Letter To Secretary Blinken: US Policy Must Change Against Rwanda’s Kagame

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s trip to Rwanda.
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The following is an open letter sent by Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa, of the Rwanda Truth Commission, to U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken regarding his trip to Rwanda.

Dear Secretary Blinken,

I am writing to commend your effort to travel to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) next week in search of peace in east Africa. The United States has been a consistent and closest ally to President Kagame’s RPF regime since it came to power in 1994 after a bloody civil war and genocide.

The United Nations Group of Experts has confirmed what is a public secret in east Africa and internationally that Rwanda launched military interventions in the Democratic Republic of Congo since November 2021 in support of its proxy rebel group M23. As in 2012 when M23 and its Rwandan allies captured Goma, they now hold towns and villages in eastern DRC.

Ever since he came to power in Rwanda in 1994 after a bloody civil war and genocide, Kagame’s regime has been a constant menace to DRC’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Throughout the first Congo War (1996-1997), the second Congo War (1998), subsequent proxy wars, and the current invasion, Rwanda’s overall strategic intent is to weaken and control DRC, plunder its natural resources, and position itself as the stabilizing influence in a conflict-prone region.

Every time Rwanda has invaded DRC, it has first denied it, claimed it is in pursuit of genocidal forces, and pretended to be the advocate and champion for the rights of ethnic Tutsi (Banyamulenge). It is estimated that over 5.4 million Congolese people and hundreds of thousands of Hutu have died as a result of these perpetual wars unleashed by the Kigali regime. The U.N DRC Mapping Report of 2010 documented war crimes, crimes against humanity and possible acts of genocide against Hutu and Congolese people by Rwanda’s military (OHCHR | DRC: Mapping human rights violations 1993-2003 ).

President Kagame’s regime is yet to be held accountable for these crimes that were committed, and continue to be committed, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As a student of history and practitioner of international relations, you are well aware that a nation’s domestic agenda drives its external posture. Domestic tyranny breeds external aggression. The prospects for mutual peace and security between Rwanda and DRC, and indeed east Africa, are bleak without redressing the roots of tyranny, genocide and war-making in Rwanda.

Under your tenure, The U.S. Department of State, in its annual report 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights: Rwanda reiterates the terror from a police state that we citizens of Rwanda have to endure day by day without any peaceful avenue for seeking change:

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearance by the government; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals located outside the country, including killings, kidnappings, and violence; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; and serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations.

Kagame’s regime is consistently at war with DRC because it is perpetually at war with its own citizens. Since the Kigali regime has not been held accountable for these domestic and international crimes, Kagame is now emboldened to launch another war in DRC and extend his rule indefinitely, to at least 20 more years.

Kagame’s trademarks remain unaccountable rule by impunity, regional aggression, callous manipulation of genocide, deception, total disregard for human life in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Never since colonial times and the Cold War has there been a greater destabilizing influence in east and central Africa, with devastating humanitarian consequences, loss of life, and socio-economic disruption.

Out of guilt and geostrategic considerations successive U.S. administrations of Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump have extended a blank cheque to the Kagame regime.

It is the view of the majority of Rwandans, Congolese people, and other Africans that this blanket and unconditional political, diplomatic and financial support to the regime fuels the regime’s impunity and intransigence nationally, regionally, and internationally.

From the standpoint of U.S. taxpayers, it is wasteful, unjust and inhuman to spend their money on a minority unaccountable regime whose pre-occupation is denying freedom to its citizens and waging destructive wars against a neighboring country.

There are a few things I would like to share with you about Kagame and the inner workings of his regime. I know Kagame and his regime very well since I was among its top leadership at its founding in 1994. I was once the Secretary General of one and only ruling RPF party, Rwanda’s Ambassador to the United States, and Kagame’s Chief of Staff for his Presidency.

First, go with modest expectations as you deal with Rwanda’s efficient but deceptive interlocutors. There are no quick fixes to the complex problems of east Africa. While you may skillfully extract a concession or two from President Kagame, you will not change his inherent behavior towards the citizens of Rwanda and the DRC.

He thrives and survives on absolutist rule, coercion, violence, fear, war-making, excessive risk-taking, conspiracy and impunity. He breaks promises as soon as he makes them. He is addicted to this business model which has so far served him well for almost 30 years now. He is not about to voluntarily abandon it even when his fortunes are clearly on a declining path to eventual demise.

Therefore, be honest with President Kagame. Remind him that any reign of terror is unsustainable, unproductive, and dangerous primarily because it is unjust and inevitably leads to cyclical violent conflict and national catastrophe. Convey a clear message that he should stop the regime’s human rights abuses, unconditionally release all hostages and political prisoners, open up space for independent political, civil society and press activity. Reiterate that the future U.S-Rwanda cooperation will be anchored on accountability on basic ingredients of human rights, the rule of law and democracy.

Second, in no uncertain terms make it known to President Kagame that the U.S will leverage its substantial diplomatic, political and financial support for Rwanda to stop the regime’s now habitual aggression against the Democratic Republic of Congo. Seek accountability for Rwanda’s crimes committed in DRC and its continuing plunder of DRC’s natural resources.

The interests of Rwandans, Congolese people and east Africans are more just, much bigger and of a more enduring nature than those of a dictatorship. It is these citizens’ interests, fundamentally freedom among them, that U.S national interests and policy should be aligned with.

Accordingly, U.S. policy towards Rwanda needs to strategically abandon the guilt, temporary advantage, and narrow geo-strategic calculations that have hitherto been its major drivers. This is the only productive and sustainable pathway to protect U.S. national interests. It will enhance accountability, freedom, peace, security and shared prosperity in Rwanda, DRC and east Africa.

I wish you a safe journey to Rwanda and fruitful deliberations.

Please accept, Honorable Secretary, the assurance of my highest regards.

Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa is the Secretary of the Rwanda Truth Commission and the Chairman of the Rwanda Freedom Movement in Washington, DC.

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