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....