Friday, December 16, 2011

Where will Kagame's Rhetoric Take Rwanda?

It has been a wild couple of weeks for Rwanda's President, Paul Kagame. American Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, offered a speech full of glowing praise for the country's institutional and economic development on 23 November 2011. In the final few paragraphs of the speech, Rice, who believes 'friends should speak frankly to friends', encouraged Rwanda to open up its political space so that 'the deepening and broadening of democracy can be the next great achievement of this great country and its remarkable people.' Word from folks resident in Kigali states that President Paul Kagame was so angry about Rice's nudge for greater political expression that he did not receive her as a diplomatic guest at Urugwiro Village. An insult to one of Rwanda's biggest donors? Perhaps. This is the least interesting part of the story.

I thought Kagame's immediate reaction to the speech showed his true stripes. He is the embodiment of Rwanda and to insult the country is a direct and personal attack on Kagame himself as father of the nation. A clear sign of his increasing megalomania is the outrage he showed for Rice's gentle words. Indeed, she could have come out much stronger against many of the regime's current oppressive practices, not least of which is the farcical trial of Victoire Ingabire. The government is so clearly involved in this trial that I hear from foreign journalists on the ground that even they can't cover it, for free of ending up in 1930 prison themselves! Leaving aside whatever you may feel about Ingabire and her culpablity, she still deserves a free and fair trial.

It wasn't until days later, allegedly during Kagame's participation in a Kigali-city umuganda clean-up that he began to rant about 'so-called friends or those among us who consider themselves extraordinary'. A quick diversion: If you look at these photos of Kagame at his Flickr site at umuganda you'll readily suspect that none of the people in images are peasant Rwandans (e.g., abakene (poor, living on less than $1/day) or abatindi (vulnerable, living on less than $0.50/day). Notice the western style of dress, the covered shoes and new rubber boots, wrist-watches, and other trappings of success. The audience members in these images reflect nothing of the peasantry I consult in my own research -- poorly nourished with weathered faces and bodies that belie their actual age, dressed in threadbare clothes, with little if any opportunity for socio-economic mobility. My guess is that the folks we see in these Flickr photos are part of the entourage of sycophants (willing, delusional or otherwise is another matter) that travel around, in the employ of the ruling RPF, to put the best possible spin on everything Kagame says and does. Word on the street in the US is that Rwandan sycophants, some of whom are on RPF-sponsored scholarships, receive between $250 and $1500 per protest. (These numbers taken from Rwandans resident in the US who protested at the HQ of the Lantos Foundation in early November because of its prize for Paul Rusesabagina; folks spoke openly to me about this, expressing themselves freely I suppose although we both know Kagame would definitely not approve!)

Back to the task at hand. During umuganda, Kagame spoke only in Kinyarwanda, meaning that Susan Rice may yet know about his anger towards her remarks in Kigali just a few days before. Key excerpts from Kagame: 'If you promote equality among people, and you are the first in the world in terms of gender equality -- by lifting up women who had never before reached such a level, if you tell me this is not democracy, if you tell me this is not respect of human rights, you certainly are sick' I guess I am also 'sick' (meaning sick in the head, i.e., deranged) as the equality of women in parliament has yet to trickle down to women in the hills. Indeed, I think it remains fair to say, as I did in an editorial published in The Guardian (co-authored with Erin Baines and Stephen Brown) in 2008 that 'even as women's visibility in politics is at an all-time high, their ability to shape the future of the country, ironically, has not improved. Parliamentarians – be they male or female – actually have very 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'. Instead, what I think we are seeing from Kagame is his an acknowledgment that his gender policy is only for elite women, and for elite women who toe the RPF line. Susan Rice surely knows this, but said nothing about it, opting instead for a more diplomatic statement of 'friends talking to friends.' Someone who is receptive to criticism sees it for what it is, considers the advice, reflects upon, perhaps seeks counsel from others, and finds ways to improve the situation. We see none of this emotional or political moderation from Kagame, and that is the worrying aspect of his leadership at the moment. Indeed, his rhetoric is reminiscent of the ramping of political language we saw before the 1994 genocide. Surely, this is food for thought for anyone concerned about peace in Rwanda.

President Kagame continued with his vitriolic reaction to Ambassador Rice. He said,'every person among the eleven million of Rwandans can speak whenever he/she wants and whatever he/she wants, because we continuously empower them in terms of freedom of speech. But I cannot accept you saying that there about hundred or hundred fifty people that we prevent from speaking – and to whom the right of reply is not allowed. What type of people are those? Why [should we allow them to speak]? Among them there are those who say useless things, and some of them even say destructive things. If you say things that destroy the Rwanda we are building, we shall destroy you. We don’t need to apologize to anyone about that; the only problem is that we don’t do it [destroy them] sufficiently (my emphasis).

Is this thinly veiled threat not worrying to anyone in the international community? Do we not remember the many warning signs, both rhetorical and programmatic, that presaged the 1994 genocide? I believe we are at a critical juncture in Rwanda's postgenocide evolution. President Kagame has entered a phase of political extremism. Threats to 'destroy you' if you speak out need to be take seriously. Indeed, the word on the street among Rwandans at home at abroad is that the murder exiled journalist Charles Ingabire in Kampala on 2 December 2011 was to send a message to silence critics. I am not entirely convinced of this myself as the Kagame regime has been killing its own since it took office in July 1994. One only need to consult the writings of Filip Reyntjens to learn of the killing machine that supports the Kagame regime (see in particular his excellent January 2011 article in African Affairs). Either way, Ingabire is dead, and a full independent investigation is needed.

At any rate, we know that Kagame is furious with the international community (and perhaps Susan Rice in particular). He made a speech at Rwanda's 9th National Conference on 15 December 2011. The tone is his voice is chilling as he tries to equate the press freedom that the international community desires to letting the planners and implementers of the genocide 'to go scot free'. Please email me and I will send you the .mp3 file. The last eight to ten minutes are in English. Listen for yourself. I am keen to hear what others think. To my ear, Kagame is throwing down the gauntlet in a veiled battle cry. It is the spectre of renewed conflict that is worrying, and this is something those of us working for peace in Rwanda, and the region, need to think about as the 2017 elections are less than five year away (and Kagame has already started posturing -- my money is on his running for a third term).

What can be done at this stage to not only avoid conflict, but open up freedoms of expression and assembly while reducing socio-economic inequalities in pursuit of sustainable peace?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rudasingwa's Political Aspirations?

For the past several months, one of the founders of the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), Theogene Rudasingwa. has made a number of statements about both his falling out with President Paul Kagame, and a series of RNC Strategies for Reforming Rwanda. All of these statements, and supporting documents can be found in Rudasingwas's Facebook page.

I am personally skeptical about Rudasingwa's sincerity and integrity. His various pleas and calls to actions are long on rhetoric and short on concrete steps to enact the necessary steps to return Rwanda to its former glory. His most recent post (cut-and-paste in full below) prompts me to write this post, as it is nothing short of a call for regime change, and is perhaps the most revealing of Rudasingwa's main posts, and media appearances. Just google his name. Much will come up. Little will be learned except insights into an individual who clearly has an axe to grind with Kagame and who manipulates international audiences in much the same way as the man he hopes to overthrow. It is a very worrying time in Rwandan politics as its elites are sabre rattling while the population starves.


Both anthems are beautiful. Both evoke strong passions. Each speaks to the passing away of the old order, and the establishment of the new. Both extol the beauty of this ancient nation of Rwanda. Rwanda is our only home that we love so much that we sometimes want to deny others the right to love it. It is ok to love Rwanda Rwacu. It is ok to love Rwanda Nziza. It will be ok to love a possible Rwanda Rwacu, Rwanda Nziza, a synthesised anthem of the future free, democratic and prosperous Rwanda.

Today I am announcing two prizes, each worth 5,000 $:

1. A concept of a new Rwandan flag that incoporates some themes from the old and new Rwandan flags.

2. A new concept of lyrics and music of a new national anthem that incorporates some themes from the old and new national anthems.

