Friday, January 10, 2014

New and Valuable Resource: Rwanda Witness Website

For those of us that have researched and written on/in Rwanda for a while (in my case for the last 18 years or so), it is a rare delight to have a new cautioned, considered and independent voice on which to rely. This person, fellow Canadian and journalist Judi Rever, has recently come into my orbit. I am writing this blog post to let folks know about her writing and research, most of which is published on her blog, Rwanda Witness.

Two things stand out for me about Judi Rever's work. One, it seeks to centre, through oral and witness testimony, the experiences of ordinary Rwandans and Congolese. The daily hardships and victories of these lives are generally absent from what we think we know about Rwanda since the 1994 genocide, thanks to a carefully crafted whitewash of the successes of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Her writing foregrounds these experiences and for this reason is an invaluable resource.

Second, Judi Rever's work places socio-political realities in Rwanda in broader context, mostly notably through events in Zaire/DRC as well as the American failure to protect civilians lives in Rwanda, both during and since the 1994 genocide.

Given the recent assassination of Patrick Karegeya, and the gloating that some senior members of Rwanda's ruling RPF have engaged in on various social media platforms, Judi Rever's reporting on the role of the RPF/A in perpetrating mass violence is all the more urgent. It seems to me that the RPF is well aware that it can flaunt its human rights abuses with no fear of international repercussion or prosecution. This culture of impunity reigned pre-1994 and Karegeya's murder suggests it is alive and well as at the dawn of the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide. We'll likely never know what Karegeya knew about the mass violence of the early days of the RPF government, nor the violence that he likely oversaw or participated in to make sure the RPF took power in July 1994. What is clear that the mantra "never again" rings rather hollow for many Rwandans.

To get you started thinking about the pattern of human rights abuses perpetrated by the RPF/A, I recommend reading Rever's investigative reporting on the role of senior members of the Rwandan Patriotic Army in perpetrating mass murder, and the ways in which it has been able to whitewash its crimes for a largely uneducated Western audience. Happy reading.

Friday, January 3, 2014

On Karegeya's Assassination: Dying by the Sword

Quite a few people (activist bloggers, and journalists based in Nairobi and Kampala) have been asking for my opinion on Patrick Karegeya's assassination.

My position is quite straightforward. It is too early to accuse Kigali but it is also too early to think that Kigali is not involved. It is possible that folks within Karegeya's inner circle killed him; it is also possible that Kagame or someone close to him ordered the killing. At this stage, there is a sizeable lack of independently verified information. I look forward to learning more about the circumstances as well as the individuals involved in Karegeya's death in the coming days and weeks.

I also want to make this clear. I do not think Karegeya is a Rwandan hero. While is always a moment of sadness and reflection when a life is lost, particularly one lost to violence, it bears mentioning that Karegeya lived by the sword. He has blood on his hands from the early days of the (then rebel) RPF drive into Uganda in the late 1980s. Yes, he fell out with Kagame in 2007, but he was the head of military intelligence in Rwanda from 1994 to 2004. Karegeya oversaw the killings in Kibeho in April 1995 (which the UN tried to report in the Gersony Report but the US had its publication suppressed), among others including in a second report the US tried to suppress - the UN Group of Experts reports on DR Congo, published in 2010. Most recently, in 2013, the UN GOE published another report, which details the M23 rebellion and Rwanda's role in financing it. Many Rwandans, of all ethnicities, died at the hands of RPF/A soldiers. This is but one example of the brutality that those in the RPF ordered or directly perpetrated.

It is also important to keep in mind that men like Karegeya operate in service of other elites like him. The majority-- some 85% of the population are rural Rwandans who make their living as subsistence farmers-- are subject to the machinations of political and military elites.

Karegeya was a founding member of the Rwandan National Congress, along with other once-close allies of Rwandan president Paul Kagame. The political goals and aspirations of the RNC, for those who wish to carefully read its policy platform, is not significantly different from the current policy programs of Kagame's ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front. My analysis suggests that many of the men like Karegeya, who have fallen out with Kagame and the RPF, did so because they questioned the ways in which Kagame began to hoard political and economic power, not because they had deeply held moral views about the heavy-handedness of the RPF leadership, but rather for economic reasons.

Rwandans who have lost their lives, or their loved ones to the violent machinations and/or complicity of Karegeya, deserve better than to have him lionised as a Rwandan hero.