Archive | January, 2012

Leon Mugesera’s case – perversion of justice?

17 Jan

We live in a strange world, where things are turned on their head, and that’s accepted as normal or even right. Take the notion of justice, for instance. It would seem that criminals have more right to justice than victims of their crime. Certainly, you will excuse Rwandans for thinking that way.

There can be no debate that there are hundreds of thousands of Rwandan victims of the genocide who crave justice. They would like to see the perpetrators of the genocide answer for their crime and atone for their sins before they are reintegrated into normal society. This should not be seen as a special request. It is the normal thing in any society where there is the rule of law.

Equally indisputable is the existence of thousands of Rwandans responsible for the genocide who should face justice. Again, this is a normal expectation.

I have read many books and articles about post-genocide Rwanda – most of them written by academics, journalists, activists of every sort and all manner of “experts”. Nearly all of them are concerned about the rights of the accused – fair hearing, humane treatment, access to the best legal services and generally living conditions above those enjoyed by the majority of Rwandans, among them their victims. Rarely do you hear anything about the victims. It is like they have no rights and should expect none.

For victims, this obsession for the wellbeing of criminals amounts to perversion of justice. And you cannot blame them, especially when they see every trick in the book used to make known and convicted criminals escape justice. It has happened to Theoneste Bagosora, one of the masterminds and most brutal executioner of the genocide, and several others.

The latest person to use every trick available – and he has actually been doing so for the last seventeen years – is Leon Mugesera, an MRND ideologue and demagogue residing in Canada whose public pronouncements incited the killing of the Tutsi in the genocide. He is fighting extradition to Rwanda to face trial for his crimes. Canadian courts have ruled on several occasions since 2005 that he should be extradited.

In his most recent attempt to avoid answering for his actions, Mugesera appealed to the United Nations to pressure the Canadian Government to delay his deportation. And the basis for the appeal? Supporters of genocidaires and other revisionists claim that he will be tortured when he is returned to Rwanda for trial. Notice there is no mention that his actions caused the death of more than a million people and untold anguish to thousands of others who survived.

Those with a sense of history cannot fail to notice a twist of bitter irony in this appeal. Inaction by the UN was partly responsible for the scale and speed of the genocide in Rwanda. Now the same UN is being asked to prevent justice for the victims of its inaction.

But that aside, where do they get the crazy idea that he will be tortured?

I have read a lot about Rwanda, some of it written by haters of the government of Rwanda who have turned hate into a hobby or subject of academic pursuit. They accuse the government and President Paul Kagame of many things. Torture is not one of them.

A Rwandan familiar with the workings of the international system told me that he has not read anything from international organisations and the other usual suspects condemning Rwanda for torture.

Torture is indeed so absent that criminal suspects are happier to be arrested and kept in police custody than face irate victims of their crime. There is, in fact, general public concern that once suspected criminals get into police hands they will not confess because no one will touch them. This is in contrast to obtaining confessions under duress.

This is the extent of the absence of torture in Rwanda.

There was some instructive irony about Mugesera’s appeal that even his supporters could not have missed. At about the same time they were making a desperate appeal to the UN, pictures of United States Marines urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan were flashed around the world.

The pictures naturally caused worldwide outrage. Here was a most despicable and revolting act. No decent person ever does such a thing. But the revulsion was perhaps strongest in what was not shown but implied. If dead bodies can be subjected to such humiliation, how much worse are captured enemies treated?

We remember the furore caused by revelations of water-boarding and other “enhanced”  interrogation techniques against Iraqis a few years ago. Enhanced interrogation techniques is euphemism for torture.

Stories of torture during rendition of suspected terrorists across the globe still make headlines. The most current is the complaint by a senior anti-Gadhafi Libyan commander who alleges he was detained and tortured in the United Kingdom as a suspected terrorist.

No one has raised questions about the fairness of the judicial processes of the countries where such methods are practiced. Yet they are being asked where they do not happen.

