Archive | May, 2013

Congolese protesters without cause

20 May

Last week some Kenyans demonstrated against demands by their Members of Parliament for a pay rise even before they settle into their new job. They even enlisted the support of animals to make their case. And boy, did they make their point most pointedly – snout, ears, grunts and all!

The humans made a lot of noise, denouncing their representatives for showing such unbridled greed.  They even had time for a scuffle with other, uniformed, armed, silent but more menacing humans.

The pigs (who said they are stupid?) seemed unperturbed by the unfamiliar surroundings and whole human fracas around them. They rather seemed to enjoy the bloody meal liberally splashed on the tarmac. They went about their grunting licking of the stuff on the road unaware of the bloody letters on their backs, or if they did, they did not show any concern. The writing could have been beauty marks for all they cared.

However, the humans, as is their wont, saw in the whole drama evidence of their wanton spirit and condemned the hastily (and forced) arranged solidarity between pig and man against greed as cruelty to one of the parties and insult to the other.

The religious, especially among politicians (difficult to see how the twain happily lie together) could not stand being likened to haram. Question: Is clamouring for a pay hike before you do any work any less haram?

The self-righteous politicians saw in the symbolism an insult to their dignity. I don’t know how they reconcile such noble concern with an instinct for the self-awarding of pay and other perks. But of course politicians have this singular ability of seeing vice as virtue and vice versa when it suits them. No qualms about the flip flop or contradiction.

By far the loudest condemnation of the unsolicited support of the pigs in the protest came from animal rights groups. They saw in the protesters’ action cruelty and a blatant violation of the animals’ rights. Pigs rarely receive attention, let alone backing, except when is served. But this time people were prepared to die defending their animal dignity. They were lucky. They had someone to stand up for them.

Not so some humans in Oxford a few days later. Last Saturday, a bunch of Congolese were bussed to Oxford to protest President Paul Kagame’s visit to the ancient and famous university. They stood there, hungry, waiting to do their masters’ bidding.

Unlike the Nairobi pigs, however, no one protested that it was immoral to use hungry people this way. No one raised a voice that they had been cruelly uprooted from their land by the sponsors of the plunder of their country. None condemned the abuse of their rights – to food, employment, enjoyment of the bounty of their land and the right tom protest in their own homeland. Not a soul said a thing about their right to prevent their country from sliding into total ruin. Above all no one had told them anything about human dignity.

The sad irony of the sorry sight of the Congolese in Oxford was that their protest was misplaced. They aimed their anger at the wrong person while they actually acted for the continued plunder of their homeland. Without knowing it, they were aiding and abetting the confirmation of their country into failed statehood.

Again, unlike the pigs in Nairobi which had a sumptuous meal to make participation in the protest worth their while, the Oxford bunch had nothing except perhaps misplaced hatred and a free bus ride to the spot.

This is part of Africa’s tragedy. When pigs elicit more sympathy and when their rights seem to be more important than those of human beings, something is sadly wrong.

It is unfortunate that Africans have to leave their home, live in abject conditions in Europe or America only to be herded into demonstrations about things they know little about.

It is a tragedy when they live off crumbs when their country, like the Democratic Republic of Congo, is reportedly awash with all the world’s most precious stones that you can mine by only scratching the surface of the earth. Would it not be more worthwhile for the protesting lot to go back home and pick diamonds and gold by merely straying into the bush than be herded into buses in much the same way other Africans were led to ships off Africa’s west coast to go and enrich other lands, yet remain forbidden from enjoying the fruits of their labour?

Is it not a shame that the DRC, the wealthiest country in Africa in natural resources has the largest number of Africans living in the slums of Europe? The country’s minerals continue to be shipped out by the same people that are all too eager to get the poor Congolese out on the streets to protest against the wrong person.

No one – not even the most vocal of human rights groups – has raised any concern about their rights or plunder of their nation by the sponsors of protests.

In Nairobi, pigs will be protected against abuse. In other places human beings do not matter. That’s sad and shocking, and shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

Rwandans are not ungrateful

14 May

It is dishonest to selectively use history to launder the tainted record of an individual and by the same effort tarnish the image of a whole people by imputing base motives on them. Equally, it is utterly deceitful to attempt to absolve criminals from culpability by reassigning responsibility for their actions. It is also blatantly insincere to try to delegitimize a genuine national liberation struggle by questioning its justification.

