Archive | March, 2011

Of statesmen and madmen

29 Mar

Statesmen differ from the rest of us by the level of their discourse and their ability to rise above the narrow, personal or partisan interests to embrace broad concerns of humanity. They operate at the level of broad principles that govern political and social relations between social groups and between nations. They take a definite stand on issues even when that position may be controversial or unpopular.

On the other hand, petty-minded individuals always want to bring public discourse to the level of street squabbles and pub brawls. They fail to distinguish between the narrow and commonplace and that which has wide and exceptional applicability. Bigotry and other forms of bias and intolerance inform their every action. And so because of this they can never raise their level of debate beyond the personal, bad-mannered quarrel.

In the ongoing crisis in Libya President Paul Kagame has been unequivocal in his support of the UN-backed use of force to protect civilians from attack by their own government. This has been a statesman’s position that has brought him admiration and criticism alike. He based open support on two fundamental issues. No government has the right to murder its own citizens. And if that happens, the international community has the obligation to act to protect those citizens.

The “responsibility to protect” doctrine on which the UN Security Council’s action on Libya was based and which President Kagame backs is not his invention. It is the product of lessons the international community has learnt from history. Inaction in Rwanda, the Balkans and elsewhere in the world cost millions of lives. As a result it became necessary to reform the international system to permit the protection of civilians.

In the past the UN was shackled by the principle of respect for the sovereignty of individual states and non-interference in their internal affairs. Brutal governments hid behind this principle to commit atrocities against their people.

In the case of Rwanda there was another aspect of international relations that worked against intervention to stop the genocide. Countries that did not want to see change in Rwanda hid behind bilateral defence pacts to make sure no one else intervened and so protected the murderous regime.

The UN and even the African Union now realise that inaction as happened here cannot be permitted again, and that they have a responsibility to protect people from being killed by rogue governments.

Since President Kagame’s unambiguous stand on the military intervention in Libya, debate on the issue has crystallised around three main arguments.

The first is that represented by President Kagame, and no doubt the majority of Africans, that the intervention is right.

The second, led by President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda accepts that the intervention was necessary but laments the lack of a role for the AU. Some people might see in this argument the excuse for inaction.

Thirdly there is the argument that military intervention is wrong and immoral. This is led by the imperialist-bashing Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who makes his case in characteristic colourful language.

Whatever the argument, the debate has remained at the level of broad principles, not narrow interests. Nor has it turned into an attempt to score cheap political points.

And now in this debate of serious issues enters a man, whom one must suspect to be of unsound mind. A certain Theogene Rudasingwa who apparently has no other useful occupation except to think and plan evil (an idle mind is the workshop of the devil) goes ahead to reduce the discussion of important principles to the noisy babble of the alley. In this sense he does what he did not intend – betray that he is ill-bred, ungrateful, psychotic and choking on vindictiveness. That is why he wants to drag respectable people into the alleyways where he is obviously at home.

How else can you explain his allegation that President Kagame’s human rights record is far worse than Col Gaddafi’s? Whatever his imperfections (and he has them; he is only human) it is only a madman who can make this claim. No one in their right mind, even allowing for irrational hatred to inform their opinions, can make this comparison. Luckily, most people are not deranged and will certainly dismiss Rudasingwa’s accusations as the ravings of a madman.

Then he talks about Rwandatel in which Libya has invested as if it was the president’s property. Of course Libya has invested in Rwanda as it has in the countries that are busy raining bombs on Gaddafi’s aeroplanes and tanks. Are those also the personal property of Barrack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy, or David Cameron?

This confused mix up of issues does not come as a surprise because he has always sought to merge state property with personal interests. It is a projection of what he would do in power. And indeed he has done so before – taking assets and finances of the Office of the President as his own when he served as Director of Cabinet in that office.

Here is friendly advice to Rudasingwa. Get some useful occupation; earn an honest living. If you need help, medical or otherwise, you only need to say so. Your drivel will not wash away the statements of a statesman.

Don’t fear people with ghosts

22 Mar

It is again that time of the year when we expect vicious attacks on Rwanda. The reasons for the annual hate campaign are varied but also well-known. There are those who want to deflect attention from their responsibility in the genocide. Some wish to rekindle the genocide ideology and resume the killing. Yet others, unable to accept the strides Rwandans are making, want to derail that progress and return the country to abject dependence. They have one thing in common: ghosts they have failed to put to rest.

