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: sthomson@colgate.edu.

"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: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments 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.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Rwanda's Twitter-Gate: The Disinformation Campaign of Africa’s Digital President

Today, I published a short opinion piece on the AfricanArguments.org website about Rwanda's recent Twitter-gate, linking it to broader patterns of disinformation in postgenocide Rwanda. The link is here.

The original text follows:

As Rwanda prepares to mark the twentieth anniversary of the 1994 genocide, it has found itself in an unprecedented diplomatic crisis. The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front has all but claimed responsibility for the murder of its former spy chief Patrick Karegeya in Johannesburg in January. More recently, the South African government has accused Rwandan diplomats of a third bungled attempt on the life of the country’s former army chief Kayumba Nyamwasa. The State Department scolded the government of President Paul Kagame for the attempt. The South African government then expelled three Rwandan diplomats, and is considering ending formal diplomatic ties with Rwanda.

Foreign journalists reporting on the attack on Nyamwasa raised the ire of President Kagame. On March 7, Radio France International journalist Sonia Rolley was subject to misogynistic harassment from the account of @RichardGoldston. American freelancer Steve Terrill came to Rolley’s defense, resulting in a series of mocking tweets from the account of Rwanda president @PaulKagame himself, not the @RichardGoldston to which Terrill (@steveinafrica) had directed his Tweets. A week later, on March 15, Terrill was denied entry into Rwanda. The denial appears politically-motivated as Terrill broke the story that someone in the office of the Rwandan president also had access to the @RichardGoldston account. The @RichardGoldston account trolled Twitter for any sign of criticism of Kagame or the RPF, and regularly harassed and demeaned Twitter users that criticized the government.

On March 8, the official Twitter account of the Office of the Rwandan President (@UrugwiroVillage) tweeted that the @RichardGoldston account had been deleted and the staff member responsible for the account had been “reprimanded’. Rwanda’s Twitter-gate raise questions about the central role of RPF Twitter-trolls in calling out foreign journalists who seek it hold it to account for its excesses at home and abroad. President Kagame’s reactionary tweets provide insight into the political reality behind his government’s carefully crafted narrative that Rwanda is a nation rehabilitated from the ruin of the 1994 genocide. Twitter-gate is also illustrative of the harassment and intimidation that critics of the RPF regime regularly experience.

Twitter-gate is the first crack in the armor of the RPF’s longstanding disinformation campaign that has relied on exchange students, public relations firms, commemorative events, and a whole host of other techniques to craft an idealized and often invented version of what Rwanda was like before the onset of colonialism and what it has become since the 1994 genocide. Since 2009, the RPF has worked with American and British PR specialists whose primary task is to drown out the voices of foreign critics and bury evidence of the RPF’s human rights abuses under rosy language about political stability, economic growth, and the stated intention of helping the poor. In January, Rwanda launched the Kwibuka20 campaign, from inside Kagame’s office of course, for the same instrumental reason: to substitute the trope of genocide for the trope of authoritarianism in narratives about Rwanda.

The disinformation strategy is simple: ensure maximum international sympathy and donor dollars and a minimum of international inquiry into the government’s denial of liberties and human rights abuses. The Kagame-led regime has a penchant for U.S. visits and visitors, and until recently successive U.S. administrations turned a blind eye to massive human rights violations for which the Kagame-led regime, according to the United Nations, is responsible in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Americans in particular have been taken in by the rhetoric of reconstruction, development, and reconciliation that invariably accompanies most public events in the country.

The RPF frames itself for Western audiences as the political party best able to move Rwanda is moving towards a Western-style democracy because it has regularly held presidential and parliamentary elections. The RPF handily won the most recent round of parliamentary elections, in September 2013, with 76% of the vote. In theory, it was contending with nine other parties. In practice, Rwanda’s nearly six million voters had little choice on the ballot. A total of 98% of the votes went to the RPF and its four coalition parties. The continued dominance of the RPF in the electoral realm projects a semblance of political pluralism while masking the fact that all parties are expected to acquiesce to the ruling party. Two actual opposition parties have been banned and their leaders jailed.

Another pillar of Rwanda’s disinformation campaign is that the government promotes gender-equality. 64% percent of parliamentarians in Rwanda’s lower house are women, but this number masks reality. Although women are very visible in Rwanda politics, their ability to shape the future of women, ironically, is circumscribed. Rwanda's parliament has limited influence. Parliamentarians—be they male or female—actually have little power to legislate on behalf of their constituents. They have little room to develop policy or even to debate openly; space for free and open political expression is limited. Put differently, an assessment of political realities shows that women parliamentarians in Rwanda are mere accessories of power; they do not actually wield any of it.

Though the genocide has not repeated itself, growing socio-political and economic inequalities—notably the exclusion of youth—under an increasingly authoritarian and repressive government have meant that post-genocide Rwanda is still deeply entangled in its violent past. Rwandans deserve better from their American friends. Rwanda’s Twitter-gate also reminds us that, on this 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, we should not allow our generally rosy perception of Rwanda as a stable and free country under the visionary leadership of President Kagame to mask long-standing political tensions, unresolved resentments, and the rise of an authoritarian regime.

