UK government defiant despite a slump in the sales of “Rwanda made in London”
If there is anything positive about the presidential elections in Rwanda in August 2010 it will have been to cut down on the makeup that made the Rwandan regime a darling of the West and to allow part of the world to see the true image Rwanda. Some commentators have described the process of change as “cracks in the mirror”. However the UK government seems to live in denial of the new image that is reducing the sale of “Rwanda made in London” and allowing the emergence of the image of “Rwanda made in Rwanda”.
The atmosphere before elections showed a case study par excellence of an absence of the minimum conditions for free and fair elections. The government suspended two popular independent newspapers, Umuseso and Umuvugizi, described by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists as ‘the only critical media voices left in the country’. Jean-Léonard Rugambage, a journalist working for the banned newspaper Umuvugizi was gunned down; his colleague who had fled to Uganda survived kidnapping thanks to a swift intervention of Ugandan security services.
Mrs Victoire Ingabire, chair of the opposition United Democratic Forces, was arrested and charged with denying the genocide, bailed but kept under house arrest. Her American lawyer, Professor Peter Erlinder, was arrested too, also accused of genocide denial, and only released after an outcry from international legal professions including the UK Bar Council.
A second presidential hopeful, Bernard Ntaganda, was put in prison before elections on four charges, including terrorism.
The Vice President of the Green Party was murdered in dubious circumstances.
A former close ally of Kagame, General Kayumba Nyamwasa, who fled Rwanda earlier in the year afraid for his life, survived an assassination attempt allegedly commandeered by the Rwandan Government. The incident has soured relations between South Africa and Rwanda. This happened when the World cup was in full swing in South Africa and it is suggested that the plotters believed that security forces would be busy with the world cup security to have time for individual cases. This attempt followed the refusal of the South African Government to hand him over to the Rwandan government.
A Human Rights Watch researcher was expelled from the country over alleged visa irregularities. However it was an open secret that the regime was wary of the criticism of HRW over democratic governance and human rights situation in Rwanda.
Despite all these troubling incidents the UK government through its Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs Henry Bellingham welcomed the success of President Paul Kagame with an unequivocal warm message which read in part as following:
“As a friend of Rwanda and a fellow Commonwealth member we welcome the peaceful and credibly administered Presidential Elections on 9 August. Rwanda has made huge strides since 1994 and these elections represent another important stage in the country’s development”. In other words: carry on it is alright!!!!!
This was in stark contrast with the US statement that read as follows: “Democracy is about more than holding elections,” “A democracy reflects the will of the people, where minority voices are heard and respected, where opposition candidates run on the issues without threat or intimidation, where freedom of expression and freedom of the press are protected.”.
It was also in real defiance of the fundamental issues raised in the Wall Street Journal challenging the unconditional support given to the Rwandan regime in the following words “should we ( the west) be rushing to canonise Kagame and his cronies in Kigali” adding that the events leading to elections “ paint a picture of a repressive regime that has played on the conscience of the world to silence dissent, crush critics and devastate its neighbour in a conflict that has left more people dead than any war since the Second World War”.
9 months before the elections ( December 2009) the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative had written a report in which it warned that Rwanda’s constitution was “a facade which hides the exclusionary and repressive nature of the regime”, that “basic human rights are in an unsatisfactory state“, “censorship is prevalent” and that there are “serious concerns about the level of political freedom”.
The two contrasting positions reflect two Rwandas: Rwanda made in London” under the able management of the British Public Relations Firm Racepoint and “Rwanda made in Rwanda”, lived by the overwhelming majority of Rwandans.
Rwanda made in London
The Rwanda made in London is based on very simplistic view of the complex history of Rwanda. It is premised on the existence of the good and the evil, the good guys the RPF government led by General Kagame who singlehandedly stopped genocide of the Tutsi and is their protector against the bad guys, Hutu barbarians who carried out genocide and are planning to kill Tutsi survivors, reason why Kagame must stay to keep them at bay.
Kagame is praised for his skill in national reconciliation after the terrible genocide, his determination to make Rwanda the first middle-income country in Africa, with impressive economic growth rates, improved public services, absence of corruption and a good environment for business. Rwanda is also highly rated for having more women in parliament than any other country in the world. The sale of this image has done very well for almost two decades now.
Cathy Pittman, Managing Director (Europe) of the British PR firm Racepoint, hired by Paul Kagame to make over the image of Rwanda is quoted in the Guardian Newspaper saying “Now we are feeding content and stories to journalists about the economy and culture. A lot of it is about images.”
The latter firm has done so well in the makeover of Rwanda that it has gained more business from other governments that face criticisms for human rights violations.