Mugesera has been running for nearly twenty years, but now he has surely run out of steam and space. His case, and similar others, have tested the patience of Rwandans. They still trust that justice can still be done, for, as they say, the wheels of justice may turn slowly, but in the end everyone gets what they deserve.


What lessons from ANC’s centenary?

10 Jan

The African National Congress of South Africa is still celebrating its centenary. As political organisations in Africa go, this is an astonishing and significant milestone. The long life of the ANC and its continued relevance in South African politics differs remarkably from that of political parties on the continent. In many ways, the ANC exemplifies the difference in fortunes between liberation movements and political parties.

Liberation movements that took up arms against foreign rule have largely survived and remain unchallenged in power even when they have not always lived to their promise. There are, for example, the classical anti-colonial movements: Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO), the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) in Namibia and the National Liberation Front (FLN) in Algeria.

Then there are movements that fought post-independence dictatorships and injustices, such as the National Resistance Movement (NRM) in Uganda, the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) in Rwanda and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front in Ethiopia.

Both the anti-colonial and post-independence movements have shown  remarkable resilience, adaptability and survival instincts, often in the face of daunting challenges, including hostility from some of the most powerful countries.

The same cannot be said of political parties that led many African countries to independence. Many of them, like in most of West Africa, have disappeared into oblivion. Others, for example in most of Eastern and Central Africa, continue to splinter into unviable fragments. Across the continent many more have been on their death beds for so long that they stand no chance of being nursed back to health.

Why is there this difference in fortunes?

Part of the explanation lies in what Oliver Tambo (RIP), President of the ANC during the time it was banned in South Africa, said of his organisation.

“Our alliance is a living organism that has grown out of struggle. We have built it out of our separate and common experience”, he said.

He was saying that the nature of struggle gives liberation movements time to learn lessons at every stage on the way, time for the different tendencies to coalesce around a common programme, and the opportunity to manage dissent and criticism. The duration also means that there is ample time to bring the people – not just leaders – together in a common cause.

Oliver Tambo distinguished the ANC from regular political parties when he suggested that the latter often represented more the interests of leaders than those of the majority of the people.

This is a position shared by the Ugandan journalist, Andrew Mwenda. He has expounded on the notion that political competition in Africa is largely an arrangement about how the elite share power and privilege, and not about delivering public goods. Whatever differences exist among the political class are merely a reflection of how they see their interests can be better served.

And so whenever there is a disagreement about how to share the spoils of power, there is a likelihood of party break up. Individuals perceiving themselves to be aggrieved leave and form their own party, which in time also breaks up for similar reasons. Alliances are formed and as quickly broken. We have seen a lot of this in the East African region in the last decade or so.

All of this shows that in the first place political parties were not formed to advance  particular programmes beneficial to the whole country but to specific individuals or groups.

It also shows that most of our party, even national, politics are personality driven. That has been the undoing of most of them.

Of course, there is the argument that post-independence political parties got to power too soon, before they developed a democratic culture, even internally. As a result, they developed intolerance to differences of opinion, which in turn led to two things: silencing dissenting voices or those with divergent views leaving the party.

That may be so. But the same argument can be extended to liberation movements. The only difference is that the latter have a more disciplined way of handling divergence of views – which does not lead to break up.

All this is not to say that it has always been plain sailing within liberation movements. They have had bumpy rides, too. There have been internal divisions and external threats. Corrupt and power-hungry individuals and groups exist. Disenchantment has often set in. But these are organisational hazards. Part of the strength of an organisation is its staying power and how it manages these hazards.

So, yes, there are many reasons to celebrate the ANC’s centenary, not least its long life and the example it has set. The ANC and other liberation movements have lessons for political party organisation. It may be worth the while of those interested in political competition to pay attention to them.

Who says Rwandan politics is colourless?

2 Jan

Rwandan ministers have earned a reputation of being quietly efficient, never out of step, always on top of their respective briefs. They don’t steal from the public or lead obscenely opulent lives. Rwandans outside official circles can hardly recognise most of them.

