The Rwandan uprising

unnamedSomething remarkable happened during the just concluded elections. In a surge of temper, Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch tweeted: ‘Rwanda trolls are using #RwandaDecides hashtag against criticism of country’s murderous dictatorship, as if anyone but Paul Kagame decides’

Indeed #RwandaDecides is the hastag that Rwandan people were using to communicate on social media throughout the electoral process. Kenneth Roth, seeing that the communication showed overwhelming support to one candidate, namely President Paul Kagame, he lost his cool and decided to call an entire population ‘Trolls’.

Before he invited himself to that #Hashtag, his name or that of his organization had not surfaced in our conversations. In fact, that platform was a space of unity and social cohesion among Rwandans who use social media and friends of Rwanda around the world wishing them well. When he went through the timeline, he felt terrified that his very existence was of no interest to a people that was just celebrating their champion and what they have achieved together thus far.

For someone who is supposed to be watching human rights in the world, his funders would have expected his presence to be seen in this critical time of Rwandan elections. He was absent! His work was expected to be acknowledged by the people of this part of the world; it wasn’t. He was desperate.

Reports of Human Rights Watch are supposed to be acknowledged by the world, and western media does all it can to quote them. However since Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, high UN-Human Rights officials and over 100 scholars wrote to Kenneth Roth denouncing Human Rights Watch as a proxy of the CIA, to us researchers the question of HRW legitimacy has been permanently answered.

In the letter, they were dismayed for instance, that  HRW advocacy director, Malinowski endorsed CIA renditions ‘under limited circumstances’ and insisted, to their bewilderment, that ‘there was a legitimate place’ for kidnapping and transferring terrorism suspects to ‘foreign dungeons to be tortured’”, and so many more revelations that make the human rights lawyer that I am regret my career choice… please read for yourself:

Since then, HRW has been counting on the innocence of people who do not know them. Rwandans, luckily, aren’t innocent, not because they know or care about HRW, but because their recent history has opened their eyes, very wide. As a result, everyone who encourage Rwandans to rise up against their leadership, like one man, they turn against that person. The Rwandan unity is best displayed when it comes to defending our leader and our country against self-appointed master-thinkers. So when he tweeted that, the Rwandan uprising he wished for took place, but at his expense – hence the title of ‘Trolls’, allocated to an entire group, who didn’t care about him to begin with.

If any human rights advocacy that we have conducted in Rwanda was successful it is because we typically eschewed foreign endorsement. We encouraged colleagues to do the same, but they needed the money. I for one took up blogging because it was an effective way of conducting advocacy with no need for funding. However I have been at the front seat of experiencing Western experts’ fear of missing out. At some point during LGBTI advocacy we received ten e-mails daily from HRW, Amnesty and Reporters without boards, etc. etc., asking if we needed any support. ‘Pro-criminalization people are saying LGBTI is a Western import; don’t prove them right’, we pushed back…

This should be a lesson to my friend Frank Habineza too. The reason he came last, is because Rwandans saw him hobnobbing with foreign ambassadors and being endorsed by foreigners. There is a name for people like that among Africans and it is a bad name.

In the next generation, political opposition that counts on foreign endorsement may become obsolete in Africa. Africans are youthful and increasingly active on social media. If countries’ leaderships are able to harness their demands and give explanations for shortcomings, promise to improve, like Rwandan institutions do, there wouldn’t be room to oppose them, but instead Africans would join strength and complement each other.

With the advent of social media, advocacy has become even easier and, for the first time we have organic, independent civil society in Africa. Who are they? Singers, Commentators, Painters, Rappers, Disk Jockeys, Bloggers. They do not know how to write project proposals and never attend ‘capacity building workshops’. Their language and mind are totally decolonized. They complain when they have bad service, when they see injustice, but they also voice their appreciation when they are happy with their leaders, their fellow countrymen, and indeed well-wishing, humble foreigners. So when foreign reports say there is weak civil society in Rwanda, they mean civil society that they fund and control, because these young tigers on social media aren’t subservient to anyone.

When foreigners criticize Rwandan President, Rwandans feel angry, not because they think their President is infallible, but because they feel usurped in their role as citizens. I know this because I feel the same way.

Recently one American expert, who modestly calls his company ‘Vanguard Africa’, attempted to take credit for individually removing Yaya Jammeh of the Gambia. Of course Gambians who had voted him out and other members of the ECOWAS who saw their presidents mediate his departure, put our ‘vanguard’ back in his place. We joined in too, alongside other Africans because it was fun to compare the expert to that bug sucking blood on the back of an elephant, trying to take credit for the dust stirred by the elephant’s footsteps

These elections tell a clear message: Rwanda is our space, on our time. It was not a gift from anyone but ourselves. Rwandans are the ones who know its strength and weaknesses because they built it and live in it. Every last week-end of the month Rwandans go out to make it look spotless.  Guests are invited to appreciate, enjoy our hospitality, both in the country and on our public spaces, but they are not allowed to litter; again, both in our country and on our public spaces.

In ending, if there is one single request I may put to President Paul Kagame for his fresh term: Please, phase out that 17% foreign aid, so that we can finally have a break from unsolicited expertise, which typically start with: ‘donor darling Rwanda…’ It is his late counterpart Captain Thomas Sankara who used to say: ‘He who does not feed you can demand nothing from you’