Archive | February, 2013

Debate on post-2017 Rwanda not about third term

26 Feb


Rwanda continues to confound friend and foe. It refuses to be conveniently pigeon-holed and will not be just like any other country. It will not follow the beaten path just because everyone else does, often preferring to fashion its own because that might be the best way to get to a particular destination.

That is our uniqueness. We do things because they suit us, speak to our circumstances and work for us, not because someone directs us to do so or because that is the usual thing.

And so, we have learnt to critically examine our situation, design appropriate solutions to issues that arise from it and own the processes of their implementation right from inception to execution. We have also learnt from the experience of others and consequently been able to avoid the pitfalls they have fallen into

Rwanda has come a long way in the last nineteen years largely because of this.

We are now applying the same method that has given us such good results to the post 2017 debate. That is the reading one gets from the RPF meeting of February 8 regarding Rwanda’s future after 2017. President Paul Kagame invited Rwandans to play their role in determining that future and managing the democratic transition. That way they will own the process and outcome.

The President set the terms of the debate by presenting a trinity of elements, different but equal, separate but part of one indivisible process: change, continuity and stability/sustainability.

By owning the transition process, Rwandans would also avoid our constitutional and democratic processes being determined or influenced by outsiders as, indeed, has begun to happen.

What happens after 2017 (end of President Kagame’s second term) has been with us for quite a while – as far back as 2003, but more pronounced since 2010. This has come mainly from foreigners. Outsiders have isolated only one element – change – and framed the debate around it in lazy, simplistic terms, around the issue of one individual leaving power as if that was the most important choice Rwandans must make.

The issue has been reduced to a discussion about a possible third term for the incumbent. The argument is: It’s what happens in most of Africa, isn’t it?

No Sir. It’s not that simple and this is Rwanda. Here things happen differently. The choice for Rwandans is not just about Kagame leaving power, but equally about the maintenance of progress that they have made.

In the same naive, but condescending manner, foreign commentators have made change a personal issue, focussing on an individual, the sitting president, and not the people whose stake in that change is completely ignored.

It is therefore imperative that we take the initiative and frame the terms of the transition debate in a manner that suits us and not because we must justify our actions to outsiders.

For Rwandans, the inevitable change that must come in 2017 is not an event, or chance happening, routine or mechanical activity. It must be part of a properly prepared process that balances respect for constitutional demands, with the need to maintain progress and ensure sustainability.

Insistence on this trinity has a basis in recent African history. There are many countries which have succumbed to the clamour for change at the top but gave the other two elements of the trinity short shrift and, not unexpectedly, came apart. Now they have to be put together again by their erstwhile colonisers.

Framing the terms of the debate about post-2017 transition in the manner set out at the RPF meeting has other relevance for Rwanda and perhaps for other African countries. There are things to lose if we fall into the trap of change as routine and forget that it must also be contextualised.

Over the last nineteen years, Rwandans have worked on social cohesion with a great degree of success. Rwandans have never felt closer, more united as they are now. They have never had greater opportunities to be what they want to be or do what they want.

This social harmony has been at the root of the remarkable social and economic progress Rwanda has made in only decade that everyone talks about – even detractors.

These are important advances that must be protected. We cannot afford to see them unravel. And the most effective way to do that is to reframe the transition debate in terms that put change in a wider social and political context.

This is how I understand the now famous homework President Kagame gave to all RPF cadres and not just a few individuals. Ultimately it is a national assignm


ICTR acquittala shocking but expected

13 Feb


The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has been in existence for eighteen years and has cost billions of dollars. In all that time, it has indicted only 92 genocide suspects, tried just over fifty, convicted a little over 30 and acquitted more than a dozen. Needless to say, the ICTR does not earn much praise in Rwanda.

Now the tribunal has caused even more anguish and shock among Rwandans by acquitting two former ministers in the government that oversaw the genocide in Rwanda. The role of Justin Mugenzi and Prosper Mugiraneza in the genocide in 1994 is well-known.