There is a name for this sort of thing: revisionism and it is not a respectable undertaking. Yet this is what Mr Harold Acemah, described as a political scientist, consultant and retired diplomat, does in a number of articles in the Monitor newspaper.

In a story titled, “Some voices and lessons from down the memory lane” (Sunday Monitor, 12th May) he narrates former Ugandan President Apolo Milton Obote’s supposed defence of Rwandan refugees and the latter’s apparent betrayal of him. The gist of the story is that in 1960 Obote, then a member of the colonial legislative council, was a strong advocate of Rwandan refugees to be allowed asylum in Uganda against the wishes of the colonial government. But that the refugees subsequently showed extreme ingratitude when they participated in the liberation struggle that eventually removed Obote from power.

Acemah’s story thus tries to do two things; canonise Obote while demonise Rwandans. Judging from his other writings on Rwanda, the second aim seems to be his major preoccupation.

And in a hurry to do this, he picks two events, one at the beginning and the other at the end of Obote’s political career and then uses them to make a general assessment of Obote’s supposed good intentions and Rwandans’ alleged deplorable character.  What happened in the intervening twenty years that he has conveniently left out during which Obote was at the height of his power?

The facts are different from this simplistic selection of historical detail.

It is true that Milton Obote  showed pan-Africanist tendencies – at least in rhetoric – at some stage in his political career and may indeed have supported the right of Rwandans to seek refuge in Uganda. He may have done it out of conviction or perhaps from a desire to annoy the British colonial authorities and score political points or to raise his profile in pan-African circles. All this is possible.

But along the way, raw power and narrow political interests eroded his pan-African idealism and he allowed narrow nationalism to dictate his conduct. For instance in 1969 he famously threatened to expel all foreigners from Uganda, including his Luo cousins from Kenya who had given him refuge and from whom he acquired political skills (talk of ingratitude). Rwandans – both immigrants and refugees – were not to be spared either.

In 1982 Obote actually carried out the threat and expelled thousands of Rwandan refugees and Kinyarwanda –speaking Ugandans to Rwanda. He did not hesitate to burn and kill in order to force people out of the country. He knew the cruel fate that awaited  them in Rwanda, but that did not stop him. As expected the Habyarimana regime in Rwanda refused to accept them and as a result thousands perished in the no man’s land between the two countries. Even when the government of Rwanda relented under pressure and accepted some of its citizens as refugees, they were settled in uninhabitable areas where many more died.

Was this the action of a man who had reportedly argued that Ugandans and Rwandans were kin and none should suffer injustice when the other was there to help?

This insensitivity, brutality and injustice, more than anything else, drove many people to join the National Resistance Army. It was a matter of survival, not a question of ingratitude or betrayal.

It is a historical fact that the 1980 general election in Uganda was stolen by the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) and Obote assumed power illegally. What followed was a genuine liberation struggle. Obote’s response was to unleash more brutality and violence on Ugandans. He showed a great deal of intolerance and incompetence that were slowly leading the country to a failed state status. Was this the action of a saint that Acemah would like to add to the list of holy people? And conversely, was resistance and struggle for survival actions of the devil?

In an earlier story, “Some reflections on the Rwandan genocide” (Sunday Monitor, 14th April 2013) Mr Acemah had sought to put the cause of the genocide to the downing of President Habyarimana’s plane. He then went on to say that he did not “believe that Hutu extremists shot down the plane”. Without presenting any evidence, he wants the world to believe that others, most likely the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), did it.

Again Acemah wants to achieve two things here. First, he is at pains to absolve Hutu extremists from all blame. Second, he is only too eager to transfer responsibility to others.

He should save himself the trouble because various investigations have concluded that the plane was shot down by extremists with the support of their foreign backers.

In any case there are serious flaws in Acemah’s plane crash argument as the origin of the genocide, There was a plan that was well-known and was immediately executed. There had been periodic pogroms before that point to a history of genocide.

Finally, Acemah mixes religion with revisionism perhaps to lend it credibility. He is quick to judge and condemn Rwandan refugees as ungrateful people who will answer to the Lord (presumably Jesus Christ). But I remember the same Jesus Christ cautioning against quick judgement of others because that is his prerogative.

It appears Mr Acemah has appropriated that divine right and the right to revise history. He is wrong \on both counts.