Friday, December 14, 2012

AWOL but not Absent

It has indeed been a while since I posted. This does not mean that I have failed to follow and react to current events. Instead, everything from Rwanda's alleged support for M23 rebels in neighboring Congo to Victoire Ingabire's politicized and dare I say sham legal trial and everything in between. I remain deeply concerned about peasant livelihoods as the government's drive to "modernize" results in increased physical and emotional insecurity for many rural residents. I have been writing a lot, and can now share that I have a book coming out next year on peasant resistance to the postgenocide policy of national unity and reconciliation, and have contracted for a second one to come out in late 2014/early 2015. This second book will assess the sustainability of Rwanda's postgenocide development, justice and reconciliation policies. I am excited for both works to emerge so we can continue the debate on why the RPF needs to open up Rwanda's political space. In the meantime, see this SSRN piece by Ciara Aucoin is one of the best I've seen in a while. Please read and share widely if you agree.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Kinyarwanda-language Poetry Books

This morning, I received a message from Dr Froduald Harelimana asking me to publicize his new collections of Kinyarwanda-language poetry. Nkuzimanire (ISBN # 978-0-98597-781-8) and Bihige (ISBN # 978-0-98597-780-1) are available from the author directly here at 20$ each. You can reach the author, Dr. Harelimana, here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Old wine in older bottles? Rwanda's Information Economy

I have been pretty silent of late despite all the activity and news coming out of Rwanda in last few months. The M23 rebellion is big news, as is the symbolic cutting of aid to Rwanda. Two comments here. The M23 rebellion is not a surprising development to those of us who follow the region and its politics, and it has been analysed well on the blog. The Atlantic also published a useful piece asking what took the US so long to react and why is it doing so little now that it has cut aid to Kigali. There is an interesting development in the ways that Kigali is managing its PR machine around its presumed role in the M23 rebellion, the UN Group of Experts report, and the cutting or reconsideration of aid by key donors to Rwanda-- the US and UK among them. The trend to watch is whether or not Kigali, through its traditional posse of social media trolls, will continue to believe that it has a monopoly over Rwanda's information economy. Will it dig in its heels and continue with ad hominen attacks that do little to elevate the space for sincere dialogue and action to resolve the 'Congo' issue? Early analysis of the blogosphere suggests it will. Old tracts of the FDLR threat to Rwanda's peace and security are trotted out as the primary rationale for Rwanda's continued presence in the DRC. The personal attacks on Steve Hege (Coordinator of the UN Group of Experts) are recycled from the playbook that suppressed the Gersony Report in 1994, and sought to suppress the October 2010 UN report that linked Rwanda the acts of genocide in the Congo. (See Alex Engwete's post on Hege here). In other words, there is nothing new in Kigali's information management tactics. I think Rwanda's old wine in older bottles approach to managing its public image for international audiences is a sign of weakness. The regime is not in control of its PR machine simply because so few of us buy into the narrative. Kigali's inability/unwillingness to concede space suggests that the government is not in its usual comfortable position of maintaining total control. The RPF can't let the genie out of the bottle, lest attempts to remain in control of its own destiny threaten to unhinge it....

Thursday, April 5, 2012

On the 18th Anniversary: Lack of Inclusiveness in Rwanda an Issue

Lack of Inclusiveness in Rwanda Could Breed Potential Conflict

Saturday April 7, 2012, marks the 18th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. In 1994, Hutu militias and civilians targeted their Tutsi neighbours, friends and colleagues, killing at least 500,000 Tutsis in just 100 days. It was the worst case of genocidal violence since the Nazi holocaust.

Because it must never again happen, now is a good time to reflect on the lives of the Rwandans that lived through the genocide—the 85 percent of the population that lived in the country during the civil war (1990-1994).