Rwandans and non-Rwandans free to compete for one or both prizes.

The winners will be announced on 1st January 2013.'

Friday, November 25, 2011

Rice has Left, the Round Up Begins?

From the RNC Africa Chapter Facebook page. My comments are in [square brackets]

Breaking News. Early hours of this morning [25 November, following the departure of American Ambassador Susan Rice], the suburbs of the capital City of Rwanda, Kigali, residents were woken up by soldiers and police deployed by the defense minister James Kabarebe and his boss President of Rwanda Paul Kagame. The deployment of more that 2000 soldiers and policemen took place mid night in suburbs mostly habituated by Hutus and Moderate Tutsis [are there areas where government opponents congregate?], whom the government rebelled “ Bagati Mujisho”. The term “ Bagati Mujisho” refers to people who don’t side with government’s ideals. “We don’t know what police are searching for, but the fabricated roomers are that people are hiding Rwanda National Congress operatives as well as ammunition in their houses” said Mukanoheri. This comes after the visit of the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Susan E. Rice. In her speech, at the Kigali Institute of Technology, she said “Yet, the political culture in Rwanda remains comparatively closed. Press restrictions persist. Civil society activists, journalists, and political opponents of the government often fear organizing peacefully and speaking out. Some have been harassed. Some have been intimidated by late-night callers. Some have simply disappeared” You can tell the fear in the eyes of the people in the street. “We are not certain of what might happen tomorrow. People are kept in the dark, we are treated like animals”. Said Vicent Kimenyi as he was boarding a taxi for work in Nyamirambo tax rank. Stay tuned as more and more stories keeping coming in. Uwera – Kigali-Rwanda.

[Can anyone corroborate this account?]

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Five College Africa Day 2011 November 5, Smith College Campus Center

For immediate release: October 26, 2011

Five College Africa Day 2011
November 5, Smith College Campus Center

From drumming and dance to panel discussions and stories, Five College Africa Day offers something for everyone. The sixth annual Africa Day will take place on November 5 at Smith College’s Campus Center.

Dr. Joseph Sebarenzi, former speaker of the Rwandan Parliament and survivor of the Rwandan genocide, starts off the day’s events with his keynote address entitled “Healing After Hardship: Survival and Forgiveness in Post-Genocide Rwanda.”
The address is followed by an afternoon of dance performances and panel discussions that examine African development and studying and working in Africa. There will also be an Africa study abroad and student activities fair.

The day is capped off with a party, featuring music, food and dance with the Smith College African and Caribbean Students Association and Five College colleagues.

Africa Day, now in its sixth year, is organized by the Five College African Studies program. The program, which publishes the highly regarded African Studies Review, is committed to building a better understanding and appreciation of Africa. This popular annual event is one means for spreading that understanding.

Africa Day 2011 takes place at the Smith College Campus Center from 1:00 p.m. into the evening. For more information, visit

Also on November 5, the Smith College Art Museum is holding “World Art Day” featuring African art from the exhibit “Crosscurrents: Art of the Southeastern Congo.” On Africa Day the museum is free and open to all from 10 a.m.—3 p.m.

Based in Amherst, Massachusetts, Five Colleges, Inc., is a nonprofit educational consortium created in 1965 to advance the extensive educational and cultural objectives of its member institutions—Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

For more information, contact
Kevin Kennedy

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Empirical Record on Habyarimana's Death

On 1 October 2011, Rwanda National Congress co-founder, Theogene Rudasingwa confirmed that his former Rwandan Patriotic Front colleague, Paul Kagame, is personally responsible for downing Habyarimana's plane -- the event that initiated the Rwandan genocide. Certain segments of the Disapora lit up social media sites with sentiments of praise and relief at the willingness and ability of Dr. Rudasingwa to express what has long been an open secret in Rwanda. The academic and policy worlds, in careful assessments of the available empirical record had established as early at 2000 that Kagame ordered the downing of Habyarimana's in a bid to secure political power, not to save Tutsi lives. A good representative article is Kuperman's 2004 "Provoking Genocide: A revised history of the Rwandan Patriotic Front". Indeed, more careful academic work from Guichaoua and Straus suggests that the military actions of the RPF along with its unwillingness to negotiate in good faith at the Arusha Peace Accords, combined with the surprise downing of Habyriamana's plane, meant that extremist elements within the interim government only planned the genocide on the evening of 6 April 1994.

There has been virtually no response from Kigali on Rudasingwa's allegation, although I hear from trusted sources that Kagame is fuming mad. A representative reaction that minimises the historical importance of the downing of Habyarimana's plane comes from one of the many journalists known to be in Kigali's employ, Frederick Golooba-Mutebi. Golooba-Mutebi's article makes the requisite personal attacks on Rudasingawa, urging him to notice that his position is one that divides Rwandans, and is rooted in colonial thinking that promoted exclusionary politics in the first place. As is standard in government-sponsored media, Golooba-Mutebi does not directly engage the empirical claims of Rudasingwa's article; instead he launches into a standard government narrative of the root causes of the genocide, seeking to strip Kagame's personal accountability and minimise the importance of engaging Rudasingwa's allegations.

I think both sides of the 'Who-Downed-the-Plane' debate miss a larger point that is important for Rwandans to know as they seek to build an inclusive polity (the stated goal of both the RPF and the RNC). What happened that day in Arusha, during the power sharing discussions, that made 6 April 1994 the day to bring down Habyarimana's plane? There is no available transcript of the 6 April talks that I've ever been able to find, and folks like Rudasingwa, with intimate knowledge of the political and military posturing and strategy of the RPF before, during and immediately after the genocide, are well placed to reveal something more than which actors downed the plane that started the genocide.

If they could introduce new empirical evidence on why the downing of the plane was the defining event that launched the genocide, and on the motivations and political interests of all the actors to the Arusha Accords (including international observers), we could break ground that not only reveals the culpability of key RPF actors in downing Habyarimana's plane, but shows the political machinations of political leaders in both the Habyarimana and interim regimes that carried out genocide. It could also reveal that the RPF are not the saviours of post-genocide Rwanda, and that its leaders are also responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Without a sincere reckoning of why Habyarimana's plane went down when it did, and why, a big part of the puzzle is missing. Can the RNC and other political actors flesh out the empirical record? Will they?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Shame on You, Foreign Policy

Shame on you, Foreign Policy, for publishing such an amateurish piece on Rwanda's development success as rooted in order and cleanliness. The author, David Dagan, clearly has little knowledge of Rwandan history, or politics. This type of reporting helps shape the image of Rwanda that Westerns hold, and it is an inaccurate one that in turn bolsters and shapes donor policy. Interesting that this piece comes out shortly after Tony Blair defended his relationship with, and reaffirmed his commitment to the policies and practices of Rwandan President Kagame. International donors may be clueless, but I'd bet that diplomats on the ground in Kigali know full well that the 'successes' of the government come on the back of ordinary Rwandans who are not part of the state machinery.

I agree that the international community is looking for a success story, but not at any cost. What the author perceives as order and cleanliness is actually an ambitious drive to modernise described by James Scott in his "Seeing Like a State". Rwanda is actively engaged in a social, economic and political engineering process that privileges a few (presumably those that this author consulted) at the expense of the many (which the author appears not to have consulted). Without an understanding of the how these policies impact local actors, keeping in mind that even by Rwandan government numbers, 80 - 90% of Rwandans are subsistence farmers who live on less than $1 per day. Indeed, World Bank and IMF number acknowledge that at least 65% of Rwandans live on much much less. Indeed, among the peasant folks I consulted in my own research in the Southwest of the country, the average daily income was only 11 cents per day! I'd like to remind the author that Rwanda's gini coefficient has increased under Kagame. Rwandans are more poor today than there were in 1992 (.44 then vs. .59 now). Rwanda's economic growth is not shared by all, and it is hardly shared equitably. Economic growth should translate into an improved standard of living (see this explanation of the relationship between GDP and poverty)

It is also important to keep in mind that the government controls much of the political, social and economic sphere. Thus, it can demand clean and orderly valleys where poverty reigns because residents know they can be fined up to 10,000 FRW (approx. 17US$) if they do not. Umuganda is a historical practice that is rooted in more than a century of oppressive practices by local officials on the local populations in their jurisdiction. In its current manifestation, umuganda is still seen by many Rwandans as an additional humiliation that serves the government 's agenda.

