murder, reserved for resolution by village chiefs or the king’s representative. These government officials worried that judges would struggle to correctly apply the law, given that many had no formal education or training. They warned of the risk of bias, stressing that the local setting meant judges would inevitably know the parties in a case which would reduce their objectivity and increase the risk of corruption. Most significantly, these government officials warned that gacaca procedures would fail to comply with Rwanda’s international fair trial obligations. Nearly 10 years after gacaca began, many of these concerns have turned out to be well-founded.

The concerns were overruled and, in June 2002, the Rwandan government launched a contemporary form of gacaca to try genocide cases, run by a new institution which later became known as the National Service of Gacaca Jurisdictions (SNJG). For more than two years, gacaca courts in 12 pilot areas used information provided by local community members to compile files on what had happened in each of these areas between 1990 and 1994. The courts drew up lists of victims and suspects, and classified the latter into four categories according to the severity of the alleged crimes. The most serious cases (category 1), involving mass murderers, rapists, and leaders who had incited killings, were transferred to the conventional courts; the rest were to be tried in gacaca.

The first gacaca trials started in 2005. They were set to end in late 2007, but the deadline was repeatedly extended over the following three years. In mid-July 2010, the government announced that the last gacaca trials in the country had been completed. However, two months later, it unexpectedly declared that gacaca would continue. This latest extension will allow the SNJG—tasked with oversight of the gacaca process—to review a number of cases of suspected miscarriages of justice and to allow for revision where appropriate. However, gacaca courts are not expected to handle new cases.

Rwanda’s experiment in mass community-based justice has been a mixed success. Many Rwandans agree that it has shed light on what happened in their local communities during the 100 days of genocide in 1994, even if not all of the truth was revealed. They say it helped some families find murdered relatives’ bodies which they could finally bury with some dignity. It has also ensured that tens of thousands of perpetrators were brought to justice. Some Rwandans say that it has helped set in motion reconciliation within their communities.

Yet there are multiple shortcomings and failures with gacaca: basic violations of the right to a fair trial and limitations on accused persons’ ability to effectively defend themselves; flawed decision-making (often caused by judges’ ties to the parties in a case or pre-conceived views of what happened during the genocide) leading to allegations of miscarriages of justice; cases based on what appeared to be trumped-up charges, linked, in some cases, to the government’s wish to silence critics (journalists, human rights activists, and public officials) or to disputes between neighbors and even relatives; judges’ or officials’ intimidation of defense witnesses; corruption of judges to obtain the desired verdict; and other serious procedural irregularities.

Many of these shortcomings can be traced back to the single most significant compromise made in choosing to use gacaca to try genocide cases: the curtailment of the fair trial rights of the accused. Although these rights are guaranteed by both Rwandan and international law, the gacaca laws failed to put in place adequate safeguards to ensure that all accused persons appearing before the gacaca courts would receive a fair trial. The gacaca laws tried to strike a balance by protecting some rights, including the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty; modifiying others, such as the right to have adequate time to prepare a defense; and sacrificing others altogether, including the right to a lawyer. Dozens of cases mentioned in this report show how these due process shortcomings have directly contributed to flawed gacaca trials.

The government argued that traditional fair trial rights were unnecessary because local community members—who witnessed the events of 1994 and knew what really happened—would participate in the trials and would step in to denounce false testimony by other community members or partiality by the judges. Contrary to these expectations, however, Rwandans who witnessed unfair or biased proceedings decided not to speak out because they were afraid of the potential repercussions (ranging from criminal prosecution to social ostracism) and instead passively participated in the gacacaprocess. Without active popular participation, trials were more easily manipulated and did not always reveal the truth about events in local communities.

Another significant factor restricting the success of gacaca was the limited training given to gacacajudges, most of whom had little or no formal education and, in the vast majority of cases, no formal legal experience or training. Judges were not bound by evidentiary rules (explaining what types of evidence are admissible and the level of proof needed to convict a person) and were expected instead to rely on common sense and general principles of fairness. Courts had to provide reasons for their decisions, but were free to weigh the evidence as they saw fit. This led to contradictory results in different cases based on similar facts; to flawed decisions based, for example, on over-reliance on hearsay (words a person attributes to another who is not present at trial), and to convictions based on weak evidence. The fact that gacaca judges received no state remuneration also made the judges vulnerable to corruption.