But should we really be shocked and dismayed at this decision knowing what the ICTR is like?

Ask anybody today, not just Rwandans, to describe the ICTR and you are likely to get this: incompetent, a mockery of justice, an insult to the memory of the victims of genocide, the very epitome of insensitivity, an obscenely expensive operation, and many more.

Or something like this. It is just another United Nations body – bloated, unwieldy, home to crazies, activists, obscure jurists, people on the fringe, and so on.

The ICTR has done anything but what it was set up for – to try genocide and crimes against humanity and hopefully set up legal standards that would contribute to jurisprudence in international criminal law.

Rwandans have known the incompetence of the court since it was established. Still, they had some hope that it could somehow live up to their expectation and bring to justice the perpetrators of genocide. That is why there is so much anger and dismay at the acquittal of the two ex-ministers whose culpability is obvious and proven, except to the learned judges at the tribunal.

The shock comes from concerns that the acquittals may be the beginning of a trend to absolve the actual authors of the genocide of any responsibility In effect this would mean that the genocide was never planned and directives given for its execution. No one was responsible for it. Therefore it did not happen. Obviously this sort of absolution for the top authority that directed the genocide is an insidious way of denying that it ever happened.

This – denial of genocide – has been at the heart of proceedings at the ICTR since its establishment.  And although the case is presented in legal arguments, its basis and intention are political. In this sense, the ICTR has provided a platform for various groups with a political agenda of their own and against Rwanda.

Most of the arguments denying the genocide that have been presented by various groups both at the ICTR and elsewhere can be summarised in three propositions.

First, there was a double genocide. In effect, one genocide cancels the other. So, there was no genocide and no one can be guilty of something that did not happen.

Second, the massacres were a result of a civil war and therefore were not genocide, and responsibilities for this lies with the two sides in the war.

Third, the massacres, on a scale unknown in human history until then, were a result of spontaneous anger caused by the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana. No one planned, organised and directed them. There was no genocide therefore.

These propositions are clearly flawed.

The ICTR has also been a platform for settling political scores against the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF). It has been manipulated or thwarted by powers unhappy with the RPF for a variety of reasons – the defeat of a client regime, humiliation on the battlefield and loss of influence due to perceived geopolitical realignments.

Its second prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, was a crusader against the RPF. Instead of investigating and hunting down the perpetrators of genocide, she spent much energy and time trying to prove that the RPF was equally guilty of crimes against humanity and its leaders must also be made to answer.

The idea behind Del Ponte’s action was simple. It was to equate the genocide with deaths resulting from war, spread the responsibility and thereby diminish or remove culpability from perpetrators of the crime. A more dangerous political reason was to implicate the RPF in war crimes, deny it the moral right to govern, divert its attention and energy from development to defending its record and generally make it fail.

The defence of the accused has been hijacked by lawyers, like Peter Erlinder, and activists with an ideological bias – a misplaced and residual anti-imperialist streak from the 1960s. Naturally, their defence of genocide suspects has been more an attempt to expose an imperialist conspiracy led by the United States with the Government of Rwanda as its agent than a concern for justice.

We have seen similar ideological and activist bias in the so-called UN Group of Experts reports.

The ICTR was probably never meant to see justice done but to ease the conscience of those who had vowed that never again should genocide happen, and yet it had and they had nothing to stop it.

The attitude of some countries to the ICTR indicates the little value attached to the life of Africans. If a Western national is killed by terrorists, for instance, everything will be done to catch and punish the killers. Not so with Rwandans.

So, what should we expect from the ICTR? Certainly not justice. Nor compassion for the victims of genocide. It is just another lucrative UN body serving the interests of those in the international community who are more equal than others.

African chimp, trafficking and climate change

6 Feb


In our time, there is nothing that shapes our thinking about a host of issues as the all-pervasive media. Twenty-four hour news broadcasts, the internet, commentary by all sorts of experts ensure that we are never far from momentous happenings across the world.