These are but two glaring examples from the author. I could go on, but suffice it to say, he needs to look beyond the obvious, stop filtering what he does see and experience through a Western lens, and try to identify and explain what he does not see and hear. In a country where authoritarianism is entrenched (not emergent as the author contends), the author should, as any competent political scientist would, look at points of exclusion and inequality rather than blandly praising the government. I suggest he start by picking up the recently published "Remaking Rwanda", edited by Scott Straus and Lars Waldorf.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Take Action for Victoire Ingabire, Rwandan Opposition Politician

Earlier this week, the Rwandan High Court ruled that it had full jurisdiction in the case of opposition leader, Victoire Ingabire. This went unremarked by the international and domestic media, save a few reports from actors sympathetic to the obvious involvement of senior Rwandan government officials in Ingabire's trial. Indeed, almost all of the reporting on Ingabire's case is coming from officials of her FDU-Inkingi party.

Ingabire, of the United Democratic Front, is on trial in Kigali for fomenting insecurity, denying the 1994 genocide and promoting ethnic divisionism. Rwandan security forces detained her in January 2010, in advance of the August 2010 Presidential elections in which the incumbent, Paul Kagame, was re-elected with 93% of the popular vote. Ingabire’s detention meant that her UDF did not stand in the August elections. She will spend 30 years in prison if found guilty.

The purpose of this post is to ask you to take action, namely write to Paul Kagame, to request a fair trial. We need to bring more attention to the flawed nature of this case to the international community, and writing letters of protest to Kagame with a copy to your local politician is a good place to start. I prepared sample text for you to cut-and-paste below.

The Prosecution claim to have evidence of Ingabire’s ‘terrorist’ activities with Hutu rebel groups based in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ingabire’s defence team, a Brit and a Rwandan, had been unable to assess the veracity and validity of the prosecution’s claims because the 2500-page indictment was issued in Kinyarwanda. This was contrary to the defendant’s right to an interpreter, which was required for defense lawyer Iain Edwards to do his job. The indictment was finally translated, but only a few weeks before her trial began in September 2011, leaving her defence team little time to prepare its counter-arguments.

At the same time, it appears that the rule of law, and the right to presumption of innocence are under threat, with senior members of the Rwandan government, including President Paul Kagame, Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Muskikwabo, and Prosecutor-General Martin Ngoga, publically proclaiming victory in the case before the defence had even mounted its argument in court.

Ingabire faces charges of being linked to rebel activity in eastern Congo and that she has uttered hate speech and denies the genocide. Ingabire has called for government recognition that ethnic Hutu are also survivors of the genocide. Since the 2008 Constitutional revision, it has become illegal to refer to the genocide as anything other than the genocide of Tutsi.

Amnesty International and other international human rights organizations have advocated for the Rwandan government to allow for greater freedom of expression. Opposition politicians, like Ingabire, journalists and human rights advocates cannot criticize the policies or activities of the government without fear of swift and severe repercussion. The case of Victoire Ingabire is emblematic of broader trends of repression and oppression in Rwanda, as noted in Amnesty International’s on-going “Allow Criticism to be Voiced” campaign.

Take Action
You can write a letter to President Paul Kagame, requesting a fair trial for Victoire Ingabire. You can also send a postcard prepared by Amnesty International – USA Section calling on Rwanda to allow criticism of the government to be voiced by opposition politicians. Be sure to send a copy to your local politician

His Excellency President Paul Kagame
Office of the President
[Date, and your location of residence]

Your Excellency,

I am writing to express my concern for judicial irregularities and lack of respect for the rights of Mrs. Victoire Ingabire of the United Democratic Front. The indictment against Mrs. Ingabire is vague and sweeping. Her legal team has been unable to adequately prepare its defense arguments. In addition, Mr. President, members of your government have publicly spoken out about Mrs. Ingabire’s guilt, which is direct government interference in the judicial process. Such actions raise serious questions about the independence of the Rwandan judiciary, and the ability of Mrs. Ingabire to receive a fair trail that respects her human rights.

I urge you to allow Mrs. Ingabire a fair trial, which means letting her defense team to work unencumbered without fear of government interference in the proceedings.

Thank you,

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What News on the Ingabire Trial?

Is it just me, or is there no international or local reporting on the state of Ingabire's trial. I am not looking for a play-by-play akin to Casey Anthony's recently completed trial in Florida, but would like some updates or status reports or something. Anything.

I guess The New Times has not been instructed to report on the trial? And since independent journalists are all but silenced by Rwanda's Media High Council, I assume these folks are unable to report on the proceedings. Do we even know if journalists, independent or otherwise, are allowed in the court house? Or is it more simple than this -- Kagame's visit to France has eaten up all the available ink and column space?

I'd also like to remind the Rwandan government that its judiciary is on trial here as well. Is a little transparency to much to ask?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

16 Years under RPF Leadership, by Karekezi Eduard

Sharing this post, with permission of the author.