It is worth noting that Rwandans of all ethnicities—Tutsi, Hutu and Twa—were caught up in the maelstrom of violence in 1994. Undeniably, the Tutsi were targeted solely because of their ethnicity. That the Tutsi died in great numbers is well established in both the academic and policy literatures. Lesser known, in part because the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) government denies their experiences, are the countless stories of survival and succour of ordinary peasant Rwandans of Hutu ethnicity who took extraordinary risks to protect Tutsi they knew. These stories include instances where notorious killers protected Tutsi they knew personally, ushering them safely through roadblocks, warning them of the whereabouts of marauding groups, and even hiding them at their homes. Some individuals killed during the day, but at night, they would shelter and hide Tutsi friends and relatives. In this way, many Tutsi survived because of help from a Hutu family member, friend, colleague, neighbour, or stranger.

To acknowledge that Rwandans of all ethnicities suffered various forms of violence during the genocide does not diminish the horror, gravity, or the meaning of the genocide against the Tutsi. Instead, it situates the events of 1994 in a larger landscape of violence, one in which peasant Rwandans were disproportionately affected when they were targeted by armed groups and militias. It also highlights the injustice that many peasant Rwandans feel in the face of government efforts to impose a single version of how the genocide happened and what needs to be done to recover from it. This government version does not take into account the various standpoints of genocide survivors, perpetrators, survivors of atrocities led by the RPF rebels (who now hold power), bystanders, Rwandans in the diaspora, and so on. In addition, the government presents a simplistic version of the cause of the 1994 genocide; identity politics grounded in decades of bad governance resulted in deep-rooted ethnic hatred of all Tutsi by all Hutu.

Eighteen years after the genocide, the silencing of the physical and emotional violence that the majority of Rwandans experienced during the genocide do more than erase their suffering; it also allows their economic and political grievances against the ruling RPF to accumulate. The vast majority of peasant Rwandans who survived the genocide are poor, politically marginal, and traumatized by what they experienced during the genocide. Many lack clean water, adequate food, affordable health care and education. To add insult to injury, the government does not allow for frank and open discussion of the genocide. Discourse on the genocide is reduced to making the Hutu tell the truth about what they did during the genocide, and make the Tutsi to forgive their Hutu aggressors. In essence, reconciliation is not a sincere affair of the heart; it is an administrative matter.

As Rwanda marks the 18th anniversary of the genocide, there are two things that the ruling RPF can do to encourage a more open and inclusive political culture that both brings in peasant experiences of violence while creating a more economically equal society. First, President Kagame should create space for national dialogue – an open and safe space where Rwandans of all ethnicities, and from all walks of life, can meet to discuss what happened to whom during the genocide, and to strategize ways forward from the hurt of the past. As Olive, a Hutu widow whose Tutsi husband died during the genocide said, ‘Hutu confess to get free. But we know what happened! We were there in 1994. Not all who killed get justice – the government pardons them for reconciliation. Not all who didn’t kill go free – the government puts them in prison for reconciliation. What kind of peace is this? It is not from the heart.’

Second, the government needs to develop policies to equitably manage Rwanda's natural resources (its people and its land). The U.S. State Department estimates that by 2020 Rwanda will be home to some 13 million people. With 225 people per square mile, it has the highest population density in Africa. Land pressures in rural Rwanda are intense. The government requires rural farmers to grow coffee and tea instead of the crops needed to feed their families. A new land policy has decreased peasant holdings to less than a half-acre. The RPF does not allow peasant farmers to voice their concerns about its agricultural policy and the inequitable ways in which land is distributed into the hands of government loyalists.

On this 18th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, it is imperative that the lived experiences of peasants before, during and after the events of 1994 be incorporated into government policy and practice, lest the toll of growing socio-economic inequity and the daily injustices that many peasants experience make another round of mass political violence possible.

Monday, March 26, 2012

On the Munyenyezi Trial

I was listed as an 'expert' witness on the trial of Beatrice Munyenyezi, a Rwandan woman living in New Hampshire. Her trial, like that of Lazar Kabagoya in Kansas, resulted in a hung jury. Jason McLure wrote the following article, and it's an excellent read for anyone keen to understand genocide trials in American courts.

