Is the genocide story changing in Rwanda?
by Eleneus Akanga.
Some things, you just can’t buy. You either have them in abundance or they are scarce and rare. Their abundance often scams recipients into comfort zones where everything is assumed constant until that time when supply becomes skewed.
Then, we start reacting differently. Some people blame their handlers while others choose to place all the blame on others. Yes, others because it is easier to blame someone else than take full responsibility ourselves.
Most Rwandese of my age have grown up to the story that 16 years ago, their countrymen took to the streets and villages killing fellow countrymen on a scale never witnessed anywhere in the world. In what we have known as the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Rwanda is said to have lost close to 1,000,000 people, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus when the Interahamwe militia went on rampage. And that it was the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPF) under current president Paul Kagame who brought this sad chapter to an end by taking over Kigali in July 1994.
President Paul Kagame has built his reputation on this very fact and his government has been systematic as they have been consistent, in pressing forward this version of the story. With ending the genocide under his belt, President Kagame has seen his image soar and has rightfully won a host of accolades for his overall performance as Rwanda’s head of state.
Many around the world including former US president Bill Clinton were not shy to refer to him as one of the best leaders Africa has seen. He was on all accounts, a man of great integrity, so highly regarded across the globe that 8 months ago, any criticism of his style of leadership or version of events –as happened in 1994 – was bound to be viewed as nothing but a disgruntled naysayer.
Just last month, President Kagame’s government came under heavy criticism for stifling free speech when it suspended two local newspapers Umuvugizi and Umuseso in the run-up to presidential elections. Then as the world opened their eyes up for the apparent lack of democracy in a country that had a couple of months earlier suspended and refused a visa to a Human Rights Watch researcher for a discrepancy in visa documents, Rwanda refused to register the country’s only genuine opposition parties in FDU-Inkingi and Democratic Green Party of Rwanda.
The coincidental shooting of Jean Leonard Rugambage the Umuvugizi editor whose publication happened at the time to be investigating the suspected assassination of Lt. Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa, a former army Chief of Staff in a foreign country and the murder of Andrew Kagwa Rwisereka, the vice chairman of the Greens did not help matters. Kigali and Kagame came under the spotlight.
But as bad press (or the truth) depending on how you look at it continued to come in, Kagame and his men tirelessly worked on his re-election. He pulled crowds each day on campaign rallies and as expected won comfortably with over 93 percent of the vote, giving him another seven year term.
For some time, the Rwandan story as told by the RPF and Kagame has stood unchallenged as we know it. Those who have dared question the official story have either been charged under the genocide law for negationism and genocide denial as with Victoire Ingabire, Bernard Ntaganda and a host of opposition party supporters arrested during a demonstration. American law Prof. Peter Erlinder had to endure a spell in a Kigali jail for expressing his opinions on what he thinks the Rwandan story should be.
But if the events in Rwanda in the run up to, during and after the elections have not provided the current government with something to really think about, the revelation that the national army may have committed crimes tantamount to genocide against Hutus in Congo will surely give everyone in government something to help argue.
A leaked report from the UN high commissioner for human rights says that after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Tutsi-led Rwandan troops and their rebel allies killed tens of thousands of members of the Hutu ethnic group inside the Congo.
If this is true, it brings into fore a hitherto untold version of the Rwandan story. It would appear that a government whose image has been created on bringing an end to the Rwandan genocide is the same government whose forces committed yet another.
According to the leaked report, “The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who were often undernourished and posed no threat to the attacking forces.” The report goes on to say the crimes committed by Rwandan forces amount to “crimes against humanity, war crimes, or even genocide.”
It is the heaviest ever statement ever written against the Rwandan government. We all remember how Kigali reacted three years ago when French Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere issued arrest warrants for members of the Rwandan government; we remember too how the same government reacted when a Spanish judge accused Kagame and his men of atrocities. To think that Rwanda will let this go without a proper fight is akin to forgetting so easily, for if there is anything Kagame is so afraid of at this moment in time, it is a damning report showing or even suggesting complicity in an atrocity he has so effectively used against his enemies both real and purported.
Honey Moon Over?
Rwanda has long claimed it attacked Hutu camps in eastern Congo to pursue those responsible for the killings of over 800,000 Tutsis in the Rwandan genocide. But the report marks the first time the UN has accused Rwandan forces of deliberately attacking the tens of thousands of Hutu civilians who also had fled. For some time, Rwanda has received good coverage and good press from most western countries partly because Kagame was seen as a good chap to work with. Secondly the guilt of forsaking Rwanda in 1994 when she needed the international community’s help has curtailed the West’s moral ability to criticise the guy who is known largely for stopping the genocide.
No wonder Kigali was quick to dismiss the report. The country has threatened too, to withdraw any of its servicemen from UN peacekeeping missions if the report is published. Why threaten if you know you have nothing to do with what is alleged in the report?
Either way, withdrawing troops would serve as testament that Rwanda is doing the right thing; there obviously would be no moral right for a country whose forces are genocide perpetrators to then go ahead keeping peace. Maintaining deployed troops in their designated locations will also bring into question whether accused troops should really continue in positions where they are paid for by an organisation in whose report they stand accused of genocide and crimes against humanity.
I was speaking to one of the officials in Kigali yesterday and he seemed to agree that this is a very damning report. He however contends that it might help bring to into line, the possibility if there ever was, of the ruling RPF (majority of which are Tutsis) to sit down with Hutu representatives for an open debate that will seek to establish what actually happened.
He did not want to add any more voices to this assertion just like he asked me not to even think of quoting him. But even with such an open debate, the atrocities committed in Congo if proven to be true and linked to the Rwandan forces would call not only for open debates but successful convictions at the Hague.
I have even had my old friends in Kigali trash the report and instead heap the blame on the UN for in the first place; failing to pass UN Resolution 1706 that would have seen the organisation send more troops to Rwanda. It is one of those very old classic colonial thoughts where we Africans tend to easily refuse to accept responsibility and instead shift the blame to others. For, the question is not why the UN failed to send more troops but whether as a nation whose people had lived together and spoke the same language, we should have been involved in the kind of savagery that we found ourselves into before, during and now, after the genocide?
Over to you my little monsters…
Eleneus Akanga is editor of the London Despatch.