It is after a sour war of 1990-1994 that ended miserably with thousands if not millions of Rwandan people killed or had left the country, the RPF (the current ruling political party in Rwanda) took power. This human; savage and de-constructing act driven by human inevitable and irrepressible urge to come or cling to power left our society being the most wounded and shattered in the 21st century. Though many were left in a quandary without answers to causes and way forward, some still question the morality of this tragedy which uprooted our social bonds and left our society in tatters. Nevertheless this came to be a food for thoughts for political scientists, anthropologists, conflict resolution practitioners etc. as on the notion that management of post-conflict period can be influenced by how such a conflict ended. It has been crystal clear that when a conflict ended in a zero-sum style and an integrative solution to a conflict was disregarded, then the running of post-conflict period can not only be disastrous but also a seed-bed for future struggles. As the winning side tries to economically, politically and socially asphyxiate the losing one, the latter will only remain with a single option: digesting the defeat by smouldering inside silently. Thus in most cases while waiting for new avenues, survival strategies like total surrender to the winning party are crafted, and by virtue of being victorious, the winner takes all and subsequently pulls the strings. Here is Rwanda where we are.
Since the end of the abovementioned tragedy (war), activities have been undertaken in various domains. These range from infrastructure development, the fruitless and controversial reconciliation policy to toto closure (critical websites, newspapers, debates etc.) of whatever might have disturbed the political diet enjoyed by the ruling political party, the RPF. Aggressive population control mechanisms have been crafted. This is likely to be quickly achieved by the fact that due to unbearable living conditions, people are eager to get cash (10.000 Rfw (1.3 US dollars)) for vascotomy instead of searching for information regarding the policy and effects thereof. Deliberately designed vague and overarching laws were crafted to ensure that whoever dares to criticise the regime fits into a web of genocidaires. This significantly led one man’s meat (self-aggrandizment by the winner) being another one’s poisson (the loser being undyingly silent). Consequently goats (losers) are browsing where they have been tied (somewhere in prisons, refugee camps, rural areas etc.). To fully lock the nation, snippers were posted on the roofs by establishing a National Consultative Forum for Political Organizations in which all registered political parties are locked, and operate at the behest of the RPF.
Nevertheless, it is said that the love of a woman and a botle of wine are sweet for a season but last for a time, the RPF’s credibility recently began and continues to wear thin, the government needs to recalibrate its foreign policy and retool its way of dealing with external world. Wherever president Kagame goes and whoever he visits, we expect the unexpected flabbergasting, acidic stories for a president who has been receiving medals from some unwary leaders. Though he remains obdurate, president Kagame has opted for ‘school diplomacy’ whereby he would largely visit schools and students rather than heads of state who increasingly are becoming aware of his misdeeds committed inside and outside his area of jurisdiction. The unity between African diaspora is becoming more and more growing against him. With this in mind, he fully knows well that odds are stacked heavily against him. Indications are that the diaspora has handcuffed/dwarfed the regime’s drive toward self-posturing as benevolent and people oriented. Definitely this has been one of the causes for recurrent drought spell in Rwandan politics, and to that end, analysts suggest RPF has lost its ideological compass.
General perception on a case of General Kagame Vs. Ingabire
Once in history Lenin said that: “It is impossible to predict the time and progress of revolution. It is governed by its own more or less mysterious laws.” We used to follow from different channels about what this African woman stands for. But no one could gauge the bravery of Madame Ingabire Victoire until she, due to her psychological impulse to be and feel free, her belief that injustice everywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, decided to leave her country of exile and returned home to challenge the myths attached to RPF (of being a family for all Rwandese) by taking part in the largely criticized August 2010 presidential elections. Our sense was that the locked political space was going to be navigated. We thought it was the beginning of a genuine debate, constructive dialogue on the problems bedevilling our society. We appreciated her political acumen, her insightful thoughts. A new political dispensation was unfolding. However, it was a high-voltage political odyssey. Even though her philosophy on national reconciliation was irretrievably doubtless; sadly, she was arrested and re-arrested before presenting her political project to the electorate. While consuming this misfortune however, what we have to know is that in any field, professionals use tools to achieve their goals. Doctors use stethoscopes, mechanics use spanners, footballers use boots, teachers use chalk and blackboards etc. In the profession of politics, dictators use institutions to destroy their real or potential/perceived opponents; and subsequently score their political goals. The ruling political party here in Rwanda (RPF) is using the legal system as a technical tool against its potential political opponents. The judiciary system has become a willing appendage of RPF. The decisions of RPF politicians masquerading as judges, often of distant and confusing character, are indeed destroying perceived real opposition parties piece by piece. But equally important to note is that opposition leaders did not enter into politics to play second fiddle. These parties are, though not yet some registered, not led by dim-wit leaders. That is why the peoples of Rwanda think of being currently in a political quandary. In fact it is after realizing that unless it’s bent, a man cannot ride on your back, these pro-democracy took a decisive and uncompromising decision of telling the thruth the power. These pro-democracy, now in detention in one of the notorious prison known as 1930 have unwavering support of the entire population due to their thirst for truth, true truth and human dignity. These prominent opposition leaders are Mr. Ingabire Victoire the Chairperson of FDU-Inkingi a yet registered party along other key opposition leaders Mr. Bernard Ntaganda, the founder and president of PSI-Imberakuri (now split unto two, a move crafted by the ruling party), Mr. Ntakirutinka of UBUYANJA and Mr. Deo Mushayidi (PDP Imanzi) to name a few. The ruling party has used all instruments available to nip these rival political formations in the bud.
There is a German proverb which goes that if you want to kill a dog you must allege that it has rabies. This is what the RPF falsely has been using in order to justify the ill-treatment of prominent opposition leaders. They have been accused mainly of harboring genocide ideology. “genocide Ideology” has been an unimpeachable weapon of choice in its judicial arsenal. It does not need a rocket scientist to confirm that the circumstances under which Madame Ingabire Victoire, the chairperson of FDU-Inkingi found herself in is a result of having dared and called a spade a spade. This is well known by all and sundry. When something is right, it is right regardless of who says it, let alone how or when it is said. What we have to digest is that what Ingabire said on national reconciliation is unimpeachably true and therefore, realistically right. She put forward a clear framework on how solutions can be found to the problems that continue to smould our national psyche. Nevertheless, despite all these political tribulations, she remains the Rwanda’s most valued asset. Despite the suffering endured by these champions of democracy however, usually the unexpected happens. And it is said that the morning sun never lasts the day. Repeating what she said ‘time is nothing when there is courage and determination’. To end this, I would like to say that‘bitter pills may have blessed effects’.

Now dear friend, whoever you are, wherever you are, please you help is needed. People are languishing in prison because of me and you. You never know democracy has become a transboundary issue like HIV. Your voice is needed. We want to hear from you. Not today, not tomorrow, not……!!!!!BUT NOW!!!!!!!!

By Karekezi Eduard

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wikileaks: US Embassy on Spanish Indictments of Rwandan Officials

While I agree there is much wrong, and politically-motivated by the Spanish indictment, the analysis of the author of this cable shows that the US Embassy was not overly critical of the current regime....

"US embassy cable - 08KIGALI292

Identifier: 08KIGALI292
Origin: Embassy Kigali
Created: 2008-04-24 08:08:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.

DE RUEHLGB #0292/01 1150808
P 240808Z APR 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L KIGALI 000292



E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/24/2018

Classified By: Ambassador Michael R. Arietti, reason 1.4 (B/D)

1. (C) Summary. The Spanish indictment of 40 Rwandan military officers offers an unrecognizable version of some of
the most painful and violent episodes in Rwanda's history, distorting the established record, inventing mass killings,
placing the blame for any misfortune Rwandans have suffered (including the 1994 genocide) on the Kagame government. It is
a bloated political tract, sloppily organized and endlessly repetitive, and, ultimately, a disservice to those Rwandans who suffered real losses from revenge killings by the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), the armed forces of the Rwandan
Patriotic Front (RPF). End summary.

2. (SBU) Mission has reviewed an unofficial English language version of the Spanish indictment of 40 Rwandan military officers (several of whom are now dead) issued by Judge Fernando Andreu Merelles in February. This translations was produced by the Rwandan government; we are also in possession of a French language version of unknown provenance. While we do not claim extensive knowledge of the alleged abuses imputed to the RPA/RDF during the 1994 genocide or in the years before or after, we can offer a number of comments on the overall tone and structure of the document, as well as the overarching political theme offered by the Spanish judge.

3. (SBU) The thematic approach of the Spanish judge is evident from the opening paragraphs. The Rwanda Patriotic
Front was founded, according to the judge, not as is conventionally understood as a political organization of refugees, unable to return home and finally deciding upon using military force to do so -- to regain a homeland -- but as a criminal organization consecrated to the elimination of Hutu civilians, the raping of women and girls, abduction, and terrorist acts. According to the judge, the three-fold aim of this terrorist organization was the elimination of the entire Hutu ethnic group, securing of power by force, and the establishment of a Tutsi criminal hegemony over all the Great Lakes region. Those assisting the RPF-RPA included various western powers, principally the United States. In fact, the RDF operated as an instrument of American power, took
instructions from American officials in pursuing its criminal and genocidal assault on the Great Lakes region, and fought side by side with American Green Beret troops in Rwanda, the DRC and elsewhere in the region.

4. (SBU) To this entirely fanciful account of the origins and directing agencies of the RPF, we now turn to the judge's wildly inaccurate, not to say repugnant, description of the origins of the genocide and the carrying of mass slaughter of
civilians in 1994. At no point in the judge's narrative is the Habyarimana regime or extremist elements within that
government at fault -- there is no planning for genocide, no carrying out of prepared massacres, nary a mention of the
insidious and all-encompassing psychological preparation of mass killing by media outlets controlled by extremist
elements. No, in fact, according to the judge, everything is the fault of the RPA. If there were large massacre of Tutsis
anywhere in the country, it was the spontaneous reaction of an aggrieved Hutu population to organized killings perpetrated by the criminal Tutsi band of terrorists, killings intended to both terrorize the Habyarimana government and its Hutu supporters, and to provoke just such a reaction. If a moderate Hutu political leader was killed anywhere in the country (while the RPA occupied a small sliver of territory in the far north), according to the judge, in each and every instance it was the terrorist Tutsi
band of evil-doers, intent upon slaughtering moderate Hutu political leaders and attributing responsibility to the
Habyarimana regime. The larger goals the PRF/RPA had in mind in carrying out such actions, according to the judge, were to "demonize the Habyarimana regime," and "awaken and strengthen inter-ethnic hatred Hutu-Tutsi." In the judge's
mistaken view, the Habyarimana regime was a peaceful, law-abiding government, intent upon bringing good to all
Rwanda's people, if only left alone by the Tutsi hegemonists. The most casual of readings in recent Rwandan history would
affirm what everyone in fact knows: ethnic hatred was stoked for years by Habyarimana extremist elements; however, not for
for the Spanish judge, who apparently believes that ethnic hatred was never previously seen in Rwanda, not until the
RDP/RPA sought to impose its terroristic ideology.