Much as it is difficult to take, there is something good that comes out of these attacks. Most of the recent attacks have been from extreme ideological positions. When you come under fire from both the extreme right and left wings of the political spectrum, you can take heart. You are doing the right thing.

Both wings will find fault with you not because you are doing wrong, but because you can’t fit their description of you. They can’t pigeonhole you into their rigid classification of acceptable behaviour. If you can’t fit, you can’t be right. Or you are too independent, refuse to take orders, question their assumptions about many things and even have the temerity to chart an independent path. When you do this you are wayward and what you do cannot be right.

In the last seventeen years Rwanda has had to live with such assaults precisely because it has refused to be put on a leash and pulled along in the direction the attackers wish to take it, or to be tethered to one spot and be fed at the convenience of the keeper and on a menu of his choice.

Most of the attacks have come from the right wing, both national and foreign. These are often extreme and intolerant nationalists (of the NAZI variety). Their ideology is built on exclusion from political participation on the strength of race, religion, ethnicity or some other undemocratic rationale for holding power. Governments of Rwanda between 1962 and 1994 ruled the country on the basis of this exclusionist ideology.

Currently individuals who espouse this ideology are the ardent supporters and apologists of the FDLR and Victoire Ingabire and her FDU-Inkingi.

This is the position that various nationalist and Christian parties in Europe, some churches and right-wing media have taken.

So the present government of Rwanda is wrong about many things because it is inclusive. By that is meant that it has committed the cardinal sin of including people adjudged by the extremists to have no rights. And that from people professing democracy and Christianity!

Even scholars like Filip Reyntjens puts his brain to finding fault with Rwanda for doing the right thing. Of course it is easy to understand why Reyntjens would go to the length he usually does when discounting Rwanda’s achievements. He has attacked Rwanda for asserting its sovereignty, defending its interest, empowering its citizens and playing its rightful role in international affairs. The current arrangement in the country has deconstructed the state he had helped to build, removed the false foundations he had given it and been more successful. Now, no one, even the most dispassionate scholar and Reyntjens is no such, enjoys seeing their pet project dismantled and shown to have been a fraud.

Spineless opportunists like Dr Theogene, Rudasingwa and co. have also jumped on this bandwagon, inverting reality to suit their self-serving argument. They also support FDLR and its variant, FDU-Inkingi.

Left wing critics, rooted in the ideology of yesteryear and schooled in imperialist conspiracy designs, must put Rwanda in the ideological framework of their thinking and fault it for not conforming. The achievements the country has registered cannot be due to the efforts of the citizens. They can only have been helped by the great imperialist power in its designs to control the world. I wonder if they are being very vocal about Western attacks on Libya at the moment.

Both right and left wing detractors struggle hard to find something really wrong to latch on and hammer Rwandan authorities. Arguments against economic development will not hold. The evidence is too visible. Surely there must be a darker explanation for it. Yes, it is at the expense of individual liberty. And so getting Rwandans out of poverty is a violation of their human rights. Poverty becomes glorified as a sort of natural state to which people have a right.

Rudasingwa, Reyntjens, Stephen Smith and like-minded grumblers hide behind generalisations such as “peasants are getting poorer” And yet what is the evidence? Rising personal incomes of the rural population, per capita that has nearly doubled in the last ten years, improved health and nutrition, drastic reduction in incidence of killer diseases like malaria, universal access to basic education and rising life expectancy.

Again because they cannot find faults with the government that will hold, they resort to assaulting the person of the president. It is a sign of desperation and extreme intolerance.

Of course, we understand that there will always be professional grumblers masquerading as scholars, human rights activists or politicians and that they will vent their bitterness at things that do not quite conform to their specifications or else they will choke on their own bile. We can draw comfort from the fact that the majority of this earth’s inhabitants occupy the centre and are much more balanced than to allow themselves to be consumed by irrational bitterness. And luckily, no amount of bile will stop Rwanda from doing the right thing or halt its  march.r

What about public holidays rights?

