Mr. Amb Kimonyo Sir, It Helps to be Prudent

I have known prudence as the characteristic of exercising sound judgement. As a Christian I have also known that as a virtue, prudence takes into account the four cardinal virtues; one of which is restraint or temperance.

Accordingly, prudence is often associated with wisdominsight, and knowledge. In these cases, the virtue is the ability to judge between virtuous and vicious actions, not only in a general sense, but with regard to appropriate actions at a given time and place. Distinguishing when acts are courageous, as opposed to reckless or cowardly, for instance, is an act of prudence, and it is for this reason that it is classified as a cardinal virtue.

The great philosopher Plato identified prudence as one of the virtues associated with rulers and reason. He was right. To quote the famous line in Spiderman the movie; with great power comes great responsibility. It is therefore very important that people in positions of power act not only with reason but virtuously. When those we consider brilliant act in ways that may be regarded irresponsible, it becomes hard to even trust whether they actually stand for anything.

Reading James Kimonyo’s piece published on the Foreign Policy Journal website, September 11, I was left wondering whether we as a people from Rwanda have learnt anything from our history. Amb Kimonyo is regarded by some as one of Rwanda’s best and may be it is the reason President Paul Kagame chose him to represent Kigali’s interests in Washington.

But while he ought as a selected public servant, endeavour to work towards pleasing and advancing the interest of the man who gave him the job, it is extremely loutish of him to forget the wishes of those from whose taxes, his salary is drawn.

Countering a previous article by one Sherelle Jacobs, Amb Kimonyo makes one sweeping statement which as an ambassador and someone whose position really demands prudence, ought to have carefully considered before committing himself to.

He wrote “While we encourage open debate on Rwanda politics and policies, it is important to accurately capture the events unfolding in the country”.

Great observation given what has and continues to go on in Rwanda. Mr. Kimonyo is until then, a man of integrity. And since this particular sentence was the second of his piece, few would have doubted he would stagger away so soon.

He goes on to talk about the concluded elections, noting that to him, they were fair because they were highly watched by the international media – something he uses as proof that democracy is thriving in Rwanda. Really? Since when did democracy depend on coverage of elections or how much publicity an election received at any given time?

Amb Kimonyo is not happy that despite what he sees as progress in Rwanda, many critics still mistakenly think the elections were unfair. How, you might ask. Look at his his next paragraph and you will know why Mr. Kimonyo belongs to that school of thought yet to discover prudence.

“Many point to the case of Victorie Ingabire to support their accusations that the 2010 elections were not free.  Ingabire lived in the Netherlands until the 2010 elections were announced, when she moved to Rwanda to run for the position of president.  Upon arrival, Ingabire stood on the graves of Tutsis lost during the 1994 genocide and called upon Rwanda to remember the Hutus, a group who carried out the bulk of the killings—an act that insults the memory and recovery of the Rwandan people who have spent the last 16 years trying to move on from ethnic divisions,” writes Kimonyo.

He goes on to accuse her of working with the FDLR, “Ingabire has been implicated by the UN report to have been working with this group and actively funding them, which increases and intensifies the killing, rape and destruction in the region.  We cannot have someone who feeds such violence and hatred as the president of Rwanda.”

Wow…some awakening there! Kimonyo is simply implying that his government was right to bar Ms.Ingabire from contesting because among other reasons, she had lived out of the country for so long.

Even if it clear that Rwandan constitution which Amb Kimonyo is sworn to, does not prevent returnees from contesting, he thinks it is about time, this reasoning, was used against the most feared opposition politician in Rwanda. He completely ignores or chooses to neglect the fact that President Paul Kagame and most of those serving in Rwanda today, lived out of the country for twice the period Ms. Ingabire is said to have lived out. Kagame for instance was out of Rwanda for an incredible 30 years.

Amb Kimonyo, then goes on to make the most outrageous sweeping statement ever “.Upon arrival, Ingabire stood on the graves of Tutsis lost during the 1994 genocide and called upon Rwanda to remember the Hutus, a group who carried out the bulk of the killings…” Really? So Hutus are a group who carried out the bulk of the killings? Outrageous indeed! The Ambassador is implicitly stating that Hutus are a killer race, which obviously is worrying, especially since Mr. Kimonyo is the man representing the interest of Rwandans (majority of who are Hutu) in Washington.

Unless Mr. Kimonyo comes out to publicly apologise and change this outrageous statement, on grounds of equal justice, he should be charged under our very own Genocide Ideology Law. If people have had to serve years for just questioning the events of 1994, then what of an official that has stood up to claim that Hutus are a group that carried out the bulk of the killings?

And to make matters worse, Mr. Kimonyo then argues that Rwanda could not have let Ms. Ingabire, a person who has been implicated by the UN as having links with the FDLR as president of the country. Well that is only viable if it were proven as true. Second, if by inference, Mr.Kimonyo is saying that the UN is a great organisation only when it pushes for information that  implicates perceived government enemies.