5. (SBU) With a short acknowledgment by the Spanish judge that hundreds of thousands of the Tutsis did lose their lives, somehow, in the mid-year months of 1994 (no attribution of the killings is hazarded), we now arrive, courtesy of the judge, at mathematically stupendous killings by the RPA, following their "criminal" conquest of the country. Upon "usurping power" (from the genocidal rump government that tottered from place to place in Rwanda from April to July, 1994) massive killings began -- from July 1994 to July 1995, "312,726 people were killed in a selectively and deliberate way." The numbers have an interesting
precision: not 40,000 executed in Gitarama, but 39,912. Not 33,000 killings in Butare, but 33,433. The judge does not
explain how such precision was reached. The bodies were subsequently disposed of in exactly 173 mass graves, using
different "methodologies," such as hiding corpses, burning corpses, transporting them in trucks to undisclosed
locations, and using heavy equipment to dig massive communal graves.

6. (SBU) The judge then proceeds to the time of the insurgency in northwest Rwanda, and the sprawling refugee camps in eastern Congo. Again, any casual reader of Rwanda's history would know that Hutu militias, remnants of the defeated Habyarimana armed forces and the Interahamwe, fought tooth and nail with the RPA, and engaged in indiscriminate
killings across the northwest of Rwanda (the RPA engaging in revenge killings of its own, as the RPF itself acknowledges).
Not so for the Spanish judge. According to the judge, there were no attacks upon any portion of Rwanda's population by
Hutu militias operating out of the eastern Congo -- everything was staged by the RPF/RPA. For example, "There
were continued attacks on the Hutu civilian population using a new technique devised by the Office of Intelligence, to
simulate attacks against the civilian population by rebel infiltrators or (Hutu extremists), by attacking civilians in
the area of Ruhengeri." The purpose of these simulated attacks by the PRA, according to the judge, was to "justify a
rapid intervention by the RPA," and the accompanying slaughter of Hutus. According to the judge, the RPA fought
with itself, as a pretext to further planned massacres of Hutus.

7. (SBU) The judge then cites, at various places, various immense numbers of killings of Hutus by the criminal Tutsi
regime since 1994. At one point he cites 1.7 million Hutu victims (thereby doubling the figure of approximately 800,000
victims of the genocide), and at another, 4 million Hutu refugees and Congolese citizens, "the majority of them
Congolese Hutus." While we cannot evaluate each and every incident recorded in the massive indictment, and some may
well concern real killings by renegade RPA troops, we find these numbers, as well as those in paragraph 5, to be
literally unbelievable.

8. (C) Comment. The indictment is very long (182 pages in the French translation), badly organized, and sloppily
repetitive. The narrative repeats itself over and over, hundreds and hundreds of separate paragraphs, covering
ground, recovering it, re-recovering it, a Sisyphean retelling of some of the most painful episodes of Rwandan
history in outrageously inaccurate terms. The indictment dishonors the actual dead, while conjuring up legions of
ghost victims to blame on the Kagame government. There are episodes of revenge killings at the hands of the Rwandan
government, the RPA in the field, that have never been accounted for; yet the overall lack of credibility in the
judge's approach to events undermines his description of specific actions the Rwandan military allegedly committed.
This document does not move the squaring of accounts forward one iota -- if anything it is a disservice to those Rwandans
who seek an accounting for their losses at the hands of Rwandan government troops. End comment.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ingabire's Verdict?

The long awaited and much anticipated trial of Victoire Ingabire, the imprisoned de facto leader of the Rwandan political opposition, was due to start today. The judge adjourned court until Wednesday, citing the need for competent interpretation.

Yet, on Twitter, the Government of Rwanda has declared victory in the case, stating that it (not the prosecution) has documents to prove her ties to 'terrorist' groups in the region, and thus her guilt.

Nice to see the government being *this* transparent on its interference in the judicial system. I wonder what diplomats resident in Kigali might have to say on this. My guess is a muted response, particularly since President Kagame recently called international justice two-faced in reaction to the denial of visitors visas for several members of his delegation to France (or at least the timing of his reaction suggests as such).

While some people might find it a bit of a conceptual stretch to link Ingabire's domestic trial to Kagame's visit to France, what I think we are looking at is not justice, but rather fodder for Kagame's duplicitous actions vis-a-vis international criticism of his regime. Indeed, Ingabire's trial corresponds to continued demands from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others to revise and update the genocide ideology and ethnic divisionism laws. The timing of the two events is actually pretty crappy for continued government efforts to show itself as forward looking, progressive and ethnically inclusive. My sense is that we are about to enter an intense period of government propaganda that will further reveal points of weakness in ruling RPF....

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

FAHAMU Statement on Rwandan Refugees

PLEASE ACT NOW: Sign-on to Statement Protecting Rwandan Refugees!

On 31 December 2011, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and several states hosting Rwandan refugees are considering invoking the “cessation clause” of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. This is a very unusual and dangerous move that could cause revocation of the refugee status of tens of thousands of people who fled ethnic and political persecution in Rwanda, stripping them of basic rights and exposing them to forcible repatriation and possible persecution. Cessation is premature and should be stopped.

But you can do something about it! Send the FAHAMU Refugee Programme an email indicating that you endorse the statement below. We will carry your views to the Executive Committee of UNHCR and representatives of its Member States at their annual meeting in Geneva from 3rd – 5th October.

Here’s the text:

We, the undersigned, oppose invocation of the “cessation clause” of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees with respect to Rwanda. Thousands of persons fled Rwanda and are currently seeking protection abroad. These are not people escaping retribution from the 1994 genocide; they are those who have been fleeing Rwanda since that event because of the instability, ethnic strife, arbitrary judicial procedures, indiscriminate retaliation, political violence, intolerance of dissent, impunity, and lack of accountability that has followed.

Cessation is a drastic measure that would strip refugees of their legal rights and expose them to forcible repatriation and the risk of further persecution. The Cessation Clause should only be invoked with extreme caution when there has been, according to the Guidelines of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 1) a fundamental and profound change in country conditions such that they no longer have a well-founded fear of persecution, 2) the change is demonstrably enduring and not merely transitory, and, 3) the change enables refugees to enjoy the protection of the government.

Rwanda has made much progress since the genocide but it has not done so through reliable democratic and peaceful means. It remains a fragile, volatile, authoritarian regime with little tolerance for dissent, freedom of speech, or independent human rights reporting. Social and political fissures remain unresolved and the Rwandan government maintains an overtly hostile attitude towards its citizens who have fled. Positive changes need time to consolidate and genuine national reconciliation remains untested. Moreover, since 2009, more Rwandans have been fleeing, not just Hutu, but large numbers of genocide survivors who were never refugees before, as well as officials of the Rwandan government and officers from its army. Now is not the time to revoke protection from Rwandan refugees!

Endorse Now! Send your name, job title, and organizational affiliation as you wish it to appear, along with your country of residence, to If you can endorse on behalf of your organization, church, business, union, or other civic group, let us know—that will be even more powerful! (Otherwise we will just list your affiliation “for identification only.”)

