Himbara, the uncle Tom

As I sat in front of the computer, staring at David Himbara in that Al-Jazeera studio, all I could think of was Balaam. The biblical witch who’d been paid off to spell a curse on the people of Israel…

‘Come now‘, it says in Numbers 22:1-24:25: ‘Curse this people for me since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land’. And so Balaam, set off to curse the people of Israel, but he found an Angel of God standing in his way… I could have pushed the fantasy to see myself as an Angel of God, but Albert was busy slaying villains on PlayStation right next to me as we waited for the debate to start…

Al Jazeera set us up, left us to stare at each other for twenty minutes with the sound switched off, playing mind games like before a Mayweather vs McGregor fight. Except I was seated in a cozy Rwandan home, with my Uncle Albert; someone I have known for twenty years; I was safe, in my country, with my people. Himbara on the other hand, Al Jazeera had put him in a vacuum-looking room with spotlights, perhaps freezing A/C, etc. I couldn’t tell if to feel claustrophobic or agoraphobic on his behalf, for he looked like a caged African man in an open market, about to be auctioned to slave owners; paid a pittance to betray his own country; and now Al Jazeera was about to collect on him.

Friends knew that at some point I was going to feel sorry for Himbara, so they had warned me about the charmer that he was. Indeed I did. What is this Rwandan old man doing there? I wondered; why is he doing this? How much have they paid him to betray his own people? I felt like his eyes were begging me to come and rescue him; put him out of his misery, he had made bad choices, now he was trapped, in the cold, in the spotlight; being paraded from city to city: ‘come, they all tell him, curse your people to this audience and we’ll pay you; tell us how bad your country is…’

When Mehdi Hassan walked into the studio, I had to stop feeling sorry and put on a game face. To get angry I thought of all the Uncle Toms that I keep debating on Al Jazeera; one in particular pisses me off: Nii Akuetteh! God! It’s an old Ghanaian based in Washington, DC. In this video he asks the US, France, the International Community to save Rwandans. Not once does he mention Rwandans, Ghanaians-his people or Africans in general. Having spent most of his life in Washington, he believes that’s where our destiny is shaped. I just imagined Himbara was Nii and I was ready…

In the end he had nothing to say, two days earlier the World Bank had published Rwanda’s Annual Economic Update  and things looked great; Himbara was going to grapple with that report, and grapple he did; so much that Al-Jazeera had to doctor the entire debate, to save him from looking like a fool.

After the debate, he was decent to me, said he was happy I worked for IPAR, ‘which he founded’. I wished him well and signed off. There was no love found, no love lost, I do not particularly enjoy African old men making a fool out of themselves on foreign platforms. All one does is confronting them with the numbers and, like Churchill would say: ‘They are asked to stand, they want to sit, they are expected to lie…’ I thought that was the end of it, until yesterday Himbara put out a blog attacking my place of work: IPAR what has become of you? He titled it.

Now, as everyone knows researchers contribute in the media in their individual capacity. Researchers aren’t spokespersons of the think-tanks they are affiliated with; that’s the whole idea of a Think-Tank. Also, the story I wrote about the US Sanate was removed from the New Times out of courtesy to the said Senate, and not because it was factually incorrect; but I kept it on my blog: here

Which is why IPAR won’t be responding to him. Although they were surprised to feature on his blog, his slander only reflects his character as a slanderous man. Besides, IPAR is still here, growing in leaps and bounds, delivering on Rwanda’s progress, contributing to policy. He on the other hand is roaming the world, undermining Rwanda. That he may have a personal problem with our president is one thing, that he thinks someone in Doha, Europe or America will determine the destiny of Rwandans, really speaks to the level of his mindset and explains the problem he got in Rwanda. So the right question is: Himbara what has become of you?

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