If the current UN report which has raised so much dust around the Great Lakes region was to point to the fact that Rwandan forces, besides committing crimes against humanity and possibly genocide, did also support some militias in the Congo – militias that for years wrecked the lives of innocent civilians there – can we trust Kimonyo to say exactly the same of his boss, who interestingly is now in serving in the position that Ms. Ingabire can not?

Like I said in the beginning, prudence is very important. Rwandans now need neither political spin nor humming subservience but strong minds. Minds that are not influenced by lies or the desire to exact revenge but the willngness to serve and develop in a manner that benefits not a few, but many. And Mr. Kimonyo, from what I just read, I am afraid you don’t seem to reflect this sort of mindset – in which case, I will pass you over to my little monsters…

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

By Eleneus Akanga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honey Moon Over?

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

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

Way Out

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

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

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

Over to you my little monsters…

Rwandan Election: Doubts About the Poster Boy

Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame, long the darling of western donors, is widely expected to win August’s presidential polls, the second since the 1994 genocide. But is his success down to pure popularity, or because of an apparent crackdown on voices of dissent?

Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame, long the darling of western donors, is widely expected to win August’s presidential polls, the second since the 1994 genocide. But is his success down to pure popularity, or because of an apparent crackdown on voices of dissent?

Paul Kagame stands at a podium in an open-air stadium in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, where terrified thousands sought refuge from the men with the machetes as the killing started exactly sixteen years earlier.

It is Genocide Memorial Day, April 7, 2010, and the president is talking about turning grief to strength and determination. So far he has spoken mostly in Kinyarwandan, his nation’s language, but without warning he switches to English.

What he says next is clearly directed at the suited dignitaries representing the world’s diplomatic missions, the donors who together pump roughly $700million into his country annually, or a little less than half its budget.

‘Political space, freedom of expression, press freedom, who are these giving anyone here lessons, honestly?’ Kagame asks, softly, seemingly genuinely puzzled, as applause breaks out behind him. ‘These Rwandans…are as free, as happy, as proud of themselves like they have never been.’

On the surface, Kagame is a poster boy for the west’s aid policies, an African leader who stamps on corruption, who uses international help to educate children, treat the sick, repair roads and boost business.

Former United States President Bill Clinton last year recognised his ‘public service’ with a Clinton Global Citizen Award. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is an unpaid and enthusiastic advisor to his government. Blair’s successor, David Cameron and senior members of the British Conservative party have for the last four years spent part of their summer recess building schools across Rwanda, and cosying up to its President.

So, why, at an event charged with the memories of sixteen years ago, is Kagame appearing to bite the hands that help feed his people? The reason is another date, August 9, when Rwandans vote in only their second democratic presidential election since the genocide.

UGLY EVENTS

In the lead-up to polling, a series of ugly events has focused the international spotlight on Kagame in a way that has never happened before. He suspended two popular independent newspapers, Umuseso and Umuvugizi, described by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists as ‘the only critical media voices left in the country’.

A week later, Victoire Ingabire, head of the opposition Unitied Democratic Forces, returned from exile in Holland and was promptly arrested and charged with denying the genocide, among other indictments. She has been bailed, but is under house arrest. Her American lawyer, Peter Erlinder, was arrested too, also accused of genocide denial, and only released on medical grounds after three weeks.

A second presidential hopeful, Bernard Ntaganda, is in prison awaiting trial on four charges, including terrorism. A Human Rights Watch researcher was expelled from the country over alleged visa irregularities.

Only three opposition parties have been allowed to nominate presidential candidates. They are accused of at best being strategically soft on Kagame’s ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, at worst, being its proxies. ‘There is nothing we can do, we have supporters, we are ready to contest the election, but we cannot because we cannot register,’ said Frank Habineza, leader of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda.

Most seriously, a reporter from one of the banned newspapers, Jean-Leonard Rugambage, was shot dead outside his house on the evening of June 24.

Earlier in the day, a story he had written appeared online, alleging Rwandan security force involvement in the apparent assassination attempt of a disaffected army general – and former ally of Kagame’s – in South Africa.General Kayumba Nyamwasa, who reportedly fled Rwanda earlier this year afraid for his life, is expected to survive his injuries.

Two other army generals have been arrested in Rwanda, one for corruption, another for immoral conduct. Both were accused of links to a series of mysterious grenade attacks which killed one person and risk frightening-off tourists, who supply the largest share of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.

The vice-president of the opposition Democratic Green Party of Rwanda was found dead near his abandoned car on July 15, in what authorities said was a robbery. But his Green party colleagues immediately voiced suspicions that this too was a political killing. Kagame’s government has angrily denied any involvement in the deaths or shootings.

WESTERN WORRIES

‘It is strange. Why, if he has all this support, will he not allow opposition and then trounce them at the polls,’ asked a Kigali-based European diplomat. ‘Clearly all this other stuff is not the kind of press we were expecting out of Rwanda in the run-up to the elections.’

Certainly not, agreed US President Barack Obama’s point-man for Africa, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson. In testimony to the US House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, he said: ‘The political environment ahead of the election has been riddled
by a series of worrying actions taken by the Government of Rwanda, which appear to be attempts to restrict the freedom of expression.’