Protesting Kagame Only One Part of the Equation

I have been contacted in the past few weeks to support Rwandans living in the Disapora to protest President Paul Kagame's upcoming visit to France. I do support such actions in principle, because I think it is important that Rwandans and others interested in peace and security in the country (and region) engage in such protest. It is important to continue to alert members of the international community of Kagame's human rights excesses and continued repression of various political freedoms.

Of late, I am finding the tone and pitch of the language used by members of the Disapora worrying. In some cases, opinion is centred on 'getting rid of Kagame' without much regard to what a post- RPF Rwanda might look like. Certainly, Kagame will have to face justice for crimes committed before and during his tenure, but this day is not around the corner. If anything, it's a long shot to think that Kagame will face international justice, and consequently not a meaningful strategy for change. By 'change', I think these critics mean opening up the political space. Indeed, this is an important issue, but is not in my opinion the most pressing one at this moment. The conditions on the ground simply do not exist for a serious accounting of history, opposition politics, and political freedoms are not ripe.

Instead, I think activists and advocates should be focusing on calling out the RPF on its relations with the peasantry. The 'peasantry' (some 90% of Rwandans) are left out of the gains brought by the country's impressive economic growth. Finding meaningful ways to narrow this gap seems to me to be the most pressing issue facing Rwanda at the moment.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

My Reaction to the Reaction to 'Silent Sabotage'

A few weeks ago, I was invited by an editor at Nairobi's The East African newspaper to publish a short opinion piece based on my recently published article in the journal African Affairs, entitled 'Whispering Truth to Power: The Everyday Resistance of Peasant Rwandans to Post-Genocide Reconciliation'. I readily accepted for two reasons. First, I consider The East African the premier newspaper in the region, and was thrilled to have been asked to contribute to a newspaper I respect and consult on a regular basis. Second, as an academic, I can't reasonably turn down any opportunity to share my research findings. It is simply not in my DNA! You can find the original East African post here.

As I've said before, my work in Rwanda is directed at one broad goal, namely, no more violence by any party, ever. Full stop. Of course this is a lofty ideal, and one that is not easily operationalised. So, I have focused my research on understanding everyday life since the genocide to demonstrate that the 'new' Rwanda is largely being built on the backs of peasants who are not, by and large, sharing in the yearly average of eight percent average economic growth. Socio-economic inequality is a pressing issue, and one that spills into the political sphere that the ruling RPF so desperately seeks to control. This is the position that I write from. I know that academic articles are rarely consulted, and less rarely read, so well-placed opinion pieces are part and parcel of my academic work. Indeed, I moved to the US to work at Hampshire College in large part because of its commitment to social justice issues and its support of faculty who engage in activist-inspired research.

I also write opinion pieces to keep peasant perspectives on the radar screen of folks working in the country -- tourists, students, journalists, diplomats, etc. -- because Kigali is so impressive with its clean streets, low crime, internet cafes, high rises and other trappings of Western success. There is a story behind the carefully crafted and calibrated message of the 'new' Rwanda as one where the institutional structures that created the genocide have been undone (they have not), that Rwandans are reconciled (some are, many are not), and that the country is peaceful and secure (nationally secure, yes, locally peaceful not so much).

It is because there is some truth to the arguments I posit in my opinion pieces that I am subject to the often-vitriolic commentary of Rwandan journalists and other writers (including some working as advisors and/or speech writers in the Office of the Rwandan President). It is rare that my actual arguments are engaged, although this reaction from Jean-Paul Kimonyo on Paul Kagame's presidential website is the first sign of actual engagement of my ideas. Usually, the reaction is more insult than dialogue, like this example from Rwanda's The New Times.

I give these two examples to throw out this idea. If my analysis is as far-fetched as my critics and opponents contend, then why do they spend so much time trying to discredit my writing?

I think the answer lies in a legitimacy crisis. There is an alternate story about Rwanda behind the impressive accomplishments that are put on display, largely for a Western audience. Life for non-elite actors, nearly 90% of the population, is tough. It is a life of fear, harassment and grinding poverty while elites posture for proximity to political power. There is a growing disconnect between peasant realities and government rhetoric about those realities. And therein lies the lack of legitimacy to govern that RPF enjoys in some rural areas in Rwanda.

The acts of everyday resistance that my research identifies does not point to riot, revolt or rebellion. The local dynamics are simply not such to allow for such popular organisations. Instead, the minute and subtle actions that some peasants engage in vis-a-vis the demands of local officials to comply with central government policies reveal one of the most vexing insecurities faced by local and central government officials in postgenocide Rwanda. As individuals who exercise their authority through fear, government officials expect a certain measure of deference and compliance to their demands.

In much the same way, those writers charged with challenging my work also seem to expect my compliance to their spurious arguments. Sadly for them, these reactions are having the opposite effect -- the more they react, the more my work is read.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

IRIBA CENTER in Rwanda: A Media Archive to Remember History

I'm writing to ask you to support the creation of the Iriba Center in Rwanda, a media archive. Hopefully, you are familiar with Anne Aghion's remarkable films on gacaca; the most recent being "My Neighbor, My Killer". I find her style of film-making, which allows Rwandans to speak without any voice-over narrative, renders the complexity of gacaca and reconciliation in Rwanda with great sensitivity. I use her films a great deal in teaching and am amazed that they speak to students who know little or nothing of Rwanda, to Rwandans, and to scholars specializing in the region.

Her final products required literally hundreds of hours of filming in Rwanda over 10 years time. The vast majority of footage she shot did not make it into the films and has been residing under her bed in her Paris apartment. She has been looking for a suitable archive for this footage and decided to create the Iriba Center in Kigali, modeled after the Bophana Center in Cambodia, so that scholars and Rwandans can have access not only to this film footage but also other films and documentation.

She and her collaborators are raising money through a Kickstarter campaign:
Kickstarter is a fundraising website that raises money to launch projects. The goal is to raise $40,000 by August 21. As of this morning, the campaign has almost reached 50%.

I just made my pledge today, and I ask you to consider making a pledge in any amount to support this important project. Even 1$ will make an important difference!

Silent Sabotage: How the Rwandan Peasantry is Defying 'Reconciliation'

Why would peasant Rwandans resist the government’s post-genocide reconciliation programme, particularly when so many people — donors, journalists, policy-makers and civil society representatives alike — see Rwanda as a peaceful, stable, development-oriented country in the midst of the violent turmoil of the Great Lakes Region?

From the perspective of the rural poor, the answer is that many of them consider the programme unjust and illegitimate as it works against their interests as peasants. This is an important point to consider given that peasants were the main actors in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide as both perpetrators and survivors. Incorporating peasants who lived through the violence of the genocide into the Rwandan policy as participating members is necessary to avoid future mass atrocity.

Rwanda’s programme of national unity and reconciliation is the backbone of the Rwandan government’s reconstruction strategy following the genocide in which civilian Hutu killed at least 500,000 Tutsi – though most estimates hover around a million. Introduced in 1999, the programme aims to create “one Rwanda for all Rwandans,” meaning the government actively seeks to undo Tutsi and Hutu ethnic labels in favour of an inclusive Rwandan one.

The government claims that the programme is successfully promoting ethnic unity as the basis of lasting reconciliation between the country’s main ethnic groups. From the perspective of Rwandan peasants I interviewed, the programme forcibly produces the appearance — but not the reality — of national unity and reconciliation.

Thus obedience to the dictates of the programme is frequently tactical, rather than sincere, as peasants employ various strategies to avoid participation. A look at the resistance of peasants to the programme opens up for analysis the extent to which the government’s rhetoric about delivering peace, justice, and reconciliation to Rwandans is reflected in the lived reality of the populace.

The mandatory activities imposed on peasant Rwandans in the name of national unity and reconciliation (such as the umuganda or community work days, the ingando citizenship re-education camps and the gacaca justice trials) prevent them from tending their fields and engaging in other life-sustaining activities.

