Monday, January 16, 2017

Things I Read: 2016 Edition

2016 was a year of writing for me. Most of my intellectual time and energy went to finishing up a book project I’ve been working on for almost five years. Yale University Press will publish Rwanda, 1959-2016 no later than spring 2018.

The grind of writing meant that I read a lot of court cases and judicial opinions, particularly from the International Criminal Court for Rwanda and the Joint Mechanism that appeared after it closed in 2015. I also read raw statistical data and the accompanying analysis from the World Bank, IMF and the Rwandan government. Human rights reports, Rwandan government documents, political blogs and the memoirs of survivors of the 1994 genocide round out my technical reading for the year.

I also published in 2016 the ‘Genocide in Rwanda’ bibliographic entry for the Oxford Bibliography in African Studies. I read and reread many wonderful (and not so wonderful) books and articles for this project.

I continue to read in the fields of Rwanda studies, security studies and human rights. The yoke of empirical evidence on the folly of the post-genocide policies of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front is far heavier thanks to the following:

Investing in Authoritarian Rule Punishment and Patronage in Rwanda's Gacaca Courts for Genocide Crimes by Anu Chakravarty (2016)

From War to Genocide: Criminal Politics in Rwanda, 1990-1994 by André Guichaoua (2015)

Inside Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts by Bert Ingelaere (2016)

Making Ubumwe: Power, State and Camps in Rwanda's Unity-Building Project by Andrea Purdekova (2015)

Training for Model Citizenship: An Ethnography of Civic Education and State-Making in Rwanda by Molly Sundberg (2016)

Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship by Anjan Sundaram (2016)

I also read some wonderfully rich PhD theses that I hope will become books:

Seeing Like a Neoliberal State? Authoritarian High Modernism, Commercialization and Governmentality in Rwanda’s Agricultural Reform by Christopher Huggins (2013)

Sharing scarcity: Land access and social relations in Southeast Rwanda by Margot Leegwater (2015)

From Donorship to Ownership? Evolving Donor-Government Relationships in Rwanda by Haley Swedlund (2011)

Hidden inequalities: Rwandan female politicians' experiences of balancing family and political responsibilities by Justine Uvuza (2014)

Mass justice for mass atrocity: Transitional justice and illiberal peace-building in Rwanda by Lars Waldorf (2013)

I reread books that I think anyone interested in understanding contemporary Rwanda must read:

The Cohesion of Oppression: Clientship and Ethnicity in Rwanda, 1860-1960 by Catharine Newbury (1988)

Antecedents to Modern Rwanda: The Nyiginya Kingdom by Jan Vansina (2005)

I learned a lot from the following titles in the fields of human rights and security studies.

Peaceland: Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention by Séverine Autesserre (2014)

Masculinity and New War: The Gendered Dynamics of Contemporary Armed Conflict by David Duriesmith (2016)

Marching Through Suffering: Loss and Survival in North Korea by Sandra Fahy (2015)

A New Weave of Power People & Politics. The Action Guide for Advocacy and Citizen Participation by Lis VeneKlasen with Valerie Miller (2007)

Researching War: Feminist Methods, Ethics and Politics edited by Annick T.R. Wibben (2016)

I remain interested in storytelling as a genre to understand violence. This means I read memoirs, historical fiction as well as fiction novels. Some really stand out:

I am Evelyn Amony: Reclaiming my Life from the Lord’s Resistance Army by Evelyn Amony, edited by Erin Baines (2015)

Seasons of Trouble: Life Amid the Ruins of Sri Lanka’s Civil War by Rohini Mohan (2014)

Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (2014)

Raw Hope, New Life: Decency, Housing and Everyday Life in a Post-Apartheid Community by Fiona Ross (2010)

A Man of Good Hope by Johnny Steinburg (2015)

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

New Book of Rwandan Poetry by Froduald Harelimana

For those of you who read Kinyarwanda, Froduald Harelimana has recently published a new book of poetry, Bita Ukwabo. His Froudauld's own words: "The book is in Kinyarwanda and in poetry style easy to read even for those not fluent in the language. It describes and analyses names and naming of people, things and places in the Rwandan social and cultural context." You can purchase the book here, and contact Froudauld here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Aristide Rwigara on his family's continued persecution

Aristide Rwigara has once again reached out to me to share the following verbatim statement. I have not verified the claims within. I am posting it as the persecution resembles that experienced by regime insiders at the dusk of the Habyarimana regime -- let's not forgot the importance of intra-ethnic elite in-fighting in Rwanda's recent and distant past. The demolishing of the Rwigara family hotel also seems to mark an intensification of the RPF's usual approach to dealing with loyalists turned critics; it now uses the rhetoric of respecting rule of law to justify its treatment of former allies.


