Friday, June 25, 2010

Plus ca change: Advocating for Rwanda

Oh my, it has been an intense few weeks in Rwandan politics. The attempted assassination of Gen. Nyamwasa, the murder of Jean Leonard Rugambage (acting editor of Umuvugizi newspaper), the continued detention, harassment and intimidation of the political opposition and critics of the government, including dissent within the military. It is equally tense in the countryside as government policy has led to an increase of almost 30% in the cost of staple foods, the short rains were too short, and the government continues to deploy its security personnel to all corners of the country to ensure that peasants "vote for the right party".

There are parallels with the pre-genocide period -- the elimination of opposition and opponents, harassment and intimidation of elites and peasants alike, and the constant threat of loss of life. A key difference is that the violence of the pre-genocide period took place in the broader context of civil war. The key similarity is that the violence is driven by elites in pursuit of political power.

All this raises the question of what can we do to raise the alarm about what is going on in Rwanda right now. Some positives have emerged. For better or for worse, the assassination attempt of Gen. Nyamwasa in South Africa has not only focused attention on Rwanda right now. Prominent publications like the New York Times, the Huffington Post, the Globe and Mail and the Guardian have begun to publish critical pieces on Rwanda. In addition, American attorney Peter Erlinder has been released from custody in Rwanda, and I hope that his story will slink into the background. His story is a perfect example of raising the wrong kind of attention about Rwanda. His is a story that feeds into Western assumptions about politics in African countries like Rwanda as ethnically motivated and grounded in atavistic hatreds rather than complex and nuanced calculations to gain, or maintain, political power (and all the spoils that go with it....)

So what can people like you and me, who care about Rwanda, and Rwandans from all walks of life? My position has always been, no more loss of life in Rwanda, and the GLR, by any party. One's ethnicity, social status or economic class must not determine the value of one's life. I want to push Rwandan society to a place where ethnic politics no longer determine one's lost in life....

First, consider all sides of the story. Get educated. Mis- and Dis-information has long characterised political life in Rwanda (as is the case in all authoritarian states...). It is easy to make emotional pleas that pass as analysis.

Second, talk to as many people as possible about what is going on in Rwanda. We need to make more people care about what goes on in a tiny central African country. There is more to Rwanda than the politics of Kagame and his crew. There are peasant people who live their lives in chronic adversity that should feature in our analysis and commentary, but rarely do. Bringing in their voices not only provides a human face to what is going on in Rwanda, it shifts the analysis away from power politics to human lives. Both narratives are important, but elite politics must not sublimate peasant realities.

Third, call your political representative and tell them about your concern about current events in Rwanda. Tell them to get involved and active at the level of policy. Lobby and educate as many decision-makers as you can.

Fourth, if you are so inclined, write. Open debate and dialogue. Share your concerns and analysis with a broader audience.

1 comment:

  1. I think, what happens in Rwanda is not different from what happened sometimes ago in Uganda, Kenya and other african countries. where the governement want not share his political power. The context of rwanda today is just pointed out because of genocide history but it is not different from the other african countries election troubles.