That Rwanda’s rural poor do not support the programme of national unity and reconciliation may seem counter-intuitive to those who know of Rwanda’s admirable recovery from the violence of the 1994 genocide, particularly given the country’s impressive economic and institutional gains. Peasant Rwandans resist largely because the programme does not allow for frank or open discussion of how ethnic categories shaped the violence of the genocide, nor is there any official recognition of lived experiences that differ from the official version, in which only Tutsi were victims and only Hutu killed.

Nor does the government allow for public acknowledgment of the existence or experience of Tutsi and Twa perpetrators; Hutu and Twa rescuers; Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa resisters; or Hutu and Twa survivors. Tutsi are rightfully and correctly survivors of genocide, as they were targeted by virtue of their ethnicity, but all Rwandans are survivors of conflict, jostled and shaped by traumatic events over which they had little or no control.

Because the programme of national unity and reconciliation does not acknowledge the multitude of lived through experiences of Rwandans of all ethnicities during the genocide, peasant Rwandans I consulted understood well the risks of speaking out against the programme and so found subtle, indirect, and non-confrontational ways to avoid or subvert the demands of the programme.

A common tactic employed by peasant Rwandans is “staying on the sidelines,” and is embodied in an array of avoidance tactics to keep out of trouble with the local authorities. of all ethnicities shared this sentiment with me. For example, Aurelia, a 39-year-old Hutu widow, says that she actively tries to avoid her local official: “The best strategy is to avoid the authorities. When you see them, they make demands for reconciliation. [My official] knows that I lost all of my people [family members] during the events.”

Another common form of peasant resistance is withdrawn muteness. These are purposeful and strategic acts of silence that peasant Rwandans employ to defy the expectations of the programme in ways that either protect their limited resources or assure their dignity in their interactions with local officials. For example, Trésor, a 16-year-old Tutsi boy, described the purpose of withdrawn muteness as a tactic that sabotages government efforts to promote reconciliation: “Remaining silent is very rewarding because it angers local officials. They ask if we are stupid. They ask why we are so difficult. That is the point. The officials make us get reconciled but I just want to be left alone. Being silent is a good way to avoid the difficulties of life since the genocide. Silence helps us do that in ways that make sense to us, not to local officials.”

The truth is that peasant Rwandans feel that the programme makes their daily struggle to provide for survival more complicated. Rather than blindly or willingly accept state-led directives to reconcile with each another, peasant Rwandans recognise that the policy is yet another form of social control that they strategically avoid so that they can get on with more pressing matters of rebuilding their lives and livelihoods. Domestic and international actors that care about sustainable peace in Rwanda and in the countries of the Great Lakes more broadly need to consider the behaviour and attitudes of rural folk, lest they once again take up arms against neighbours, colleagues, and friends.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Action: Amnesty International Campaign on freedom of speech in Rwanda

Amnesty International Campaign on freedom of speech in Rwanda, now beginning: Freedom of expression has been unduly restricted for many years. August 2010 presidential elections, which President Kagame won with 93 per cent of the vote, were marked by a clampdown on freedom of expression. The Rwandan government has expressed a commitment to review laws which criminalize criticism, but recent trials of journalists and opposition politicians suggest that Rwanda’s clampdown on critics shows no sign of abating. Ditto the detention of Victoire Ingabire for freedom of expression "crimes".

We have postcards you can mail to President Kagame. Let me know if you would like any, and i've have them mailed to you. This is an important campaign. Or, you can tweet the same to @Paul Kagame and his Foreign Minister, @LMushikiwabo.

For postcards, please contact Ken Harrow at

You can also "like" Amnesty's Central Africa page on Facebook to keep abreast of this campaign and others in the region.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

On Genocide Anniversary, Rwanda Needs Political Reform

This Thursday, April 7, 2011 marks the seventeenth anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, where more than 800,000 lives were lost when Hutu-led, state-based militia goaded neighbours to kill neighbouring Tutsis. The anniversary is a time to pause and reflect on the progress the country has made since the genocide, and to ask if mass political violence could again happen in this East African country.

By most accounts, Rwanda is a nation rehabilitated. The institutions of the state have been rebuilt and infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and airports have been restored and in some areas, upgraded. Rwanda is a leader on the African continent in terms of service delivery in education and health. The Rwandan government and a coterie of friends that include Hollywood celebrities, professional athletes, western philanthropists, diplomats and donors project this message of rehabilitation and dismiss any critical accounts to the contrary as absurd. The Rwandan government and these “friends of Rwanda” also dismiss the notion that Rwanda’s post-genocide reconstruction and reconciliation policies could be setting the stage for another round of political violence.

Most outsiders fail to recognize the lack of political freedoms and economic inequalities that confront Rwandans who are not members of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The vast majority of Rwandans—Hutu and Tutsi alike—who survived the genocide remain politically marginalized, extremely poor, and in many cases, traumatized by what they have lived through. Daily life for many is characterized by lack of food, clean water, and affordable and proximate health services, while the elite enjoy European coffee houses, wireless internet hotspots, new housing and shopping malls, accessible health care and other services. The gap between urban elites and the rural citizenry – some 90% of Rwandans live in rural areas – has never been larger.

It is this growing socio-economic inequity between the ruling elite and average Rwandans that makes another round of political violence possible. In order to maintain the peace, international actors active in Rwanda, and the broader Great Lakes Region of Africa, must push the RPF towards a real democratic opening. They must press President Paul Kagame to create space for national dialogue, meaning an open and safe space where all Rwandans can meet to discuss the genocide, and to strategize ways to move forward from the hurt of the past. This is particularly important after the recent release of a UN report detailing allegations of systematic killings of Rwandan Hutu by the RPF in eastern Congo before, during and after the 1994 genocide.

There are two things that the “friends of Rwanda” can do to encourage a more open and peaceful political culture until Paul Kagame is expected to step down in 2017.

The first is to question the current government's ability to manage Rwanda's people and natural resources. The US State Department estimates that by 2020, Rwanda will be home to 13 million people—up from the 11 million in 2011—making it the most densely populated country in Africa with 225 people per square mile. Over 90 percent of Rwandans are subsistence farmers and will be the first to suffer when the central government is unable to respond to their daily needs. The government requires rural farmers to grow coffee and tea for export instead of subsistence crops. A new land policy has decreased peasant holdings to less than a half-acre making it difficult for farmers to feed their families. The RPF does not allow peasant farmers to voice concerns about the agricultural policies and the inequitable distribution of land among government loyalists.

An underfed and disaffected local population is hardly a good starting point toward building a sustainable peace and democracy. The friends of Rwanda, led by Rwanda’s international donors, will need to pressure the RPF in order to ensure that agricultural and land policies are aimed to developing long-term peace and security, not quick gains for party loyalists.

Second, Kagame will need encouragement to engage the diverse political views of the Rwandan diaspora. Kagame must be made to acknowledge that criticisms exist alongside the positive involvement of the diaspora in Rwanda's economic development. As incentive, he can take note of the diaspora’s contribution of nearly US$130 million to Rwanda's economy in 2010 (second only to tourist receipts). To date, Western donors have failed to seriously push Kagame to engage dissident opinion within the diaspora. For Kagame, sincere dissidents who criticize RPF policy are lumped with political extremists such as the FDLR (Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda) rebel group, making it easy to justify their exclusion from the Rwandan political sphere. A sincere distinction should be made, and Friends of Rwanda and donors can encourage government engagement with all sectors of the diaspora as part of the broader strategy of political openness and dialogue.

Indeed, encouraging openness among Rwandans at home and in the disapora is a necessary ingredient to Kagame’s continued reign. The RPF is now under increased scrutiny from its core constituency—educated, urban Tutsi. Many of these individuals, especially Anglophone Tutsi who had returned after the 1994 genocide, have lost faith in the post-genocide reconstruction and development vision of a government that they now consider corrupt and nepotistic. It was significant, and perhaps most worrying for Kagame, that this group of vocal critics includes several senior military officers—among them former army chief Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa and Théogene Rudasingwa, a former major and ambassador to the US, who have both joined hands and formed the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) in December 2010. Analysts believe that Gen. Nyamwasa commands considerable sympathy among the military rank-and-file, making the threat of a coup a possibility for the first time since 1994. Indeed, Gen. Nyamwasa has intimated in recent press appearances that he is prepared to unseat Kagame by force if necessary.

