Is Rwanda Under Kagame a Shining Example of Good News from Africa?

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In an article titled “Rwanda Is a Shining Example of Good News from Africa” published in New Zealand based publicasion Stuff, on July 8, 2019, writer Phil Quin has a line that I love: “But the truth, as always, is more nuanced and, especially over the past decade or so, Africa is in many ways coming into its own.” This is true for many countries on the continent of Africa. There are 54 countries, each with its own contemporary issues and growth. A good number of them are coming into their own.

It is also worth noting that Mr. Quin’s article highlights that Africa is “a continent that usually attracts attention only in the context of crisis, conflict, famine, natural disasters and eye-popping levels of graft and corruption.” I commend him for going past this typical stereotype-driven narrative. It is rare to see talk of accomplishments such as Nigeria having concluded a peaceful election, Ethiopia’s emergence from authoritarianism to leadership that promises to respect human rights and civil liberties, and a number of Southern African countries such as Botswana, Namibia, and Mozambique carrying out peaceful transfer of power after democratic elections, or even a mention of West African nations such as Ghana and Senegal setting an example for conflict-free transfer of power between rivals post elections.

Phil Quin’s choice of Africa’s shining example of good news from Africa was peculiar given the timing and the atmosphere in Rwanda. Not long after his article, an open letter from Diane Rwigara, a CNN report, and a DW report highlighted grave issues facing ordinary Rwandans as well as political opponents. These stand in stark contrast to the rosy picture Mr. Quin painted of the Rwandan government. Additionally, a news report by ABC News in Australia, New Zealand’s neighbor, exposed a network of spies operating in Australia to recruit or otherwise intimidate and threaten Rwandan refugees in that country. According to the report, these spy networks are led by Rwanda’s embassy in Singapore, headed by High Commissioner Guillaume Kavaruganda, whose diplomatic responsibilities included Australia as well as New Zealand.

Besides the ABC News Report in Australia on Rwandan spies hunting down Rwandans in the South Pacific, Radio-Canada Info just released a report on October 31 about the same activities occurring in Canada, facilitated by Rwanda’s High Commission there. The report includes mention of massacres committed by the Kagame regime and military inside Rwanda and Congo documented by Canadian Author Judi Rever in her book titled "In Praise of Blood". It also includes a story of an asylum seeker, a woman who was given an academic scholarship, trained to spy by Rwanda’s military, then sent to Canada with a mission to collect information on exiled Rwandans. Once information was collected, the woman who ended up abandoning the mission states that in her view, the information she collected was to facilitate assassinations of Rwandan nationals in Canada.

CNN International published a report on July 27 this year titled “Opposition Members Keep Going ‘Missing’ in Rwanda. Few Expect Them to Return.” The report focused on members of the FDU Inkingi opposition party who have recently gone missing. The FDU has been refused registration by the government of Rwanda. Its president, Victoire Ingabire, attempted to run in the 2010 election. She was subsequently imprisoned and spent eight years incarcerated. The CNN report also referenced an open letter by Diane Rwigara, another woman who attempted to run against Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame in the 2017 elections. Rwigara was subsequently arrested and incarcerated for a year. Kagame has been the de-facto leader of Rwanda since 1994. He has officially been president since the year 2000. His two terms in office ended in 2017, but he and his supporters maneuvered a change in the constitution that allows him to remain president until 2034. Rwigara’s open letter to President Kagame called for action and justice for dozens of genocide survivors who have been targets of mysterious deaths or disappeared, never to be seen again. She asked for the president to address this security issue in a country that prides itself on security of its citizens.

It is important to note that Phil Quin’s article praised both the representation of women in parliament and security in Kigali. Yet both women who attempted to run against President Kagame were imprisoned as a result, with trumped-up charges to justify their incarcerations. It is also worth noting that both have lost supporters, some assassinated in gruesome fashion while others have disappeared, never to be seen again. Beyond those involved in politics, Diane Rwigara’s letter referred to the targeted killings and disappearance of genocide survivors. It should also be noted that the 63% of the members of parliament are handpicked by the ruling party, making such members’ job one of rubber-stamping the ruling party’s policies without challenging them. A prime example is the change in constitution to extend Kagame’s term limits in 2015.

