The otherwise respectable Fr. Carlos Rodriguez can sometimes amaze, if, especially to the Rwanda genocide survivors, he were not to dabble in the outright offensive.
Reading through his opinion piece of last week (“Hakuna matata [no problem]? Rwanda’s darker side”, ‘The Weekly Observer’, 17th January 2008), one is left wondering whether his aim is to amuse or to annoy.
So glaring are his contradictions that one must pause to see if the man is putting his editorial skills to use for the purpose of distortion. And, indeed, distortion it is.
On a recent visit to Rwanda, the Catholic priest and editor of a Ugandan weekly magazine was impressed by the results of the good policies of the Rwandan government.
The country is marked by striking cleanliness; roads and public transport are safe; there is no criminality; public service functions superbly; Rwandans are marked by discipline in every sphere of life; and, most importantly, the ordinary folks have made a tremendous effort to reconcile with their neighbours.
All this in the short span of 13 years, after the traumatic genocide of 1994, is remarkable, he admits.
However, the prelate turns around and asserts that, after going back to his Gulu haven, he got “a sixth sense” that showed him that this order was only apparent at the surface.
And from this absurd observation, he delves into what he terms “some unfinished business” which, in reality, turns out to be what is bandied around by all the genocide deniers of the world. This mob is especially led by the ex-FAR and Interahamwe outlaws in hiding who, in their ill-veiled ways, are trying to advance the macabre cause of returning to Rwanda to conclude their genocidal agenda.
At this point in time, of course, the world is wise to their shallow machinations. That is why Fr. Rodriguez’s efforts to plead a case for double genocide are bound to fail.
In stating that the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) also killed Rwandans during their war of liberation, he deliberately fails to mention that these deaths were accidental and in no way fore-planned nor systematic.
Moreover, it is very well known that the favourite fighting strategy of the Habyarimana government army was to use civilians as a human shield and to fight disguised as civilians.
How many times did the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA) fighters pass peasants in fields only for these peasants to drop the hoes and pick their guns?
In such cases it was not possible to immediately tell who was a disguised ‘Frorce Armée Rwandaise’ (FAR) fighter and who, a genuine civilian.
Still, RPA has acknowledged and regretted these deaths, just as it has regretted civilian deaths in the line of fire during the war. However, no one in their right senses can equate these deaths with the genocide whose central purpose was the organised and systematic elimination of a people.
The above are the same scenarios (where fighters disguised themselves) that played themselves out in the Kibeho camp as well as in the D. R. Congo, with the difference that the situations here were more desperate as FAR had been defeated.
In the case of Kibeho, a thorough investigation was carried out and it absolved RPA. The report is there for all to see, and anyone trying to give us a different version is only taking us for a ride.
The innocent civilians who had been held hostage in those camps were resettled and are happily going about their business with their fellow Rwandans.
All innocent lives lost during the upheavals that have been visited on Rwanda and the 1994 genocide are mourned by all Rwandans. To insinuate that there is a law that bars some Rwandans from mourning their own, as Fr. Rodriguez does, is to insult the collective wisdom of Rwandans.
Worse, if worse there can be, it is to belittle his readers, if he thinks they are incapable of looking up the laws of Rwanda that are only a click of the mouse away, on the many government Internet websites, especially that of the Ministry of Justice (MINIJUST).
The innovative Gacaca court system of Rwanda has won world acclaim for succeeding in trying hundreds of thousands of genocide suspects in only a few years, where the classic courts would have required more than a hundred years to complete the exercise.
To find fault with them is to ignore the important double-function they have fulfilled of finally giving justice to the people of Rwanda and enabling them to reconcile.
There is no reason indeed why the Gacaca courts cannot try other cases, but it is fallacious to say that such mandate has been denied, when it has not been requested, whoever would be the one to request it.
Fr. Rodriguez claims to have talked to “the other side” of Rwandans (!) in order to know the truth about the country. Unfortunately, he does not disclose to us who “the other side” is.
I am tempted to think of some of his fellow Catholic clergymen here in Rwanda. Knowing the big role played by the Catholic Church, together with the colonial machine, in the conception and development of the genocide ideology in Rwanda, it would not be surprising to find some priests who are still clinging to their disintegrating ‘architecture’.
Happily, many priests and their flock have joined their fellow Rwandans in embracing a change and working to forge a destiny of togetherness. The many achievements that Rwanda continues to register attest to a people who have found their feet.
Cleanliness in Rwanda, discipline, safe transport, functioning services, concerted reconciliation effort, inexistence of criminality, etc.: all these are only symptoms of a strong, clean and visionary leadership that deliberately assumes democratic principles, good governance and the empowerment of her people.
In his article, Fr. Rodriguez errs in many areas, including that of comparing Rwanda to Kenya, Uganda and South Africa.
Rwanda is comparable only to herself: only she has risen from the dead. Any other country that has been shaken by the horror and swiftness of the slaughter on the scale of the 1994 genocide, and came out to shine, there is none!