However people are starting to look more critically below the makeup and to discover the true colour of the genuine Rwanda, “Rwanda made in Rwanda” and this trend is seriously threatening the sales of “Rwanda made in London”.
Rwanda made in Rwanda
The Rwanda made in Rwanda is marked by a totalitarian system of government, a repressive system and growing economic disparities that are creating frustrations and disenchantment among the population. The following is a modest attempt to show some of the colours of “Rwandan made in Rwanda”.
Rwanda as a hotbed of instability in the Great lakes region
The fundamental issue that eludes many analysts about the current situation in the Great Lakes Region is that rebel invasion of Rwanda by the group led by Kagame on the 1st of October 1990, has set in motion events that led to loss of lives of biblical proportions.
Yoletta Nyange, writing for the Guardian newspaper in August this year put the following fundamental question: “Certainly there have been benefits to Kagame’s rule in Rwanda, but what has it cost us? Is the price equal to the good that he has done in Rwanda?
General Paul Kagame came to power by the barrel of the gun. By invading Rwanda, though it was led by a dictatorship, the country was peaceful and technically the invasion could be viewed as a crime against peace, especially that the grievance that the Rwandan government had refused to let refugees back home had been superseded by a bilateral agreement between Rwanda and Uganda 3 months before the invasion, with the support of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, for a peaceful return of refugees from Uganda.
Starting with the invasion and its spill over in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is estimated that nearly 6 million people died as a consequence of invasions of the Congo and funding proxy wars. This is the highest loss of human life in conflict since the 2nd world war. This figure does not take into account the number of women raped, millions of children whose future has been ruined by the wars, thousands who are in exile or are living as internally displaced.
A recent UN report leaked by the press provides evidence that the Rwandan Army, under Kagame as commander in chief were directly and inextricably implicated, not only in fuelling that conflict in Eastern Congo, but in possibly carrying out the most serious crime in international human rights and humanitarian law – genocide.
The Rwandan regime facilitated the plunder of a neighbouring country as it came out in the UN report 2003 on the looting of the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The crumbs handed down by the multinationals are the ones funding the booming building industry that the World Bank deliberately uses to show Rwanda as a success story of World Bank liberalisation programme.
Corruption has been monopolised like political power
While it is indeed true that Paul Kagame has exercised zero tolerance for corruption, the law applies to those who are not close to him, have lost favour or constitute a threat to his power. By doing so he kills two birds with one stone: he pleases his sponsors and then gets rid of potential threats to his power.
Below is the example he has set.
Here is one of a pair of jets that President Kagame is alleged to possess.
The pair of Bombardier Global Express BD-700 jets – with a new price tag of $50-million each – was acquired in 2003 and 2008, respectively. Both are available for charter when not needed by the Rwandan government.
Aviation experts say the XRS is capable of flying “halfway around the world without refueling”. It is one of the biggest business-class jets available. Paul Kagame uses it often to go to visit his son who is studying in the US.
Kagame controls the finances of the RPF party which is now reputed to be the richest organization in East and Central Africa. It has invested money in banking, mining, and import and export business. He is accountable to no one. His wife is alleged to control the production and export of flowers. Farming areas for food production have been turned into flower farmland.
Kagame and his rebel army did not singlehandedly stop genocide
There is now evidence to show that Paul Kagame ordered the shooting down of the plane of late President Habyarimana, an incident that is largely considered to have triggered the massacres that degenerated into genocide. The evidence is contained in a 7 year investigation report by a world renowned anti terrorist judge Bruguiere and an investigation carried out by a Spanish lawyer on behalf of families whose relatives were murdered in Rwanda.
Besides, after the shooting down of the presidential aircraft and the outbreak of massacres of Tutsi, the RPF rejected calls by the Rwandan government forces for a meeting on the 8th of April 1994 to discuss how to manage the situation after the incident. The RPF again sabotaged a meeting organised by the UN representative Jacques Bobooh between the RPF and government Forces on the 15th of April 1994, to agree on a ceasefire so that the army could take on the work of stopping massacres. RPF gave impossible preconditions including the demand to denounce the new civilian interim government and the President.
The RPF wrote to the Security Council on the 30th April 1994 while it was discussing military intervention warning that any military intervention would be resisted militarily. According to Human Rights Watch there were still thousands of Tutsi alive and who were calling for rescue. According to General Dallaire, commander of the UN military forces, Kagame told him that the death of those innocent people were collateral damage to his war plan.
False claims of better standards of life under the RPF government
While it is indeed true that some development has taken place in Rwandan since 1994, people often forget to ask the issue of benchmarking to measure success or the opportunity cost. Rwanda does not start in 1994. It would be more appropriate to go a little bit further down before 1994.