16 Mar

Tuesday 8th March was international women’s day. Its commemoration in Rwanda was low key (read: there was no public holiday) as many such events have increasingly become here.

The preferred option nowadays is to celebrate such events at the local level (umudugudu). The reasoning seems to be that commemoration of some events should also be decentralised and brought nearer to the people. That way there will be greater interaction among them and they will understand better the significance of what is being celebrated, and relate it to their lives.

The absence of a public holiday did not go down well with some people, especially given that this year was the 100th anniversary of the women’s movement. One Shangazi Rugina called into Imvo n’Imvano, a BBC Radio Kinyarwanda programme on Saturday to complain that the day was not given its due importance by not declaring it a public holiday. Never mind that there had been a week of activities leading up to the day.

Ms Rugina and others for whom she spoke probably had genuine reasons for thinking that a holiday was the most suitable form of recognition for the significance of the day.

But I suspect for the majority of people there are other reasons for the love of a holiday. For most, especially those in public employment, it is an excuse for staying away from work. For others, it is reason for a public spectacle and celebration, preferably at the expense of someone else, usually the state.

How did this love affair with holidays (or more appropriately, dislike for work) come about?

It probably has its roots in colonial history. There was a time when we had many holidays, and they were festive affairs. The majority of them were religious feast days. Others were national days in the country of the colonisers.

It goes without saying that initially these special days did not mean much to Africans. Both had to be legitimised and given respect in countries where they meant little. And so while in Europe religious feast days were observed without much fanfare because they were part of the history and culture of the people or they did not believe in them anymore, in Rwanda a way had to be found to make them acceptable. And like many of the religious rituals which had to be clothed in mystery in order to inspire reverence, feast days were also packaged with holidays and celebration for the same reason. The bonus attraction was that strict observance added to the credit for holiness.

For colonial officials, a holiday and the accompanying partying was part of the perks for working in the colonies. The whole colonial package meant leading the life of a lord, even when most of them had a plebeian background. A life of indolence was synonymous with privilege and power.

This life of excess and idleness, mystery and ritual was inherited by post-colonial leaders, both religious and secular.  They even added feast days of their own, with strict demands for observance, very often at the pain of death. How else could they impress their semi-divinity on the poor mortals they ruled?

Now the government of Rwanda, with no sense for the power of mystery and no respect for rituals or symbolism, has come and spoilt the party. They have stupidly cut down the number of public holidays and done away with public celebrations. In the process they have made the high priests at these feasts redundant. And all for what? To increase productivity, cut on waste, enhance citizens’ participation and all the other nonsense.

Who cares about the rational reasons for reducing the number of public holidays? The reasons are dumb. Listen to this. Too many holidays are expensive, cut into profits and will make us poor. We shall then be forced to go, bowl in hand, to those who value work. Nonsense! Do the birds of the air work, and don’t they feed and have shelter and fun?

They ask us to think about the cost of marking the birthday of every saint, apostle (historical and self-nominated), street corner prophetess and other tin gods. Then when you mention the need to celebrate the different international days, our leaders groan under the weight of the number of days we would have to set aside and the cost of celebration. The calendar is cluttered with such days. New ones may even be invented. We could be asked to celebrate the day of the tortoise or baboon, or snakes and other slithering creatures.

And what’s wrong with that? Well, nothing really. Except, we would not have enough days in the calendar to celebrate all of them. If there aren’t enough days, create them. What is the problem?

In these days of so many rights, and even more watchdogs (the real ones are much maligned by this unfair comparison) ready to bark at every shadow and mirage, I would not be surprised if an organisation calling itself “Public Holidays Without Borders” sprouted up tomorrow to champion the right of people to celebrate holidays all year round. Nor would it shock me to hear this something-without-borders accuse the government of Rwanda of being too dumb and violating people’s human rights by denying them their inalienable right to celebrate whatever thing took their fancy. It is not beyond imagination.

