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…

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.

The Congolese Are Losing It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you my little monsters…

 

 

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…

When President Kagame went to Chicago

“This is what has become the hallmark of the so-called dissidents – ill-mannered, have no programme except insults, out of touch with events in their own country. If they have any programme it is to destroy their country,” wrote Joseph Rwagatare in The New Times.

Do not ask me who the feisty gentleman is. The last time I checked, he was the headteacher of one if not the leading girls school in Rwanda – FAWE Girls School. That was before he switched trades. He is gradually and progressively assuming the position of Rwanda’s critic in chief specializing mainly in criticizing Rwanda’s critics. A cool way to earn a living.

I love reading from Joe. He is smart, knowledgeable albeit selectively, articulate and writes with too much passion. He typifies someone who knows what his readers want and is willing to give them exactly that, nothing more unless it is like I said, selectively less.

Anyway, Joe was referring to the events during President Kagame’s recent visit to Chicago for the much talked about Rwanda Day. Unlike Joe, I did not attend. In hindsight, I wish I had. I am a poor lad you see. Crossing the Atlantic is far from catching a train to say Brighton. It needs bucks. Had I been “the good guy” (from the with us camp) I probably would have benefited from the generous envelopes that were being handed to selected members of the Rwandan diaspora for travel and accommodation expenses to and from Chicago. Unfortunately, whoever was in charge of giving out the said envelopes appears to believe that my opinions over the years have put me on the other side (the against us camp). Thus if I had to attend, and assuming of course that I could guarantee my security, all expenses had to be on me.

But why travel so far, spend so much money, to see someone you have seen before and listen to them speak when whatever is to happen will after all, be delivered right to your desktop by great writers like Joe or members of the mainstream media?

Enough of that. Turns out that while Kagame had a good time in Chicago and was received by so many including leading businessmen and potential investors, something rather ugly was happening just outside the venue where this event was happening – a protest against Kagame.

We know from Joe’s report that this was a small group of nobodies who besides failing to raise a respectable quorum were also afraid to show their faces. Wrote Joe, “Outside, in the deserted streets, a handful of fugitives, not more than a dozen, and hired protesters made a lot of discordant noises…Even their organizers did not seem to believe in what they were doing. Theogene Rudasingwa who had promised to disrupt the North American diaspora meeting (aptly dubbed Rwanda Day) with the President of Rwanda even refused to talk to the media he had invited”.

“He and many others did not want to show their faces – perhaps out of shame and guilt (although those are not qualities you would associate with Rudasingwa). They certainly lacked conviction”.

He continued, “It was clear that the dozen noisemakers and their crest-fallen organizers were only performing a task they had to do because they had been either hired or needed to justify to their funders so that money could keep flowing”.

I am trying to figure this out. A dozen rag tag noisemakers are on Chicago’s deserted streets justifying their funding  for protesting the visit of a visiting ” kick ass” head of state and a former headteacher cum presidential advisor finds this worthy worrying about? Well, I ain’t a big time gambler but if I was to put anything on this, I wouldn’t mind a tenner on the rag tag noisemakers having had such profound effect.

Experience has taught me that when it comes to protests, quite often, it is not the numbers that count but the message. The Rudasingwas may have hidden themselves away from the camera but the very fact that we are talking about this protest now or even writing opinions about it could be to them the gain they aimed to achieve. Which brings me to the question: who really benefited from Chicagogate? Was it Paul Kagame and his entourage? Was it those potential investors who got to meet Rwandan officials and speak to the man who matters? Or was it the dozen noise makers who despite their failure to show their faces have managed to have us all, including by the way mainstream media, talking about their small act of resistance to what they say is Kagame’s oppression on Rwandans?

It is easy for a spin doctor or a writer for that matter to sit down at home and write a critical commentary on an event he or she considers anti-his/her belief. While getting carried away is normal, I guess we must never forget to desist from falling into the trap of risking absurdity or the possibility of being accused of double standards.

As someone who missed out on the big day in Chicago, I would have preferred to hear and read from good writers like Joe, a rendition of what exactly happened inside Hyatt Hotel. A more detailed account of the conversations that Rwandans inside the hotel had with Rwandan officials leave alone President Kagame. I would have rather Joe told how any of the invited investors had reached a deal or promised to invest in Rwanda. Yes. Investment because at least, I would know that somehow, our president went to Chicago, spent a fortune on transporting himself and a few colleagues there – on board an expensive private jet – but in a few months or years to come, some qualified Rwandan who has been looking for a job for the last 2 years will finally get employed courtesy of a resultant multi-million dollar investment deal reached on the said day.

But what did we get instead? Well, Joe accusing Paul Rusesabagina of “wanting Rwandan history to revolve around his fictitious image”. And yes you heard that right. Wanting Rwandan history to revolve around his fictitious image? Is this not the man who has been internationally honored for saving 1,268 refugees during the Rwandan genocide? Joe, unless you want Rusesabagina to start peddling your said claim now, when was it that you heard him say Rwandan history revolved around him? As a a former headteacher, I am sure you are aware that if anything, someone else with the same first name but different surname has effectively assumed a cult hero figure status as Rwanda’s saviour and if claiming the whole country’s history is problematic, you are better off channeling your well deserved advice somewhere nearer to you than to a man you and your ilk have essentially made a monster when history has it that he was and will remain a hero to some if not many.

There is more to criticism than blatant bashing.

Over to you my little monsters…

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!…