Originally tried in conventional courts, genocide-related rape cases were transferred to gacaca courts in May 2008. Many rape victims based their initial decision to seek prosecution of the alleged rapist on the fact that conventional courts could enact measures to respect their privacy and could keep a woman’s identity confidential where necessary. The government’s decision to transfer their cases togacaca courts, by definition involving the local community, took them by surprise and left some feeling betrayed. The SNJG justified the decision by claiming that many rape victims were dying of AIDS and that the conventional courts were unable to deal with these cases sufficiently quickly. It emphasized that the decision was based on requests by thousands of women who were raped in 1994. However, it would also enable the Rwandan government to complete all genocide trials as quickly as possible and to end this chapter of its history. Although the law provided for gacaca courts to hear rape cases behind closed doors, victims still feared that the community-based nature of the courts would mean that the local population would know what the closed-door trials were about. On the other hand, some rape victims whose cases were heard by closed-door gacaca courts said that the experience was less traumatic than they expected.

One of the serious shortcomings of the gacaca process has been its failure to provide equal justice to all victims of serious crimes committed in 1994. Between April and August 1994, soldiers of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which ended the genocide in July 1994 and went on to form the current government, killed tens of thousands of people. They also carried out other killings later in the year, after the RPF had gained full control of the country. Gacaca courts have not prosecuted RPF crimes. Initially, in 2001, gacaca courts had jurisdiction over crimes against humanity and war crimes, in addition to genocide. But the following year, as gacaca courts began their work, President Kagame cautioned against confusing crimes committed by RPF soldiers with genocide and explained that RPF crimes were merely isolated incidents of revenge, despite evidence to the contrary. Amendments to the gacaca laws in 2004 removed war crimes from the jurisdiction of the courts and a national government campaign followed to make sure that these crimes were not discussed in gacaca. Nearly 17 years after the genocide, Rwandans who suffered or lost relatives at the hands of the RPF are still waiting for justice.

As gacaca draws to a close, the Rwandan government faces another challenge: correcting the grave injustices that have occurred through this process. There have been numerous gacaca cases involving miscarriages of justice or serious procedural irregularities, many of which have not been resolved by existing gacaca appeals procedures. The government’s recognition in late 2010 of the need to correct miscarriages of justice is a positive step. However, the proposal to have such cases reheard in gacacarisks replicating the same problems and may not remedy the situation. A more appropriate mechanism might involve a specialized unit within the conventional court system, staffed with professional judges or other trained legal professionals, to review the cases. Fair and impartial handling of these cases is of paramount importance to the legacy of gacaca and to strengthening the Rwandan justice system in the longer term.

Of Joseph Bideri and the game with few winners

He had his moments. This we have to agree. A one time government spokesman, Monsieur Joseph Bideri, became famous as the erstwhile chief propagandist capable of bringing down anyone inside or outside the country as long as his bosses demanded as such. A high flying bureaucrat, Mr. Bideri in yesteryear Rwanda was the cowboy with powers to succeed the laws of the land. In two words: Very Powerful.

Those who worked with him during his days as the government’s chief propagandist, remember him ever so well. Their memories fresh with the aura of authority that seemed to go with the incredible Joseph, some are surprised he has ended up fleeing the country back to where he —well—came from.

At the pinnacle of his limelight, Mr. Bideri is famously remembered for telling the world that “Rwanda was not an obstacle to peace”. He was of course referring to Rwanda’s decision not to withdraw troops from Congo following the Lusaka Peace Accord. How ironical that when his country is back in the news, perhaps not over the same issue but something related to the Congo, the man who nine years ago said his paymasters were not obstacles to peace, is running for dear life.

When news broke that Bideri had fled the country to Canada, I was among those who received it with scepticism. Surely? Bideri running for dear life? How?

If there is anyone who has so passionately defended the establishment in Kigali, it is Joseph Bideri. His defence of the ideals of the regime was so entrenched in his psyche that at one point, as head of Orinfor, he still felt he was so powerful to determine and decide what went on in all publications related to the government. I remember him mingling so easily and effortlessly in the affairs of The New Times, even when the latter had a functional and able bodied Editor in Chief at the time.