"U.S. trips in Rwanda prosecution

Who to believe, when the African government uses genocide memories as political tool?

During her rape by a militiaman, the nun screamed and spit at the face of the woman they called "Commander Beatrice," the witness recounted from the stand. "If you don't want to be like other women, let me take you somewhere else," the militiawoman responded. She took the nun to an open pit and shot her with a pistol.

The alleged rape and murder took place in Butare, Rwanda, during that country's 1994 genocide. The testimony was by Jean-Damascene "Saddam" Munyanyeza, a slight Rwandan wearing leg shackles and a blue work jacket that looked three sizes too large. He spoke not before an international tribunal, but through a translator to a federal jury in New Hampshire. The defendant, Beatrice Munyenyezi, 41, was on trial not for murder or genocide, but for immigration fraud.

Her trial was part of a multimillion-dollar effort by the U.S. Department of Justice and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to prosecute and deport U.S. residents suspected of involvement in Rwanda's 100-day slaughter, 18 years after it ended.

Only the government didn't succeed. The jury deadlocked, and U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe declared a mistrial on March 15. It was the second failed prosecution of someone accused of genocide during the past year.

Although international legal experts and human rights groups have praised the attempts to ensure justice for genocide victims, many question whether witnesses like "Saddam," provided by Rwanda's authoritarian, ethnic Tutsi-dominated government, are reliable. And almost no one claims that once deported to Rwanda, defendants will face a fair trial.

"The Rwandan government is making it impossible to tell false accusations from real ones, because they use genocide allegations as a political tool to silence dissent," said Brian Endless, a political scientist at Loyola University Chicago who studies Rwanda and advised Munyenyezi's defense.

Rwanda's government drew a different conclusion. "Some of these Western jurisdictions can't just understand the gravity of cases before them," Martin Ngoga, the country's prosecutor general, told Rwanda's The New Times following the mistrial. "They handle these cases in a very simplistic way. We have, in the past, applauded trials abroad because we thought they would substitute extradition. But this isn't happening; some countries have abused this process."

Defense attorneys David Ruoff and Mark Howard argued much the same point, but from the opposite perspective. "The approach that the federal government has taken is to apply Western norms and carve out witnesses from the heart of Africa and think the same norms will apply," Ruoff said. "That just doesn't apply here, and the government hasn't addressed that."

Carmen Ortiz, the Massachusetts U.S. attorney whose office prosecuted the case, in a formal statement called the outcome "unfortunate" and said the Justice Department was reviewing its options. The department noted its successful immigration prosecutions in the past of suspected former Nazis and people linked to massacres in Guatemala and Bosnia.

"The Justice Department is committed to ensuring that human rights violators from any region of the world are not granted safe haven in the United States," the department said. "As in every type of case, we conduct thorough investigations and bring charges we believe are supported by evidence sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction."


Rwanda's genocide was preceded by four years of civil war between a Hutu-dominated government and Tutsi guerrillas. The spark was the shooting down of an airplane carrying President Juvénal Habyarimana, a Hutu, on April 6, 1994 — possibly by radical Hutus who feared he would make peace with the rebels. For 100 days, Hutu extremists in Rwanda's interim government directed soldiers and members of the Interahamwe militia to slaughter an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus out of a population of about 7 million people. The killings ended with the Tutsi rebels seizing power. Hundreds of thousands of Hutus fled to neighboring countries; several thousands of those who remained fell victim to reprisal killings.

Munyenyezi and her three children moved to the United States in 1998. Since the genocide, she had shuttled among refugee settlements in east Africa, but once in this country found an apartment, a car and a job with the Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority, where she became an advocate for refugees, according to Manchester's New Hampshire Union Leader. In 2003, she became a U.S. citizen in the same federal courthouse where she later would stand trial. By that time, she'd bought a home and was working on a memoir, Life In the Middle of Nowhere.

In 2005, she gave an interview about fleeing Rwanda. "I escaped, I locked up my house," she told New Hampshire Public Radio. "At some point, I thought I would go back in a few weeks, and I never knew that it was for good. And you know, I left everything, especially my wedding dress that I wish that I could have."