Carson’s comments came as something of a pleasant surprise to those frustrated at a lack of international pressure on a leader who, they felt, was being allowed to run his nation like a dictatorship.

‘Carson’s statement was significant, and encouraging,’ said Carina Tertsakian, the Human Rights Watch staffer whose Rwanda visa was cancelled. ‘Sadly so far we have seen very little will on the part of western donors to deal with this issue, we’ve seen nothing like that coming out of the UK, for example, which is by far the biggest European donor and main supporter of the Rwandan government. We hope for more [international pressure], but we’re not seeing it yet.’

But this is exactly the kind of attention that irritates Kagame that prompted his puzzled statements on Genocide Memorial Day. Much of the concern, from human rights organisations and media freedom advocates, centres on the accusation that the government uses the charge of denying the genocide as a political tool to silence critics.

Britain’s new coalition government has said it is watching the run-up to Rwanda’s election closely. Speaking to The World Today during a visit to Nairobi, Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, said Britain was Rwanda’s ‘good, but candid, friend’ and that he had raised concerns publicly and privately with the government in Kigali.

‘There are real issues about ethnicity in a country which saw over eight hundred thousand people murdered principally by machete and single shot in ninety days,’ he said.

‘You have an incredible legacy to balance between the desire of the survivors for revenge and the rights of the Hutu people to live in peace. I think we in the west should be respectful of that very difficult situation in arriving at conclusions about how the Rwandans handle it.

‘I’m not saying that the restriction on political space should go unchallenged, far from it. But I think that they are entitled to be cut quite a lot of slack in addressing ethnic issues which have the power to be deeply destabilising in a country with Rwanda’s history.’

From holding an iron grip on a generally supportive military, the same army which he led from exile into Rwanda to stop the genocide sixteen years ago, Kagame is now facing dissent among some senior officers.

There are accusations that political patronage is spread too thin. Or that control of privatised state assets is being passed to too small an inner circle.

But critics claim, discuss this and the strong arm of the state will find you. Further, they question the long term sustainability of what is, in essence, the world’s first real experiment in post-genocide state reconstruction.

Kagame’s unspoken theory is that if people are richer, they are less likely to fight because they will have far more to lose.

But that is not proven, and what if another seven years of firmly keeping the lid on dissent means that, come the next election, the pot is boiling and ready to explode?

‘It shouldn’t be us raising these issues, but as a Rwandan, what can you do’, asks Tertsakian. ‘As soon as you say anything, you are arrested and accused of genocide ideology, or threatened with it, or forced into exile.’

That is to entirely miss the point, counter Kagame’s supporters. ‘For Rwandans, guarding against genocide ideology is a matter of core national security,’ said Andrew Wallis, an advisor to Kagame’s government and author of Silent Accomplice: The Untold Story of France’s Role in the Rwandan Genocide.

‘Kagame feels that if you have a western-type full freedom of expression, that will allow revisionism, genocide denial, and that can lead to genocide itself. It’s still too soon since 1994. The feeling is, give the guy a break.’

BEST FOR BUSINESS

And Kagame’s record – human rights concerns aside – is impressive. A country utterly on its knees sixteen years ago, where neighbours had turned on neighbours, teachers on pupils, churchmen on congregations, is now among Africa’smost successful.

Since Kagame was first democratically elected – privately saying his models for how to run his country were South Korea and Singapore -economic growth has averaged above eight percent, and this year the World Bank named it as the world’s best business reformer.

Kigali aims to become a regional hub for conferencing and the service industry. Broadband internet cables are snaking up and down the hills.

Primary schooling is now free, extra teachers are being hired, new universities planned. Subsistence farmers – still eighty percent of the eleven million population – are advised on modern techniques and organic fertilisers.

Rwanda became only the second non-Anglophone country – after Mozambique – to join the Commonwealth last year, and Kagame has come to something of a rapprochement with the French, whom he long accused of favouring the Hutu genocidaires before and during 1994’s horrors.

Both moves are aimed at broadening Rwanda’s business partnerships. Beijing is being courted, but is unlikely to be as big a player as elsewhere in Africa because Rwanda has few minerals.

So, it is clear that Kagame will win re-election this year. For many Rwanda-watchers, the more fascinating contest will be the next presidential polls, in 2017. The president is unlikely to stand again, but as yet there is no clue as to his successor.

‘The question is whether Rwanda is ready for a Western-style democracy, and the answer at this point probably is no,’ said Wallis. ‘He has been called many things, but one is for sure: Kagame is a man of immense vision, and that vision is being impressively implemented. Why must outsiders keep pushing their theories of how to run a country onto Rwanda?’

‘Give him another seven years to bequeath a country where everyone’s too busy making money to risk anything like 1994, and then, perhaps, that will be time for true multipartyism. It’s far from sure, though.’

Mike Pflanz, Correspondent, East, West and Central Africa, Daily Telergaph, in Nairobi