It is an unconscious reflex for the general public to think of Rwandan genocide when they come across Paul Kagame, the name of the president of Rwanda. Lack of scrutiny is always in order. A blank cheque on the narrative which has since populated opinions is laid down in people’s minds. It allows even to agree with the unthinkable such as claiming in the Financial Times that Rwanda’s democracy is still the model for Africa.
Few would question the right for Rwanda to protect itself from the demons of its past, -understanding well what sustains the survival of the dark and shadowy monsters will be for another time. However, many people including governments and human rights organizations find themselves today widely concerned with the path the country’s leadership is embarking on under the pretense of squaring those demonic spirits surprisingly found apparently only in all Hutus. Tutsis with dissent voices are hunted for other reasons.
In the mentioned article Paul Kagame proudly and arrogantly states that ‘Gacaca, our system of community courts, has tried more than 1.2m genocide suspects in the last five years. These reformed perpetrators have been allowed to resume their lives by acknowledging their crimes and asking for forgiveness. Today they live peacefully with their victims.’
Without denying there might be some real genocide suspects in Kagame’s figure, there are misleading facts hidden behind the picture he provides to his audience. One relates to who these suspects are as people. They are in their majority Hutu males, bread earners for their households of average family of three to four children or more. On the basis of the crimes they have been accused of they have been dispossessed of their small properties apparently to compensate the Tutsi victims of genocide. The truth is that such properties are given to the elite of the regime.
The impoverishment of these millions of Rwandans (if you include their dependants) is part of a cynical agenda to see them as second class citizens. The same way Paul Kagame allowed them to live by ordering them to acknowledge rightly or wrongly their crimes and asking forgiveness, he wants them now to live poor. That is his order if they want to live. Additionally, if they want to live, they have to make him look popular.
These genocide suspects are survivors of wars that Paul Kagame and his rebels from the Rwandan Patriotic Front started in Rwandan on October 1st 1990 from Uganda and pursued in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the following years. With French and Spanish international warrants hanging on the Rwandan president’s head, for his undeniable responsibility in the death of one million Rwandans and six millions of Congolese, the Financial Times is betting on its credibility by letting him publish in its pages as an honorable citizen of the world.
It is a well known fact that London is a place that one has to work with to influence the world opinion. Racepoint, Bell Pottinger, Portland PR, Hill and Knowlton, and other public relations firms in this sector, are there to help launder African dictators’ reputations, although the attempt to lure under the carpet all human rights abuses that Paul Kagame and other like dictators are responsible for appears somehow revolting. It is patronizing to tell Africans that they don’t deserve better than Rwanda’s style of democracy. It reminds of a London cocktail celebration where the audience was implicitly explained how imperialism worked and sensing the feel good factor of going along which aroused from some people’s understanding. That is how things should be they seem to agree.
The Financial Times, through Paul Kagame’s writing, is like calling African democrats, human rights activists, Africa’s real friends wherever they may be, to raise up their game if they want to see democratic change in Rwanda, the Grealakes region and beyond on the continent. If not, letting going on the status quo will help turn Rwandan population and other African communities ‘into dungeons, next to which the Bantustans of South Africa would look like symbols of freedom, sovereignty and self-determination,’ to paraphrase Noam Chomsky when talking of the impact of the wall that Israel built to keep Palestinians at bay.