Munyenyezi's July 1993 marriage into a politically connected Hutu family has proven problematic. Her husband, Arsène Shalom Ntahobali, became a feared Hutu militia leader during the slaughter. Her mother-in-law, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, was the minister of women's affairs in the government that oversaw the killings. Both were convicted for their roles in the genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and sentenced to life in prison.

In 2006 Munyenyezi, traveled to Tan­zania to testify during her husband's trial; she told the court that Shalom hadn't participated in any crimes. At about that time, her life in the United States had begun to unravel; she lost her job to city budget cuts, according to the Union Leader. By 2008, she was working as a nurse's aide, making less than $1,000 a month. She declared bankruptcy and lost her home. That same year, her sister, who had also testified in Tanzania, was indicted on 10 counts of perjury and immigration fraud for allegedly lying under oath during her immigration proceedings about her membership in Habyarimana's political party (which before the peace talks sanctioned persecution of Tutsis).

According to Ruoff, immigration agents opened an investigation into Munyenyezi after someone sent investigators a transcript of her tribunal testimony.

Prosecutors Jon Capin and Aloke Chakravarty of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts attempted to prove at trial that Munyenyezi played a role in the genocide. Ruoff and Howard argued in turn that the government's case was built on unreliable witnesses, some of whom had admitted to mass murder themselves — "Saddam," for example, testified that he couldn't recall how many children he'd killed. They argued that Munyenyezi, who was pregnant with twins at the time, sheltered with other female family members from the carnage around her. Her relatives backed up that argument at trial, although eight Rwandan prosecution witnesses insisted that she was deeply engaged in the slaughter.

"It's the face I saw during the genocide, and it's a face I will never forget," testified Aleysia Mukankuriza, who described surviving by walking to Burundi despite a head wound. "A person who has done wrong to you, you will never forget."

"Saddam" accused Munyenyezi not only of killing of the nun, but also of procuring Tutsi girls to be raped, instructing him and other militiamen to construct a roadblock and making a radio speech warning Hutus not to shelter Tutsis.

By some estimates, as many as 80 percent of the Tutsis living in Rwanda were murdered in three months. Killing at that scale requires the participation of a wide swathe of the population. "I think anyone in Rwanda at that time has some stain on them," said Susan Thomson, a Hampshire College professor who has spent much of her career researching the genocide, and who was listed as an expert witness for Munyenyezi's defense but did not testify.


Munyenyezi's lawyers noted that in hundreds of pages of testimony before the international tribunal and in reports by Human Rights Watch and other groups, Munyenyezi's involvement is never mentioned, including by witnesses who would later testify at her trial. Moreover, a growing body of evidence suggested that the Rwanda's government is using genocide allegations to silence exiled political opponents and discourage defense witnesses from coming forward — as Munyenyezi did for her husband.

During the past 18 years, President Paul Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front government has been widely credited with rebuilding a country in ruins and restoring some form of normalcy. Since 2001, it has tried more than 1.2 million genocide-related cases before community courts known as gacaca. But it's also a country where questioning the official version of the genocide has been criminalized, opposition party leaders are jailed and attacked, and Kagame won the last two elections with more than 90 percent of the vote against no real opposition. The government has blocked the international prosecution of its own members for revenge killings.

During last year's trial of Lazare Kobagaya, an 84-year-old asylum-seeker in Kansas accused of charges similar to those against Munyenyezi, the jury deadlocked on one immigration fraud charge and convicted on a lesser charge. That conviction was dismissed after prosecutors acknowledged failing to share exculpatory evidence with the defense. Jurors in that case, which involved more than 80 witnesses and $1 million in costs, told The Associated Press that they unanimously rejected the genocide allegations, which were largely based on the testimony of Rwandans — even though most of them believed that Kobagaya had lied on his immigration paperwork.

