When I first chanced on the article in ‘The East African Standard’ of 4th October by Prof Ghai, I was overwhelmed by a sense of disgust. After googling out his credentials and his 81-page report, however, my disgust turned into amusement.
Yash Pal Ghai is a 71 year-old scholar in constitutional law. He is a Kenyan of Indian extraction. From 2007, he was the head of the Constitutional Advisory Unit of the United Nations Development Programme in Nepal. He has been a Fellow of the British Academy since 2005. He was the Sir YK Pao Professor of Public Law at the University of Hong Kong starting in 1989. He has been an Honorary Professor there since his retirement in 1995.
The string of respectable and impressive credentials goes on, including that of having been the Chairman of the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (which attempted to write a modern constitution for Kenya) from 2000 to 2004. It could be revealing, of course, that that “modern constitution” for Kenya is yet to see the light of day! Also, that he resigned as a Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Cambodia in September 2008, following bitter arguments with the government of Cambodia.
That apart, however, the above citation shows a man with a solid base upon which he can stand to make his voice heard and wisdom sought. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) went for such authority when it picked him to do an appraisal of Rwanda.
So, I was intrigued by the fact that such a solid scholar would jump the gun and comment on his own report without first seeking reaction from the sponsors and the beneficiaries of this initiative. It is when you read through the report that you realize that the man didn’t set out to make a report after all. And it is then that you discover that the man’s report is as empty as his article, which makes you think that he came to Rwanda with his eyes blindfolded when he came to do his appraisal, if at all he did come here, as he claims.
There is nothing at all in his report or article to show that he saw Rwanda and her people. In his laboured articulations, the man seems to imagine a giant of a country of unimaginable proportions, where others have made the name ‘Rwanda’ synonymous with ‘tiny’. It would be a compliment of Rwanda on his part, of course, if the man actually saw the validity of not calling one million people ‘tiny’, where we know countries of vast swathes of land that hardly have three. His aim, however, is rather to show how the country has single-handedly ‘destabilised’ the whole of the Great Lakes region and rendered it destitute through deliberate mismanagement.
For, according to him, Rwanda’s powerful ruling party, RPF, with “its army within a state” (presumably RDF), have “denied hundreds of thousands of children of the opportunity to go to school and deprived millions (of people) of prospects of family and community life.”
Presumably, again, any catastrophe that has beleaguered any of the countries in the Great Lakes region (Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, D.R. Congo, etc.) has been authored and sponsored by this behemoth of a state and party, Rwanda and its RPF! If you think that makes Rwanda sound like the hellish epitome of hegemonic monster-regimes, wait until you read through the whole preposterousness of a report. Which preposterousness was so outlandish it left me in stitches, for that is how hard I laughed.
I can’t help wondering: what motives can let such a respected man abuse his own intelligence so? What can lead a man of sworn scholarship and acclaimed repute in the diagnosis of human rights and democracies to literally roll himself in the gutter? The fear of Rwanda soiling the ideal democracies of the Commonwealth once it is allowed to join, perhaps? Or the fact that giant Rwanda might plunge the commonwealth countries into “political and economic instability” and dominate them?
For one thing, contrary to his opinion, Rwanda does not necessarily have to represent a “test case” as it is not the first country to join the Commonwealth without having been part of the British Empire. If Ghai wants an example, Mozambique is not far for one. For another, he cannot claim to have failed to authenticate his views on the ground because Rwandans and diplomats cannot dare talk “except on condition of anonymity”, when he has not even quoted at least one of those anonymous views.
Many journalists, foreign as well as local, have quoted fictitious names before, but at least they gave a near-to-accurate quotation of what ‘their gagged’ Rwandans said! Equally, many of these journalists and self-styled human rights activists have claimed this “ongoing concern” over the state of human rights and democracy.
Yet, apart from bombarding Rwanda with accusations over the unfairness of the Gacaca court system, retaliatory Hutu killings, stifling of free speech and general climate of fear, no solid example has ever been quoted or affected person named. The innovative and effective Gacaca court system has dealt with a backlog of genocide crimes that would otherwise have taken hundreds of thousands of years. That is a fact.
The meticulous way in which they were instituted and effected are characteristic of the working methods of Rwandan government and the results are there for all to see. Those who are not blindfolded have seen. As for retaliatory killings, stifling free speech and climate of fear, those are old, tired and slapdash accusations that have been harped on so much by the likes of Murwanashyaka, head of the genocidal FDLR, that they’ve ceased to have meaning.
So, to find fault in the systemic set-up of Rwanda’s judiciary is to blame a cow for its oversized udder! After rigorous reforms in the system, the country may even be top contender for a world prize as we talk, top-prize spot with which it has become so familiar in so many areas lately. Investigating and prosecuting members of the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA)? It may gorge Ghai’s gall to know what he refused to find out, that of the few soldiers who went out of line during the war of the early 1990s, 24 were investigated, 19 prosecuted, 12 convicted and sentenced, 5 acquitted and 2 were absent.
This information is not only freely available in Rwanda, but can easily be obtained at the website of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, or from the Chief Prosecutor General, Hassan B. Jallow himself. On the accusation that members of the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) have been branded “soldats sans frontières” (soldiers without borders), Ghai may be happy to learn that I totally concur. And African Union (AU) would seem to concur too, if we go by its satisfaction with RDF’s work in, as a small example, Darfur, Sudan.
“Rwanda has relied heavily for its revenue (to fund its institutions and elites) on the plunder of the mineral resources of the DRC”? Give me another! President Paul Kagame has always posed one interesting question that has nevertheless hitherto failed to solicit an answer. If Rwandans can manage to source the riches of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with their bare hands and crude tools, what has stopped the Congolese from enriching themselves? I know, of course, that Ghai is not incapable of asserting that Rwanda is stifling their digging liberties!
I see no need for us to continue dirtying our pages with a recount of all the petty and silly accusations by Ghai, like those that dwell on the past as peddled by Lemarchand and Reynjens, and the one about Rwanda not being likely to respect the rights of homosexuals. And, basing on those, Ghai to proclaim that the Commonwealth’s acceptance of Rwanda’s application “would be puerile and beneath (its) dignity.”
Yet, in the same breath, the man acknowledges “the economic and administrative progress” made by the country, the power its constitution has to “nurture a democratic polity” and its “traditional and growing ties with some Commonwealth members.”
Poor fellow, he is now lamenting that member countries may already have approved Rwanda’s application without considering his much-valued report. Too bad, jolly old chap!