Reaction to the US Congressionnal hearing on Rwanda

One of the reasons corruption is allowed to thrive in Africa is because many governments are scared of holding those that they perceived as strong men to account. So leaders choose to corrupt their opponents, rather than alienating them.

This has led to the culture of impunity, cronyism and rent seeking. No government enjoys having such level of negative exposure before the US congress. Many governments would rather ‘keep their friends close and their enemies even closer’

We, in Rwanda have chosen a different path, that of zero tolerance to complacency and corruption, even when it means falling out with those we fear may turn against us, should they be called to order. This is the price that we pay for pursuing an ideal, that of accountability, transparency and efficiency.

Following the genocide perpetrated against Tutsi, Rwandans made a choice: we chose a system that seeks to maintain peace, unity and reconciliation. These are values that we dramatically needed then, and that we need now.

In order to achieve political stability we chose a model based on consensus and dialogue. Which was entrenched in the Rwandan Constitution, voted by the Rwandan people.

It is true that at some point that model will be outdated, based on the evolution of the society and the readiness for open and contradictory politics. You should trust Rwandans to find the right time and the right approach to make that decision; it shouldn’t be made for us.

Yet, positions like these make it difficult for a Rwandan human rights activist like me, to engage the government in a conversation on sealing the cracks in a system. Because in order to work towards improving a system you have to believe in it; and I do. But you see, you have stolen my right to be an active citizen; you have disempowered me.

I earn the right to criticize my government. I know the system isn’t perfect. My job is to point that out. I do that from a vintage point of being here and by pointing out to the specifics about which cracks to seal. Yet you usurp my right to conduct a conversation with my own people, about my country on how best we can define our destiny.

You criticize us for dictatorship, but you do not hesitate to dismiss our agency as wholly rotten and attempt to impose a new order. What would you call such an attitude? Recent experience in Libya has shown that it is not order and it is not new.

We are the first to regret the closure of the BBC; we recognize that freedom of media is a value. But in the face of the broadcasting of the so-called untold story – which was not mentioned by any of the panelists – we were left with no choice, but to protect the stability of country by closing the waves to ‘media of hate’, of which we no, oh too well the consequences.

The Voice of America will not be closed down. Nor will the Deuche Welle; we value their contribution and, in fact, have irreproachable relationships with them. To imply that they are at risk of being closed is disingenuous.

‘Many Rwandans live in fear’. That is a statement that is repeated frequently by international experts. The danger is that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, regardless of whom the prophet is. As Foucault argues, what starts as state surveillance becomes self surveillance – the state doesn’t need to watch people if they believe they are being watched. This perception is mostly highlighted by the international media, and might, I am afraid, lead to genuine fear.

Rural people, who are not exposed to international reporting though, do not fear to castigate poor service delivery by their local leaders during the annual national dialogue. They are not aware of the so-called control asserted on them, so they are free.

My job as a social activist has been to fight that perception, which I know to be damaging to a gradually opening society.

Rwanda is a young democracy, in a particularly difficult regional environment. We have the dream of a democracy as entrenched as any in the world, but there are no short-cuts towards that. No American or any other citizen can dliver openness, freedom and democracy it Rwanda, for Rwandans.

We are open to advise and support and we have implemented all recommendations from the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations; the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Africa Peer Review Mechanism.

We are probably the only country in the world to have extended an open invitation to every UN and AU mechanism of human rights that is aimed at helping us evolve. Rwanda is the sixth and latest country out of fifty-six, to have made a declaration empowering its citizens to take cases against it to the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights.

But we are being held at the same standard as 200 year old democracies, which makes it impossible for us to succeed. But we are a people with dreams, and we have the determination to succeed.

There is no need for the US Congressional Committee to press an investigation about all the allegations about targeted killings of political opponents. There has been a consistent open door policy in Rwanda for many years; in fact we have just invited back the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly, after criticizing our record, we asked Mr. Maina Kiyayi to come back, investigate further and advise on how best we may enhance our respect on freedom on association and the situation on political opponents in jail.

Addressing some of the allegations that were made during the Senate hearing:

  1. To my knowledge, there was no South African judge who said that Rwanda was behind the killing of late Karegeya. These allegations were made by prosecutors who were party to the cases;
  1. The dismissal of Rwandan diplomats from South Africa came in the aftermath of the killing of the former chief spy: Before the investigation. It is logical to imagine that the South African government had strong reasons to believe that the Rwandan government was behind the killings. But these beliefs have never been substantiated in a definitive independent investigation; the Jury, as they say, is still out in South African legal systems;
  1. Equally, the dead bodies in lake Rweru were found on the Burundian side. Now, based on the laws of physics, it is impossible for a body to float from Rwanda to Burundi; This is true today as it was during the Genocide when Tutsis were being thrown into rivers and float towards Uganda instead – on their way, as was wanted by the killers, to reach Abyssinia…

Our commitment for peace, not only in Rwanda but also on the continent is demonstrated by our contribution to peacekeeping missions in Africa and in Haiti. We are the sixth biggest contributor in peacekeeping missions worldwide, despite our small size.

Now, figures aside, we are coming from far and what we have achieved gives room for hope. Things like LGBTI rights, women rights, corruption, universal health care and poverty alleviation have scientifically verifiable indicators and we score impressively on each one of them.

Freedom however is not verifiable objectively. My perception – or allegation is as valid as the next person’s. None of us is entirely objective; we all draw our freedom from our circumstances.

I know Rwandans are capable of great things. I also know that they are capable of lying and even killing. I have no means of gathering intelligence, but at least I know my experience, my everyday life and my condition.

Rwandan dissidents were killed in exile. As a human rights lawyer I am well aware of that, and I am more concerned than anyone about this. But until a definitive decision is reached, I may not put the blame on the government, even though it is the easiest choice.

I understand the world superpowers’ position to hold small countries accountable for human rights violations. But if you want to hold us accountable, have the fairness of using tangible data. Then you may assist us to improve where you have doubt; in fact, come to Rwanda and work with us to improve it.

We appreciate your aid, but we are no beggars. We appreciate your expertise but we seek for knowledge too. We aspire to continue asking you less of each of them, and ultimately none. I thought you would be pleased with that.

There was an important question asked: What does the president gain from killing people abroad? Two reasons were given by the panelists:

–   One: president Kagame wants to assassinate everyone who knows anything about the business of the RPF which he holds secret: (Here) is a report that shows where the money of the party is managed, how it is used for development; this report is in the public domain;

–      Two: Kagame has no support in Rwanda or anywhere else, that he flies people to come to Rwanda days all over Europe and America? I can’t dignify that with an answer…

Do not get me wrong, I like information, but I am aware of the manipulation out there. I also know many stories about those Rwandans who testified on the senate committee; including, one that they did not deny, that they work with the FDLR, which is a group on the UN’s terrorist’s list, and which I personally have bitter memory of.

In conclusion, I think it is worth acknowledging the novelty of the Rwandan model and accordingly treat it with new and open mind. Give us time, patience and support. We are on to something new here; and if it works, the world will be proud of us

(If you are interested in the report, look up ‘Developmental patrimonialism’ online)

Posted 22nd May