German broadcaster DW released an article on August 5 entitled “Rwanda’s Disappearing Opposition” that referenced similar atrocities to the CNN report. A part of the DW report reads as follows:

For a long time now, opposition members in Rwanda have been exposed to intimidation, violence, prison or the prospect of disappearing as soon as they criticize President Kagame and his ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). President Paul Kagame has ruled the country since the genocide in 1994. While the regime has strengthened peace and economic growth, it also suppressed political criticism through extensive monitoring. Rwanda ranked 128th out of 167 countries on the 2018 Democracy Index of the Economist, which placed it between Ethiopia and China.

The extensive news report by ABC in Australia states the following about an allegation to kill a Rwandan-born activist in Australia:

Documents that ABC has witnessed state the High Commissioner allegedly threatened to kill a Rwandan-born NSW man. The human rights activist spoke to the ABC under the condition of anonymity. He says the High Commissioner delivered the warning to his sister following a community event in 2017 and urged her to pass it on. “The Rwandan Government is very strong, and all people who dare oppose it will die in vain, and this is what is going to happen to him,” he alleges Kavaruganda said. “There is a gun pointed at him and he better be careful.” His sister was so scared she recorded the conversation and gave it to police, but they were unable to help. “The Ambassador has diplomatic immunity in Australia,” a police statement read. “We are prevented from pursuing an investigation and ultimately a prosecution of him.” A police source close to the investigation says he had no reason to doubt the man’s account.

Reading Phil Quin’s article, one would never guess that the Rwanda he is describing is the same Rwanda that members of the opposition in Rwanda or the dozens of genocide survivors documented in Diane Rwigara’s letter actually experience. The anguish of the families with missing members who are expected to never be found, the constant intimidation meted out to all Rwandans, and the brutality of the Kagame regime are all absent in Mr. Quin’s article.

There is no doubt that Africa as a continent and many countries are coming into their own. I mentioned some of the countries and can also add countries like Gambia shaking off a longtime dictactor, Yahya Jammeh, with the help of another democratic African nation, Senegal. Add to that the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner new Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed releasing scores of prisoners incarcerated for political reasons after replacing a longtime dictator in Meles Zenawi. There are also cases of stable democratic, growing countries such as Namibia, Botswana, and Tanzania. There is the emerging youth engagement all over the continent. There are the people of Sudan who recently, through peaceful protests, also got rid of longtime genocidal dictator Al Bashir.

Another glaring miss in Phil Quin’s article was Rwanda’s destabilization of neighboring countries, especially the Democratic Republic of Congo. In fact, since Rwanda’s invasion of the Congo, the conflict in Congo rivals the Holocaust in casualties of innocent people. Over 6 million have died as a result of the conflict, and a UN Mapping exercise report stated that Rwandan troops could be found to have committed genocide in Congoif taken to court.

As for corruption, while petty examples have been greatly reduced, excessive patronage, nepotism, job reservations, “favor-for-favors,” secret party funding, and suspiciously close ties between politics and business appear to be on the increase. It cannot be ignored that in recent years, the Panama papers documented President Kagame’s assistant Dr. Emmanuel Ndahiro as a conduit of money laundering.

It is inaccurate to present Rwanda under Kagame as the best that we can expect from Africa. While recognizing the achievements stated in Phil Quin’s article as well as the successes of other African nations that often go unnoticed, the world must know that justice is not being served withthe ongoing internal dynamics for Rwandans and relations with their neighbors. Africans, especially Rwandans and Congolese, have paid a high price with millions of lost lives for some of the achievements noted. Diane Rwigara’s letter calling for justice for disappeared genocide survivors; the recent CNN and DW reports on Rwandans disappearances; and the recent article in Financial Times stating that Rwanda’s poverty reduction numbers are misrepresented to ensure they toe Kagame’s line all show that the struggle for a free and thriving Rwanda for all Rwandans is far from over today. Africa has models that are much more worthy than Phil Quin’s choice in Rwanda. Namibia, Senegal, and a few others mentioned are much better candidates for a claim of Africa’s shining examples.

Claude Gatebuke is a Rwandan genocide and war survivor. He is the executive director for the African Great Lakes Action Network and can be reached via Twitter @AGLANGLR and @shinani1.

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