jorwagatare@yahoo.co.uk

The mud won’t stick, Paul Scott

9 Mar

Mr Paul Scott’s article in The Daily Mail, 5th March, 2011, in which he demonises former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is as disgusting as it is predictable. Paul Scott has made it his mission to track and attack the Blairs. In fact he has written more about them than on any other subject. But why he should drag other people into his personal crusade against the former prime minister and his family is less obvious – well, for only a while, for it is really his method.
In his most recent attack on Tony Blair, he brings in President Kagame whom he calls a lot of uncharitable names. He has done the same to Tony and Cherie Blair. Mudslinging and character assassination are apparently Scott’s stock-in-trade.
However, in doing so, he unwittingly reveals who he really is. Another genocide denier. In a blatant distortion of the facts, Scott writes of the “genocide of tens of thousands of Hutu civilians” apparently killed in revenge for “the massacres of up to 800,000 Tutsi people in three months of bloodshed in 1994”.
He has reduced the genocide of more than one million Tutsi to a massacre. And, of course, he has revised the number of those killed downwards – a common practice among people who want to minimise the genocide. In the same breath he has elevated the death of Rwandans in the DR Congo due to various causes, regrettable as it is, to genocide.
Can this be an accidental interchange of words?
No. It is a deliberate reversal of roles, perpetrators and victims – the favoured method of deniers of genocide. Paul Scott is following in a right wing tradition that has sometimes supported extreme nationalist causes, including the NAZI. Lord Rothermere, who took over the ownership of The Daily Mail in 1923 was a friend and supporter of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler and praised NAZI activities in the 1930s. He wrote in support of Hitler against the Jews. One article in The Daily Mail, 10th July, 1933 is worth quoting from at length.
Lord Rothermere wrote: “The German nation…was rapidly falling under the control of its alien elements….There were twenty times as many Jewish government officials in Germany as had existed before the war. Israelites of international attachments were insinuating themselves in the German administrative machine. Three German ministers only had direct relations with the press, but in each case the official responsible for conveying news and interpreting policy to the public was a Jew.”
Everyone knows what happened to the Jews. For Paul Scott to distort Rwandan history does not come as a surprise. There is a precedent.
In his eagerness to rewrite Rwandan history and, discredit one of the key players and have a go at the prime minister he loves to punch, Paul Scott cannot resist an excursion into “the heart of darkness”. And like Joseph Conrad, he resorts to the racist invention of the exotic blood-thirsty savage to excite the imagination and stir hatred in his readers. Almost straight out of Conrad’s novel, he describes: “Ritual beheadings, women and children being set alight, bludgeoned with hammers and shot.”
Informed readers will immediately recognise the similarity between Scott’s description and reports of what a terrorist outfit is currently doing in Congo. News reports out of the DR Congo accuse the FDLR of just the atrocities Scott attributes to the wrong people. Your intended reversal will not work here, Mr Scott.
But to be fair to him, he is only restating, albeit with embellishment, what fellow genocide deniers and revisionists wrote in the UN Mapping report on Congo and keep repeating at every opportunity..
Paul Scott has other accusations against President Kagame. According to him the record that Rwanda has in championing women’s cause is a fraud. Hasn’t he imprisoned three women? He conveniently does not say that these are three out of nearly six million and that in any case they have undergone due process. Nor does he dispute the big number of women in leadership positions or mention other gender-responsive policies that have produced undisputed results. But acknowledging that would spoil his neat mudslinging plan, wouldn’t it?
Another accusation: corruption. However, Paul Scott can find no shred of evidence. He must be ignorant of reports of the World Bank, Transparency International and even his own government that consistently place Rwanda’s record against corruption among the very best.
It is easy to see the source of his brazen distortion of facts. He has been listening to the criminal gang passing themselves off as opposition politicians. Just a reminder: they fled the country to escape corruption and treason charges.
But Scott’s real target is Tony Blair against whom he seems to harbour a grudge. Paul Kagame is only a brush he uses to paint Blair in ugly colours. That Tony Blair enjoys star status galls him. That he makes a lot of money on the lecture circuit tugs at Scott’s heart. Cherie Blair’s successful legal practice is difficult to take. Their joint fortune is a dagger in the back.
But because he can’t do anything about it, he resorts to name calling. Well, Scott, you have had your back on the Blairs for whatever they did to you. It is perhaps time you left them alone. As for President Kagame and Rwanda, save your time and energy. The mud won’t stick.
jorwagatare@yahoo.co.uk

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9 Mar

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