Despite the fact that our family holds the permits that were required to build our hotel, the city of Kigali destroyed our building on September 12, 2015. Our family had attempted to meet with the city’s decision makers to resolve the situation, but we were turned down. We tried to prevent the destruction through judiciary processes as well, but we were forbidden from filing a case and exercising our legal rights.

In addition to demolishing our hotel, they have also dispossessed us of all the land our father left us.

Given that the city of Kigali is unmoved by the stark victimization of our family, and seems at ease inhabiting the role of bully in the public’s consciousness, our family wants to use this forum to ask publicly the following question: what crime have we committed that we should be punished so mercilessly and with such ruthless determination?

Our father was assassinated in a gruesome manner, and his children are now being made to endure the same persecutions he experienced for many years prior to his death. What has our family done to be targeted so relentlessly?

Our father had absolutely no link with any opposition party, and neither do we. So why are we treated like enemies?

Who are these people who do not mind entering the annals of Rwanda as oppressors of a widow and her orphans? And who are the veritable originators of these orders, using the city of Kigali to annihilate us?

We are asking for the perpetrators to come out as men and state the reasons for maintaining the Rwigaras in perpetual grief.

We are also asking the public, wherever you are, to please take notice of these gross violations of human rights and intervene in whatever capacity you can. Our family is a civilian unit, with absolutely no political involvement whatsoever, and our persecution cannot be explained away as repression of a political threat. So we are asking you readers to relay this question which was undoubtedly in my father’s mind as they were savagely murdering him: WHY ARE THEY DOING THIS ?

Aristide Rwigara September 12, 2015

Sunday, September 6, 2015

On Leopold Munyakazi and his ICE Detention

I have been working on the asylum case of Leopold Munyakazi. He was picked up by American Immigration and Customs officials on Friday afternoon, September 4, as the holiday long weekend was about to begin. I share here a statement from the investigative journalist Keith Harmon Snow. I agree with the general thrust of his argument. I think if Munyakazi is returned to Rwanda, it is likely he will be tortured. The trend of political opponents being tortured has been documented over the years by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among other human rights NGOs, and there is no reason to believe Professor Munyakazi won't experience the same. Contra Snow's headline that Munyakazi will face 'certain death' on his return to Rwanda, I think torture is more likely. I also have no knowledge of the raid, meaning I do not agree with Snow's assertion that the raid on Munyakazi was 'gestapo-like.' My own stance is, and always has been, to base my analysis on substantiated evidencerather than speculation. That said, there is much to be learn from Snow's interpretation of what I believe is a politicized smear campaign against Leopold Munyakazi. You can read Snow's post here.

Friday, August 14, 2015

On Rwigara's Assassination and Subsequent Harassment of his Family

Yesterday, Aristide Rwigara reached out to me to publicise his family's version of events surrounding his father's assassination. I am reposting the letter he sent to me verbatim and with his permission. I agreed to post because the targeting of RPF loyalists is one of many worrying signs coming out of Kigali. In addition to assassinations, the RPF has wrongfully imprisoned presumed enemies, including Kitizo Mihigo. Rwanda's culture of impunity reigns supreme, just as it did before the 1994 genocide. Publicising regime excesses is now imperative.

For the record, I have not verified the facts of the following statement. I publish them for your consideration, and with concern. Politicials scientists know that when authoritarian elites turn on their own, the risk of political violence intensifies. Journalists wishing to write about the Rwigara case, please let me know and I'll put you in touch with Aristide:

"Hello. My name is Aristide Rwigara. I am the son of Assinapol Rwigara, who was one of Rwanda’s most prominent businessmen. My father was assassinated on February 4, 2015, and my siblings and I petitioned the Rwandan president for an investigation into his death in the month of March. I would like to bring attention to the tragic events that have been unfolding in the aftermath of my father’s assassination.