Why not imagine a situation where the RPF had not triggered off the chaos in the region by its invasion of a peaceful country, had not destroyed infrastructure, displaced more than a million people from the most fertile area as part of the country as part of its war strategy, had not created conditions that facilitated genocide, had not caused so much of Rwandan intelligentia death or exodus.If Rwanda had received the money that the International community has been pumping into Rwanda since 1994 without having to fund the military hardware that destroyed the human and physical resources that existed already financed by Rwandan the taxpayer and the International community. The World Bank is using the same sweet words it used under the previous regime. In its report 1989 before the invasion Rwanda was praised to be one of best managed country in Africa, with the least economic disparities between the rural and urban areas, with the best road network and better supply of drinking water. Rwanda was doing better economically than any other neighbouring country.
There is no economic miracle in Rwanda. The UNDP Human Development Index Report which is jointly published with government as a blueprint “Turning Vision 2020 Vision Into Reality” observes that “Rwanda’s high growth rates are deceptive in that they hide large and growing inequalities between social classes, geographic regions and gender”.
- though the Rwandan economy depends mainly on agriculture, which supports 80% of the workforce and produces 42% of the GDP, the agricultural sector receives a mere 3% of the national budget, a far cry from the 10% threshold recommended by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
- In 2003, the agricultural sector sustaining the majority of the poor received only 2% of total bank credits, of which 8% amounted to less than US$ 25
- In rural areas, 30% of children drop out of school before the end of 4th grade, likewise, high school enrolment stands at a 7.9% in rural areas, compared with 10% nationwide
- Military and security forces – same as with the FARG (fund for the survivors of genocide) receive 10% of development funding, almost twice the share for agriculture, UNDP (2008),
- 83% of the medical personnel work in cities and only 17% in the poor, rural areas.
- All the rural feeder roads are now nonexistent or inaccessible due to lack of maintenance so the sick are taken to hospital carried shoulder high on improvised stretchers.
- Rwanda’s Gini coefficient, measuring economic inequality, has almost doubled in the last 20 years, placing Rwanda among the top 15% most unequal countries in the world.
Farmers are forced to grow crops imposed by the government and sell them to get money to buy the food they need. This is exactly the colonial policy that caused famine in Africa forcing people to “produce what they do not consume and consume what they do not produce”. According to official statistics despite the increase in population by 4 million, food production has not yet reached pre-war levels.
The cost of making the capital clean for tourists and foreign visitors
Kigali is credited for being a clean city where there are no beggars, no people without shoes, no use of plastic bags. No other African city can boast of that cleanliness, it is claimed.
The cleanliness has meant that:
Of course! “Rwandans are as free and happy as they have ever been” (President Kagame, April 2010)
“Nearly 900 beggars, homeless people and suspected petty thieves, including dozens of children, have recently been rounded up from the nation’s neatly swept streets and sent — without trial or a court appearance — to this little-known outpost”
See: Iwawa, the Island of Shame in Rwanda and Rwanda: children held on Iwawa Island Prison camp are crying out for someone to help
Rwanda can boast like super powers that it has the third highest incarceration rate in the world, behind the United States and Russia.
The greatest number of women in Parliament
Real empowerment depends on the influence you have over decisions. The presence of women in parliament seems to be a mere ploy to attract world sympathy.
Despite the fact that women are the majority in Parliament, maternity leave has been reduced from 12 weeks to six weeks. A mother will be entitled to six weeks of leave earning 100 per cent of her salary, and if she feels the need to continue the leave for six more weeks, she will be paid only 20 per cent of her salary. Given the poverty prevailing in Rwanda, who will be able to stay home, buy food, pay bills while being paid 20% of her salary?
Besides, the law gives a mother one hour a day for breastfeeding. Given the meagre salaries and the cost of transport, only mothers with private cars and able to live within the city will be able to rush home to breastfeed. Yet Rwanda is claimed as the champion of women empowerment.
It is hard to believe that government with an embassy in Rwanda could praise Rwandan elections as “important stage in the country’s development”, while knowing well that the root cause of the cycle of political violence has been lack of a peaceful, democratic and transparent competition for political power. Of course it is up to Rwandans to mind their own business.
Though the UK government is still defiant to continue supporting a repressive regime accused of fuelling conflict in Eastern Congo which cost 6 million lives and possibly carrying out the most serious crime in international human rights and humanitarian law – genocide, one should thank the big buyers, the Economist, the Guardian Newspaper, the Independent, the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, The World Today etc.. to have started looking critically at the GM product “Rwanda made in London” offered by the British PR firm Racepoint and going for an organic product “Rwanda made in Rwanda”. Having said that, let us see how true the Rwandan saying that “truth passes through fire without burning” will be”. The big buyers are offering real hope.