Those given to blunt speaking, or the less charitable, say our ministers are colourless, ordinary and boring.

This is a reputation ministers (not all are politicians) share with other Rwandan politicians. Rarely do you hear of a shameful act from what elsewhere is a scandal-prone class. No gaffes, either, followed by the inevitable, if unconvincing response – I was misquoted, or my remarks were taken out of context. You don’t see any fistfights (belly fights, really) in parliament. They are altogether too civil, too correct and, well, colourless.

There is, of course, the odd exception that proves the rule.

Many of us can remember the popular minister of culture – Joe to everyone – whose colourful language and lifestyle used to be the talk of the town. Wherever he appeared, especially among young people, he was met with squeal of delight and excitement. He enjoyed it, too.

Another minister, who had been moved around quite a bit in a bid to heal the itch in his fingers (unsuccessfully as it turned out) provided colour in a different sort of way. He was given to much bluster and chest-thumping (obviously this is not a monopoly of silverbacks). He once famously described houses of some Kigali dwellers as birds’ nests.

Both colourful men left the scene and we were left with the machine-efficient lot and boring public life.

Not for very long, though. The minister of internal security took it upon himself to save us from the quiet and monotony of our political life. Now, the minister, also a Sheikh, is the man to do this. He is a colourful man. He loves the sound of words and enjoys appearing at public functions in resplendent Islamic dress.

The honourable minister chose to wade into constitutional waters and attempted to disturb their calm by pushing for a lift on term limits to allow President Paul Kagame a third term. President Kagame had said on many occasions that he wasn’t seeking another term.

The good Sheikh begged to differ. He would urge the president to reconsider his decision and ask Rwandans to support him. He would not even be deterred by the gentle admonitions of his boss. Nor would he be stopped by the fact that he was a lone voice that excited more bemusement than support. And the more lonely he became, the more passionate he grew in his lonely crusade.

Yes, the minister has stirred the political waters and caused some laughter, but that’s about all. The calm has since returned. Sure, he has given content to some media and fed the scepticism and prejudices of some foreign reporters, but no more.

While still on constitutional matters, during the National Dialogue Conference towards the end of last year, another minister invoked the protection of the venerable document in matters linguistic. Right or not, it was the first time many had heard the constitution cited so to cover linguistic inability.

Still, it was good to see that people are prepared to defend their rights – and forcefully, too. Where do some people get the notion that Rwandans are docile creatures?

The lack of colour is not limited to government. There are heads of political parties whom many Rwandans have never seen or heard speak. Is it because they have nothing to say? Surely they must have a programme! Or is it because they don’t know how to say it? Then they have no business in politics.

Occasionally you get one who will say the unexpected with such innocence as warms the heart. Take the example of Madame Mukabunani, head of Parti Social-Imberakuri. As 2011 was getting to a close, she was at pains to stress her party’s credentials as the opposition. In the same breath, she asked for posts for members of her party in government. Only the stone-hearted would not be warmed by this.

We can expect more colour in our politics – certainly in terms of style – in the new year. We have a Prime Minister with a different style of management. Mr Pierre Damien Habumuremyi is more likely to be found walking in the fields up and down the hills of this country, inspecting progress and, one can almost be certain, dispensing wisdom. He will be seen in a factory coat and safety helmet at diverse factories. Of course, he will also get time to meet visiting dignitaries in his office.

One hopes that he will keep on walking with the same energy and consistency, like another fellow revellers in this festive period know only too well.

In the senate, too, we can expect a new style. With the soft-spoken Dr Vincent Biruta, you had the feeling that some people had to strain to hear what he had to say.

The new President of the Senate will not give you that option. You will hear what he says whether you want to or not. There is no room for misunderstanding either. With Dr Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, there is no ambiguity.

President Kagame has told us that with him there is no vagueness – what you see is what you get.  He has a Prime Minister who is an outdoors, field man and a plain-speaking President of the Senate. In the years ahead, we shall certainly not be bored for lack of colour.