It is critical on this seventeenth anniversary of the genocide that friends of Rwanda begin to push their governments and other international actors to revisit their support for Kagame in order to avoid future violence.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On the Opposition and Insults

One of the pitfalls of keeping a blog, and a research-centred Facebook page means that all kinds of people feel compelled to comment on my thoughts on politics in Rwanda. I welcome all kinds of viewpoints from all kinds of people, even though some folks are prone to personal attacks, and other non-substantive remarks that don't actually help me think through my evidence and subsequent arguments. Quite the opposite, in fact. Personal attacks leaving me scratching my head in puzzlement because, thanks to and because of technology, I have never met face-to-face with most of my detractors (or my allies, for that matter). How can someone launch a personal attack on someone they have never met? At the same time, when I make such binary statements like, "my detractors" and "my allies", it leads a lot of people to conclude that I am firmly in one camp or another when the reality is that I keep a blog and an open Facebook profile so that I can learn about what people who care about peace and justice in Rwanda think, whether they are Rwandan or not, and whether I agree with their viewpoints or not.

I think its absurd that a non-Rwandan cannot comment on Rwandan society for a number of reasons, not least of which is that in an interconnected and globalised world, we all have a stake in a peaceful Rwanda that sees no more genocide or similar political violence and one that is committed to socio-economic equality. For me, Rwanda's ever increasing gini co-efficient is a direct threat to peace in the country and the region more broadly. In addition, critique is part and parcel of any democratic country, and since Rwanda claims to be a consolidated democracy after two Presidential election (2003 and 2010), then how am I misbehaving? Indeed, I would suggest that by my own standards, Rwanda gets off pretty easy -- you should hear me critique the policies and programmes of my own Prime Minister, Stephen Harper!

All this commentary on insults and opinion to segue into the real purpose of this posting. I have had some very interesting email conversations with individuals (mostly Rwandans, some Congolese and a few foreign academics) about the article I co-authored that compares the rhetorical leadership styles of Habyarimana and Kagame. Unfortunately, the Rwandans I am engaging with are outraged. Those loyal to Kagame are offended that I dare compare him to Habyarimana, and those who long for a return to the days of Habyarimana are offended that I compare the Father of their nation to the likes of Kagame. So I am inadvertently in the middle of a debate I never expected. I want to say to anyone who is interested that I welcome these discussions but will not react at all to personal attacks or similar diatribes. If you want to talk about our methodology, our analysis, our tools of interpretation, or correct this mistake or that, I can't wait to talk to you. If you want to tell me that I am a flaming idiot, and that I should be burned at the stake, then don't be stunned when I don't get back to you.

Now, lest you think that this article has only attracted negative attention, I want to share that I learned something meaningful that is food for thought for Rwanda scholars in particular and GLR scholars more broadly. It seems that the current political opposition (Ingabire, Habineza, and so on) is a threat to Kagame because urban and/or educated Tutsi who were in the country during the genocide and survived it are largely supportive of their politics. Thus, the main constituency that the RPF claims to the international community (and commentators like Kinzer in his recent Guardian article) represent do not actually support its government. So this is a direct threat to the broad-based and grassroots legitimacy that Kagame claims his government holds among Rwandans. This is also an interesting development in the context of Rwandan history. When there are divisions within the ruling elite (in this case not only between RPF elites as evidenced by the recent allegations of treason against former insiders Nyamwasa, Karegeya, Rudasingwa and Gahima but between the RPF and its presumed core consitutency), the odds for politically motivated violence are increased. And this is the point that my co-author and I wanted to make -- Kagame is replicating, perhaps even unconsciously, the power structures that made genocide an option for threaten Hutu elites. And it is here where my research is located, to revealing the power structures that exclude a portion of the population, and the implications of socio-political exclusion.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Similarities between Habyarimana and Kagame

As the rhetoric of genocide denial and other forms of threats and intimidation that representatives of the RPF continue to put into the public domain heats up, in and out of Rwanda, it seems a good time to reflect on Kagame's leadership style. Central to the international legitimacy that the RPF enjoys is that it is made of up of "good guys" who stopped the 1994. This of course masks the role of the RPF in its own crimes of against humanity, and war crimes before, during and after the genocide. That is a different issue for a different post. Continued international praise, most recently from Tony Blair in The Guardian continues this trend of international tolerance for the human rights excesses of Kagame's regime. Seeing the RPF as the good guys leads many international observers, Tony Blair and others included, to see a radical break in leadership styles between the pre- and post-genocide periods. To this I say, hooey.

A colleague and I recently finished a paper that is currently under review on the similarities in leadership style of both Habyarimana and Kagame. Part and parcel of post-genocide leadership is the assertion of President Paul Kagame that his ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) offers a new way of governing Rwanda so that the "scourge of genocide never again happens" in the country. My colleague and I, among many other observers and analysts of Rwanda's politics, would also like to see the killing stop. Unfortunately, our research shows that Habyarimana and Kagame regimes share the same authoritarian concerns with power and control of Rwandan society.

Using the concept of 'benevolent leadership', we argue that there is considerable continuity in the Kagame regime with the techniques of power employed during the Habyarimana regime. The key similarity is that both President actively seek to maintain a defined and gaping distance between elites (those ‘in the know’) and the population (those needing ‘guidance’), and reinforces the boundaries of socio-political hierarchy between political elites and ordinary Rwandans. Reminding Rwandans of hierarchy, authority, and of the need for obedience, this style of leadership aims to limit popular dissent and stimulate support on the part of the population. We argue that elite projections of a ‘benevolent leadership’ have been a tool not only to help authoritarian governments win over the international community, but also to try discipline the Rwandan population.

Our paper won't be published for another six to twelve months, publishing cycles being what they are. Please email me for a copy if you would like to consider our full argument and supporting evidence. In the meantime, an article that I consider a must read for anyone who follows politics in Rwanda in particular, the GLR more broadly is Filip Reyntjens latest. You can find it here.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

You cannot deny what you cannot talk about

Last month, I moderated a panel at Brown University on the topic of whether genocide could ever happen again. The details of the event can be found here:

Panelists include the Rwandan Ambassador to the US, James Kimonyo, as well as two prominent Rwanda human rights activists, Aloys Habimana and Noel Twagiramungu.

The Ambassador spoke aggressively, and did not leave much space for either Aloys or Noel to speak, probably because he knew that he would not agree with what they would have to say. Instead, I had to bring Kimonyo to heel twice as he spoke beyond his allotted time, accusing some of us on the panel of denying the 1994 genocide within his barrage that Rwanda will have another genocide if we (meaning foreigners, I think) continue to deny the genocide. For my part, because Kimonyo mentioned what he sees as my views to the audience, I spoke briefly to say that my position is, has been and always will be a desire to stop the killing by all sides, and to bring justice to the Great Lakes Region. Having similarly denounced Aloys and Noel as individuals whose work also tries to deny the genocide, one of them made the best comment of the panel, asking if the government of Rwanda itself was not denying genocide (by its own definition) in denouncing the UN Mapping Report of 1 October 2010.

Most interesting was the Ambassador's lack of knowledge about the opinions of his fellow panelists. He accused me and Aloys of being genocide deniers (his understanding of my views is from my blog, not my opinion pieces or academic writing; I am not sure where he gets his information on Aloys' ideas). His failure of logic is that you cannot deny what you cannot talk about. No thinking person denies that there was genocide in Rwanda in 1994 - what some of us argue is that the genocide occurred in a broader context of civil war in which Rwandans of all ethnicities were caught up in the violence. It is a shame that the current government of Rwanda cannot understand that. It is the lack of understanding, combined with intra-RPF conflict that will push Rwanda to another round of violence....