A few days ago, the city of Kigali ordered my family to demolish our hotel located in the neighborhood of Kiyovu, in Kigali. They ordered us to demolish it by August, 15 of this year. They said that our hotel was built without the proper permits, and that it presents a safety problem. They ordered my family to destroy the building ourselves, and also to pay over 7 million Rwf to the company that performed the bogus study about the safety issue.

This is just part of their plan to ruin our family after my father’s assassination. Indeed, we built our hotel with all the proper permits and are still in possession of those permits.

Moreover, to say that the building was built without following rules of safety is an incredibly brazen lie given the conditions in which it was built. Indeed, the city monitored every single step of the construction since they ceaselessly harassed my father in order to make him abandon the project. For example, they would grant him the permit to build only to stop him immediately after work had begun, with new and invented reasons for the halt.

The hotel being one of the most valuable buildings in the area, they even illegally took it at one point. My father went to court over the matter and won his hotel back. The city then offered to buy the hotel from my father, which he refused to do.

It is unbelievable that the mayor of Kigali would now say that our hotel is not safe, when the city’s own officials and experts were sent to test the solidity and safety of the building, and emphatically asserted that everything was according to regulations. Moreover, observers of the situation are wondering how the city of Kigali could have allowed for the construction to happen until completion without the permits (the construction took very long because of all the tribulations my father faced).

Last week, my mother, Adeline Rwigara, was approached by branches of the media over this matter. She publicly denounced the authorities for harassing our family. Indeed, the hotel matter is just one of a long series of actions to thwart my father’s ventures and smother us economically.

The city has gone after three other of our plots in Kiyovu. One of them was grabbed with the sole explanation being that the land was not being used productively. But the city had, without cause, refused to grant us the permit to build on it. So really we could not use it at all.

We are not being given information on whether we are allowed to build or not on another one of our plots; so despite the fact that we own the property, that building remains under the city’s control.

There is a third plot that my father had acquired by paying the residents of that land so that they would move. But the city of Kigali then told him that they were taking possession of that land. My father told them that they then had to reimburse him for the payments he had given to the former residents so that they would move. The city refused to pay so my father took them to court. He won, and the city was ordered to pay him close to a billion Rwandan Francs. But the city refused to pay my father. Shortly thereafter, he gave an interview to a newspaper in Kigali where he discussed the injustices he was being subjected to. Ten days later, he was assassinated.

My father was assassinated because he is the only businessman in Rwanda who would not allow the state to enter into his businesses. He refused to comply to the usual model of doing business in Rwanda, which is to forcibly give shares of one’s companies to the state, and then watch them take over the entirety of one’s hard earned assets. Many other businessmen have fled the country to save their lives once their companies went under assault from the state. The others who remain have no control over their own businesses.

My father refused to be intimidated , which is why he was continuously targeted since 1995, enduring many other persecutions unmentioned here. Ultimately, he paid with his life because he stood up for his economic rights.

The state has now gone after my mother for publicly speaking out about this latest attack against our family, and telling the media the truth of the matter, which is that my father was assassinated so that they could take his possessions.

Last Friday, August 7, more than 30 police and military officers jumped over the gate of our house in Kiyovu, Kigali, threatened to smash open the doors and arrested my mother. They took her to the CID (Criminal Investigation Department). But the media learned about it almost instantly and the story immediately spread over the internet . Given the attention her unlawful arrest was receiving, the CID had to let her go after hours of interrogation. But she was ordered to come back the next morning.

She went back to the CID a third time on Monday morning, August 10, and was there again this morning of August 11. It bears repeating that she has not committed a crime, other than talking about the never-ending persecution of our family by the state of Rwanda.

The Rwandan police released a statement on Sunday night intended to justify the authorities’ recent actions against our family, and which contained, among many other blatant lies, the following incensing assertion concerning our request for a thorough investigation following our father’s assassination: “Even when the family raised other concerns surrounding the incident later, further systematic and thorough investigations were conducted and findings were also shared with the family, who expressed that their concerns were addressed and revealed that their accusations were just based on hearsay.”