Dedication, some will say. It seemed to me that behind the hard working persona of the man or stooge that was Bideri, there was always a pushing desire to please. A desire which to some appeared pushed by the need to please and perhaps hide something or make up for something sinister. Otherwise, how would you explain Bideri’s insistence to poke his nose in whichever public institution with connection to the government, his continued desire to dislodge Editor in Chiefs at the pro-government daily, or his untiring efforts to speak ill of anyone falling out with the regime in Kigali?

Bideri will have now realised that serving the regime in Kigali with whatever amount of zeal does not make one indispensable. Question now is, has he learned any lessons? The notion that all men are born equal is one that Bideri to me never understood or if he did, always chose to ignore. I am yet to know why he was sent on leave just days before he fled. But if the story that he engineered the sacking of the whole New Times marketing team on grounds that they were Ugandans is true, then it makes me wonder what it is that he has against Ugandans.

In 2006, the same man, while at Orinfor and board member of The New Times, ordered the immediate sacking of all foreigners at The New Times. The paper as a result lost a host of talented editors, reporters, marketers and designers as Kenyans and Ugandans packed up. He replaced them with locals and due to the imbalance in expertise and quality what had started becoming a better newspaper went back to a hopeless tabloid, specialising in dog eat man stories.

And because he (Bideri) was indispensable, no one even queried his decision. Not even the Board chairman. The move besides being xenophobic, proved completely counter productive. If you want to develop and promote home grown talent, you do so from within, recruit locals, give them time to learn on the job from their superiors and then phase out, if you want, the old stock.

But the man sailed on. In 2008 Joseph Bideri was again in the news, this time accused of messing up the finances of Orinfor, involvement in an infighting battle for power and influence with one Kije Mugisha and failing to process the acquisition of a new and modern printing press. Given the dealings in present day Rwanda, any other person would have been sent to prison for this mess. Bideri survived and was instead shipped to Kacyiru to take over from another sad comrade Ignatius Kabagambe, as the Editor in Chief of the government mouthpiece.

At New Times, Bideri has overseen the transformation of an English daily that his predecessors created from a slightly readable tabloid to some sort of gutter thing where officials and men of little conscience trade accusations and settle scores with those they hate. The handling of the election period, the Kayumba saga, and lately the UN Mapping Report has not helped matters. TNT is still the same old boring TNT if not worse.

It is worthy to note that this is the same man who as boss engineered the sacking of the most successful Editor in Chief of the New Times in its 13 year history. It was Bideri who sacked Sanyu John Bosco, the Editor under whose tenure TNT saw a surge in both sales and readership. With Sanyu gone, the same Bideri orchestrated the installation of Eddie Rwema, the flamboyant young journalist whose days were cut shot by yet another of Bideri and State House import, Ignatius Kabagambe. The latter though keen on becoming the top dog at TNT had his tenure cut short when he was replaced by Bideri after working so hard to frustrate another arguably competent Editor in Chief, David Kabuye.

Inside sources at the New Times have said that Bideri would still be in charge had he not messed up the marketing system through his ill-advised interference and decision to tax evade. With staff going unpaid for three months and the company going as far as near bankruptcy, this was bound to backfire. And backfire it did.

With Rwanda Revenue Moving in to demand the payment of tax arrears and staff beginning to worry about their wages and reporters choosing instead to stay in the newsroom or at home due to the lack of vehicles to take them to the field, “the possibility of TNT falling flat on its belly” was imminent. And because TNT is ruled by someone even more powerful, he demanded answers and Bideri had none. His forced leave was a stern reminder that his time had come, being someone who has previously sent predecessors in forced leaves before moving up on them, he quit the country.

But as he tries to settle in Canada, I wonder if Joseph Bideri has any idea what being a puppet or being used to such extents that you lose your common sense means. What we can deduce is that no one is indispensable in Rwanda or anywhere in this world, if there is, then it is because their time has not come yet. So my friend, Prof Nshuti, when you let yourself be used to write stuff that would make Lucifer cringe, remember that there is going to be time, when you might want to use the same words to defend yourself. Do not say there were never any precedents!

Over you my little monsters…