Kobagaya had been reported by the Rwandan government to U.S. authorities after he testified via video for a Rwandan genocide defendant on trial in Finland, said Kurt Kerns, a Kansas lawyer who defended him. "We learned if you become a defense witness, you do so at your own risk," he said. "Nothing comes out of Rwanda without the Rwandan government's say-so. If the Rwandan government has a particular interest in prosecuting someone, they'll find the witnesses to say so."

Similarly, Leopold Munyakazi, a Rwandan exile and professor at Goucher College in Maryland, found himself accused of genocide by the Rwandan government and under investigation for immigration violations soon after claiming in a 2006 speech that the events in 1994 were not genocide but "fratricide."

Claims that the Rwandan government is using genocide accusations to silence defense witnesses or political opponents has been a common defense before the international tribunal and within Rwanda itself. A 2011 Human Rights Watch report on the community genocide courts found that "some defense witnesses were afraid to testify for fear of being accused of genocide themselves, and there were numerous allegations that gacaca courts sacrificed the truth to satisfy political interests."

Said Carina Tertsakian, a senior Rwanda researcher at Human Rights Watch: "It's a government that controls people very well and that has a strategy and knows quite well how to get what it wants. If it decides that it really wants this particular woman to be found guilty or sent back to Rwanda, it can quite easily find ways of rustling up witnesses and sending them over."

Balancing such doubts with the need to bring to justice to perpetrators is not likely to get easier. "Did she or didn't she? That's the million-dollar question," said Thomson, the Hampshire College researcher. "I wouldn't be surprised if she did. And I wouldn't be surprised if she didn't. But there's no way to know.""


Jason McLure
Office: (202) 370-6905
Mobile: (603) 991-4511

Thursday, January 5, 2012

FDLR behind Tuesday's Grenade Attack in Kigali?

On Tuesday, 4 January, grenade attacks rocked Remera, Kigali at approximately 640pm in the evening. Two died, at least 18 people required hospitalisation to treat their wounds. Graham Holliday of Reuters tweeted that he saw people missing limbs when he visited the hospital (his report here), but none of that news has been reported by the Rwanda authorities. Follow him at @noodlepie. A doctor treating some of the victims estimated at least 32 injury cases.

The statement of the Rwandan police firmly states that those individuals behind the blast will be brought to book. Grenade attacks were common in the run up to the 2010 presidential elections. These blasts are the first we've heard of in eighteen months (the last being in July 2010, in western Rwanda, not in Kigali).

According to the BBC's report on the blasts, Rwandan security forces believe the Kivu-based FDLR rebel group is responsible for the attacks.

Yet, the evidence from the ground does not directly point to the FDLR as security forces claim. The target of vegetable sellers in Remera, on the opposite side of Kigali from the Presidential Palace, and the homes of senior members of the government in Kivoyu, does not match up. True, Remera is not far from the Ministry of Justice and the Parliament, but the target was ordinary Rwandans at they shopped for their evening's dinner on the way home from work, not government installations. Surely the FDLR leadership would target a more impactful location for the blasts if he had the intention of destabilising the government? As Kigaliwire reported, 'Nyabisindu [in Remera sector] is like many non-descript, dirt track areas of Kigali. The kind of place where local folk sell fruit and vegetables in front of shops and houses and workers sit outside for a Primus or a Fanta in the evening'.

If is is the FDLR, why did Rwandan security forces round up vegetable sellers and beat them for information on who planted the blasts. If the government knows it is FDLR, then why target sellers? Perhaps because it thinks that vegetable sellers in Remera are collaborating with the FDLR?

That makes little sense. If Rwanda is as peaceful and secure as the government claims, how could FDLR operatives make it all the way to Kigali, while winning over the hearts and minds of ordinary Rwandans selling their wares at market.

I don't know who is behind Tuesday's grenade attacks. I hope that a blind insistence on the culpability of the FDLR does not blind analysts and security forces to the possibility of other actors carrying out the deed. Whoever is behind the blasts, the effect at the local level is likely the same: striking fear into residents of Kigali.