My family wants to set the record straight about the so-called thorough investigation by the police. There was no investigation at all! The whole thing was a farce in which my family was called at the CID where we were grilled for hours as if we were the ones on trial. During this mockery of an investigation, they attempted to discredit each one of the proofs we put forward concerning our father’s assassination. Their ultimate finding was that the man driving the truck involved in the fictitious accident that night was not at fault, and that our accusations against him did not hold up. Actually, that man was never even once mentioned while we were at the CID ! So the police produced findings that were not even related to the facts we put forward!

Our family also never expressed that our “concerns were addressed” or that our “accusations were just based on hearsay”. That is simply a lie! Our concerns certainly were not addressed by the police’s sham investigation, and our accusations were based on what members of my family witnessed themselves, not hearsay!

I would like to insist that the only political party my father was ever part of was the RPF. He had been a major financial contributor since 1990, and remained one until his death.He had absolutely no political ties to any other party.

It is also important to know that the night of his assassination, my father was carrying, among other things, a blue folder with a great number of documents concerning all the plots his family is still being embattled over. He had been requested to bring those documents over by the people he was meeting that night, under the false promise of helping him solve the issues we are still dealing with. After the assassination, we were never allowed to recover those documents.

The usual result of denouncing the authorities in Rwanda for an injustice is death, torture, imprisonment, or exile ; which is why our family's situation requires urgent attention.

I strongly hope that you will publish this story, in order to expose this great injustice.Thank you very much."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Want to Protest Obama's invitation to Paul Kagame to visit the White House in August?

I have been asked to post the following to raise awareness about Kagame's presence at the US-Africa Summit, hosted by the White House on August 4. For some Rwandans, Kagame's presence is an insult, given the human rights record of his government. The petition information follows: "Kagame is among the African presidents who are to visit the White House on August 4th. Based on factual evidence below and on more facts you know, please write a letter, send an email, make a phone call to the White House raising concerns over the visit of Kagame and outlining your requests to Obama. Spread in secret the word to everyone you know believes in democratic values, justice, sustainable development and humanism virtues. Mail: The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Phone: 202-456-1111, 202-456-1414, 202-456-6213, 202-456-2121 E-mail: We all know that Kagame committed and is still committing: (1) Genocide against Hutus since 1991 [Reference to Robert Gersony Report and UN Mapping Report], (2) Distortion of the truth over the Genocide against Tutsis [Reference to Stam and Davenport ‘What Really Happened in Rwanda’] (3) Assassinations against legitimate political opponents [Reference to Patrick Karegeya, Seth Sendashonga, Charles Ingabire, André Kagwa Rwisereka, Leonard Rugambage], (4) Extrajudicial executions [Reference to Alfred Nsengimana, Eric Hashakimana], (5) Massacring Congolese people [Reference to UN Mapping Report and Report by UN Group of Experts], (6) Rape against women [Reference to UN Mapping Report and Report by UN Group of Experts], (7) Pillage of Congolese minerals [Reference to UN Mapping Report and Report by UN Group of Experts], (8) Embezzlement of state funds and impoverishment of the majority of Rwandans [Reference to Susan Thomson ‘Whispering Truth to Power’ and the work of Gustave Makonene] , (9) Ethnic discrimination against Hutus [Reference to HRW Report ‘There Will Be No Trial: Police Killings of Detainees and the Imposition of Collective Punishments’], (10) Persecution through tyrannical laws like the Law on Genocide Ideology [Reference to UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai Report], (11) Suffocation of freedom of expression and of association [Reference to UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai Report], (12) Oppression through security services (Reference to Filip Reyntjens “An Army with a State, Not a State with an Army], (13) Arbitrary detention against legitimate political opponents [Pasteur Bizimungu, Déo Mushayidi, Ingabire Umuhoza, Bernard Ntaganda, Sylvain Sibomana, Dominique Shyirambere], and (14) Abductions [Joel Mutabazi, Innocent Kalisa, Augustin Cyiza]."

Why are Rwandans Disappearing?

Last month, I published an op-ed in the New York Times. With Lara Santoro, we provide an answer to the question, why are Rwandans disappearing? The comment section is worth a read as well.