Friday, January 10, 2014

New and Valuable Resource: Rwanda Witness Website

For those of us that have researched and written on/in Rwanda for a while (in my case for the last 18 years or so), it is a rare delight to have a new cautioned, considered and independent voice on which to rely. This person, fellow Canadian and journalist Judi Rever, has recently come into my orbit. I am writing this blog post to let folks know about her writing and research, most of which is published on her blog, Rwanda Witness.

Two things stand out for me about Judi Rever's work. One, it seeks to centre, through oral and witness testimony, the experiences of ordinary Rwandans and Congolese. The daily hardships and victories of these lives are generally absent from what we think we know about Rwanda since the 1994 genocide, thanks to a carefully crafted whitewash of the successes of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Her writing foregrounds these experiences and for this reason is an invaluable resource.

Second, Judi Rever's work places socio-political realities in Rwanda in broader context, mostly notably through events in Zaire/DRC as well as the American failure to protect civilians lives in Rwanda, both during and since the 1994 genocide.

Given the recent assassination of Patrick Karegeya, and the gloating that some senior members of Rwanda's ruling RPF have engaged in on various social media platforms, Judi Rever's reporting on the role of the RPF/A in perpetrating mass violence is all the more urgent. It seems to me that the RPF is well aware that it can flaunt its human rights abuses with no fear of international repercussion or prosecution. This culture of impunity reigned pre-1994 and Karegeya's murder suggests it is alive and well as at the dawn of the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide. We'll likely never know what Karegeya knew about the mass violence of the early days of the RPF government, nor the violence that he likely oversaw or participated in to make sure the RPF took power in July 1994. What is clear that the mantra "never again" rings rather hollow for many Rwandans.

To get you started thinking about the pattern of human rights abuses perpetrated by the RPF/A, I recommend reading Rever's investigative reporting on the role of senior members of the Rwandan Patriotic Army in perpetrating mass murder, and the ways in which it has been able to whitewash its crimes for a largely uneducated Western audience. Happy reading.

Friday, January 3, 2014

On Karegeya's Assassination: Dying by the Sword

Quite a few people (activist bloggers, and journalists based in Nairobi and Kampala) have been asking for my opinion on Patrick Karegeya's assassination.

My position is quite straightforward. It is too early to accuse Kigali but it is also too early to think that Kigali is not involved. It is possible that folks within Karegeya's inner circle killed him; it is also possible that Kagame or someone close to him ordered the killing. At this stage, there is a sizeable lack of independently verified information. I look forward to learning more about the circumstances as well as the individuals involved in Karegeya's death in the coming days and weeks.

I also want to make this clear. I do not think Karegeya is a Rwandan hero. While is always a moment of sadness and reflection when a life is lost, particularly one lost to violence, it bears mentioning that Karegeya lived by the sword. He has blood on his hands from the early days of the (then rebel) RPF drive into Uganda in the late 1980s. Yes, he fell out with Kagame in 2007, but he was the head of military intelligence in Rwanda from 1994 to 2004. Karegeya oversaw the killings in Kibeho in April 1995 (which the UN tried to report in the Gersony Report but the US had its publication suppressed), among others including in a second report the US tried to suppress - the UN Group of Experts reports on DR Congo, published in 2010. Most recently, in 2013, the UN GOE published another report, which details the M23 rebellion and Rwanda's role in financing it. Many Rwandans, of all ethnicities, died at the hands of RPF/A soldiers. This is but one example of the brutality that those in the RPF ordered or directly perpetrated.

It is also important to keep in mind that men like Karegeya operate in service of other elites like him. The majority-- some 85% of the population are rural Rwandans who make their living as subsistence farmers-- are subject to the machinations of political and military elites.

Karegeya was a founding member of the Rwandan National Congress, along with other once-close allies of Rwandan president Paul Kagame. The political goals and aspirations of the RNC, for those who wish to carefully read its policy platform, is not significantly different from the current policy programs of Kagame's ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front. My analysis suggests that many of the men like Karegeya, who have fallen out with Kagame and the RPF, did so because they questioned the ways in which Kagame began to hoard political and economic power, not because they had deeply held moral views about the heavy-handedness of the RPF leadership, but rather for economic reasons.

Rwandans who have lost their lives, or their loved ones to the violent machinations and/or complicity of Karegeya, deserve better than to have him lionised as a Rwandan hero.

Friday, November 22, 2013

"Whispering Truth to Power: Everyday Resistance to Reconciliation in Postgenocide Rwanda" Just Published

My latest book, Whispering Truth to Power: Everyday Resistance to Reconciliation in Postgenocide Rwanda published by the University of Wisconsin Press, is now available in both paperback and e-copy. The Press will consider reviews by prominent bloggers (I have no idea what they mean by 'prominent') so if you are interested in providing a review, please let me know and I'll try to get a copy to you. I am excited about this publication as it represents almost ten years of research and writing.