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,