As a result, we are taken up by the big events that shake up the world – like wars and huge natural and man-made disasters. Apart from their being ever present, we notice them because they pose a threat to our very existence and in that sense represent a grave form of insecurity to our world.  When they occur and are brought to our living rooms in all their ferocity and destructive power, they jolt us out of our comfort and remind us of so many things we would rather not think about.

The wars that continue to break out in various parts of the world, remind us of humanity’s capacity for cruelty and brutality. Equally, the various conflicts reveal an amazing collective inclination towards self-destruction. And despite so many centuries of civilisation and the moralising efforts of spiritual movements, savage instincts are never far from the surface and tend to emerge rather too frequently.

The many natural disasters – wildfires that lay to waste thousands of square miles of land, hurricanes that flatten everything in their path, mega storms that even the most economically powerful countries cannot prevent or contain, and many others – are a reminder of our inability to submit nature to our will. The most advanced technology in human history cannot control nature.  It has actually increased humanity’s capacity to mess with the environment and increase the possibility of disasters occurring.

Because of preoccupation with the big things, sometimes we miss the small ones, which also reflect the impact of the big ones.

I saw one such small thing nearly two weeks ago. It came at the end of Christiane Amanpour’s show on CNN on January 24 this year – a very moving scene in terms of the feelings it evoked and also significant in the environmental issues it brought to the fore.

The footage showed a chimpanzee trying to keep warm in freezing winter in Wales. The chimp was shown tightly wrapping a bright blue blanket around itself so as to leave no room for the cold. The blanket was clearly not warm enough to keep out the biting cold.

As the chimp made every effort to stay warm, it looked at the cameraman with a mixture of appeal and bewilderment. The usual monkey playfulness and mischief were absent. Quite understandably because it was in an unusual and hostile environment. In its tropical habitat, it would never have needed a blanket.

The presence of the chimp in sub-zero temperatures raises a number of questions.

Why was it there in the first place? It was probably a victim of animal trafficking and had luckily been rescued by animal lovers. Now, much more is reported about human trafficking and the untold suffering it causes. Still, not much has been done to stem it. Smuggling of animals across borders and continents is just as widespread and equally physically and emotionally distressing as was evident in the chimp’s eyes in Wales.

Trafficking of any sort is a result of greed and the savage instinct in humans. Like the environmental degradation also caused by greed, if unchecked, it will lead to ecological problems with dire consequences for our planet.

Extreme weather conditions as the cold in Wales showed and also experienced in rising temperatures, unusual floods, fires and drought, we are told, are a result of our messing up with the delicate ecological balance and the earth’s atmosphere. We see the effects of this in the eyes of victims of famine and of such happenings like Superstorm Sandy.

For me, the frantic effort of the chimpanzee in Wales to keep warm in a foreign environment was the face of both climate change and dislocation caused by greed. Both are unconscionable.

A few days after the chimp story, there were news reports of dead sea birds, and some live ones, washed ashore in Britain. Those still alive had their feathers glued together by some unknown substance. The birds were clearly victims of some man-made disaster, probably a chemical or oil spill in the sea.

Oil tankers spilling their cargo into the sea, or oil spilling from wells as a result of accidents or negligence are fairly common occurrences particularly in the developing world. That is what is worrying. Some of these accidents might be happening in Africa and we don’t know about it.

Oil is increasingly being discovered in many African countries. Many of them do not have sufficient environmental controls to check the damage oil exploitation could cause. Or where they exist, greed will prevent their implementation. In the event of an occurrence like what is happening to the sea birds washing ashore in the United Kingdom, few of our countries have the capacity to rescue and treat them, and identify the cause.

All this is quite disturbing. The distress on the face of the chimpanzee, used to warmer tropical climes, but dislocated to the frozen north, was a more powerful reminder of all sorts of  hazards than volumes of conference papers on the effects of climate change and animal trafficking could ever do.