14th January 2011
I was not all together surprised when I heard a listener comparing South Sudan to Rwanda, on the BBC Radio Kiswahili programme two days ago, even when the gentleman hails from East Africa. Those of us who lived in Kenya remember how we used to be asked if we meant Angola when we said we were from Rwanda. The confusion arose out of mistaking Rwanda for Luanda, the capital of Angola.
To many in the original East African Community, especially Kenyans and Tanzanians who didn’t deal much with Rwandans, Francophone Rwanda was shrouded in mystery. It is no wonder, then, that there is still an East African who can state that Rwanda split from Burundi, as South Sudan is likely to, from Sudan.
The truth is that Rwanda and Burundi were two countries that were grafted onto what is today’s D.R. Congo by Belgian colonialists and governed as Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi. If any country were to have split from another, it would have been Burundi and Rwanda from D.R. Congo, but they were separate countries anyway.
Also, they were governed differently. Belgian Congo was a property of the Belgian king while Ruanda-Urundi was governed under a UN mandate. I will not go into the brutal history of the three countries under Belgian rule, having no such competence. Suffice it to say that the countries were left in a morass that has bred the violence for which they are belatedly acquiring fitting notoriety.
In that violence, Rwanda outdid her two neighbours when it was catapulted into the spotlight by the most horrendous genocide in history. That is how somebody would be quick to blame the violence on a past split. But that is past history and fellow East Africans should cease to see it through such lenses. And they are, because the number that still uses those lenses is fast dwindling.
The neighbours may be beginning to see Rwanda for the right reasons but it’s not so with distant observers. Some of them are adamantly set on the past and are unable, if not unwilling, to see today’s reality. It’s for that that I beg your indulgence to let me go against wise counsel and revisit Mr Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In a rejoinder, Mr Roth castigates Mr Stephen Kinzer for claiming to know what the Rwandan people want (‘Why Kinzer is wrong about HRW’, The Guardian, UK, January 5th 2011). And yet he himself goes on to expound on what they actually want!
Rwandans should not have voted for President Kagame, explains Mr Roth, the ‘true-knower’ of the wishes of Rwandans. In doing so, says he, they were giving up their political rights. They want meaningful political pluralism; they want debate; they want to criticise their government; they want…….
Before you say what Rwandans want, though, isn’t prudent to observe and correctly say what they have? Maybe they have all those things you boast of but don’t want them the way you have them. Maybe they want to shape their own rights and their leader is fulfilling their wishes. After all, they are not like you who found rights in place and are just riding along.
And the interesting thing: between the two men, who should talk about Rwanda? While Mr Kinzer has been to Rwanda many times and for long stretches, Mr Roth has never set foot in Rwanda. Mr Kinzer talks to people in Rwanda. Mr Roth relies on people in exile, especially those with a bone to pick with the Rwandan government.
Moreover, Mr Kinzer is only making observations, not giving prescriptions like Mr Roth.
But Mr Roth must give prescriptions because he wants them to be acted upon. I noticed this when I tried to tease a reaction out of him without success. He will not talk to you or make a written response to you if you are a Rwandan inside the country. He’ll get his riposte to Mr Kinzer published so that he can discredit a journalist who is known and respected in the West.
Look at what they do at HRW: “Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of abuse.” Woe unto you, then, if they have decided that you are guilty, for there is no chance for recourse. They’ll “rigorously build intense pressure” around you until Western donor countries make you pay. So, no individual in the West should be in their way.
The ways of building that “pressure” are not lacking in variety, either. If the accusations of rights abuses look as if they are losing their appeal, package an employee as a researcher and dispatch her to the offending country. That is how Ms Carina Tertsakian was delivered to Rwanda, forged papers and all. Knowing Rwanda as a stickler for order, they were sure immigration department would bundle her out.
And all that came to pass, thus the call by human rights defenders to hang Rwanda.
There is no doubt, though, that the truth will out, sooner than later. Then countries near and far will come to know one another and live together harmoniously, at peace with one another.
So help us God – us poor ‘third-worlders’!