For some, Rwanda is beautiful, a story of amazing recovery and rebuilding. For others, Rwanda is creepy, a story of ongoing Western-sanctioned political repression and murder.
In other words, Rwanda is complex. Incredibly complex, with some deep wounds that have not yet healed. And it’s perhaps time the humanitarian community moves beyond the simplistic depictions of the country, if only to make sure that what progress has been made can continue.
In 2011, I joined a dozen or so journalists with the International Report Project filing into a government building in Kigali, Rwanda. We were there to report on what many in the aid and development community were calling ‘Africa’s success story’ and given brief instructions on how we were to interview President Paul Kagame. One question per person and no video.
So, of course, I surreptitiously set up my SLR camera to take video. Kagame soon joined us and greeted each of us warmly, speaking softly like a genteel professor. Continue reading →
Paul Rusesabagina actually sounds a bit like Don Cheadle, the actor who played him in the movie Hotel Rwanda – a 2004 film that greatly expanded public recognition of the genocide a decade earlier in the east-central African nation, an event that killed perhaps a million people.
Or, well, I guess it’s more that Cheadle learned to sound a lot like Rusesabagina (which, for your information, sounds like Reh-sessah-ba-GEE-na).
It’s now been another decade and so the stories are coming out to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Rwandan genocide – an almost unimaginable tragedy in which ethnic conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis exploded across the Great Lakes Region of Africa, also affecting DR Congo, Burundi and Uganda as well.
Since then, Rwanda under President Paul Kagame has made stunning progress on all sorts of fronts – health, economics and infrastructure. Many leading humanitarian and aid organizations regard Rwanda as an amazing African success story and Kagame as a visionary leader.
Rusesabagina wants the world to recognize the other side of Rwanda – a nation that lacks many democratic and political freedoms due to the authoritarian nature of the Kagame government. In this podcast, we talk to this former hotel manager who put his life at risk to save some 1,200 people and whom Kagame once hailed as a hero – until Rusesabagina fell out of favor and had to flee the country.
Listen in (and feel the warm audio embrace of the Humanosphere).
Editor’s note: Humanosphere has noted before that there are two Rwandas – one an African success story celebrated by the humanitarian sector for its stunning improvements in health and poverty reduction; the other a nation quietly suffering from oppression, authoritarianism and state-sanctioned violence. The recent murder of a former close colleague of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame supports the concerns raised by the latter camp.
This is a guest post by Judi Rever, a Montreal-based journalist who has reported extensively in Africa and is now working on a book about war crimes in Rwanda.
Rever recently wrote about her research for Foreign Policy Journal and, below for Humanosphere, makes the case for the West to adopt a more realistic – less simplistic and celebratory – view of Rwanda and Paul Kagame’s government.
It was New Year’s Day when the body of a Rwandan dissident was found at a luxury hotel in South Africa.
Patrick Karegeya, a former spy chief for President Paul Kagame, was apparently strangled. The chilling symbolism of his death – a critical voice forever gagged – sent another wave of terror among Rwandans that dare to speak out against a man whose political reach is nothing short of astonishing.
Rwanda’s opposition has cried foul, but skeptics have said it is premature to point to a culprit before South African police complete an investigation. Human Rights Watch cautiously concurred, yet conceded there has a been a pattern of attacks, assassinations and attempted assassinations against Rwandan dissidents abroad that is ‘extremely alarming.’
Only a handful of Western critics are willing to be blunt about the force behind the targeted killings of Rwandan dissidents.
“There is no place that Kagame would not strike. And he does it so bare-faced,” concludes Stephen Smith, a formerly journalist with the French newspapers Le Monde and Liberation, who now teaches at Duke University in North Carolina. Smith appears in the trailer of a new film called the Rwanda Gambit by Andre Vltchek.
“Any Mobutu or Idi Amin Dada looks like an apprentice in comparison,” Smith says of the former dictators of Zaire and Uganda. “Because at least they had sort of red lines they would not cross.”
“You would not try to kill someone once, miss him and try it again going through official embassy people. You would not kill an opposition figure in London, Paris or New York. You would just wait for them at the very minimum to be in Kinshasa,” Smith added.
Karegeya’s murder in Johannesburg has cast a long shadow over the legacy of Kagame — a hitherto poster boy for international development aid and a former rebel leader credited with halting the 1994 genocide by Hutu extremists against the country’s minority Tutsi. Continue reading →
The legacy and impact of Paul Kagame on Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region of central Africa has come under greater scrutiny in the past few years. The divisive debate pits the supporters who say he has transformed the small nation against opponents who decry the human rights abuses carried out by Kagame’s regime.
Enter the Rwanda Gambit a new documentary that makes the case that the international community has turned a blind eye to Kagame’s crimes. The film is by Andre Vltchek, a journalist and filmmaker based in Nairobi. The film is sure to spark more debate over Kagame.
He poses the idea that international companies are using Rwanda to extract mineral resources from neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. Other critics have made such claims, but evidence to substantiate it has always been thin. The trailer and accompanying text make it seem as if this film will try to answer such questions.
The M23 rebel group that has led a twenty-month insurgency in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo waved the white flag today. An announcement Tuesday morning that the rebels gave up came in the wake of a Congolese army campaign that beat back the group over the weekend.
“The chief of staff and the commanders of all major units are requested to prepare troops for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration on terms to be agreed with the government of Congo.”
Rebels will put down arms in order to accomplish, “purely political means,” solutions to the root problems that gave rise to the rebellion said M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa in a statement. The Tutsi group opposes the existence of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a militia made up of ethnic Hutus, that group that carried out the Rwandan genocide, in eastern Congo.
The Congolese army already says it move to deal with the FDLR. The M23 was at the top of the list for the army’s concerns and it is now moving on to the next group, said government spokesman Lambert Mende. He said an attack is “imminent” against the FDLR.
“There is no more place in our country for any irregular group,” he said referring to the FDLR. “We are going to get on with disarming them.”
Only a year earlier the M23 rebels marched, without resistance, into the main eastern city of Goma before agreeing to retreat. The destabilizing group garnered greater international attention when a United Nations report said that the Rwandan military was providing support to the rebels. Continue reading →
Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Jeffrey Gettleman finally got the opportunity to sit down with Rwanda’s controversial president Paul Kagame.
The three hour conversation was used in an article published in the New York Magazine profiling Kagame. The piece caught attention for a less-than-flattering depiction of the Rwandan president and even generated a bizarre response from the Kagame office.
Gettleman’s piece covers the range of views on Kagame. He is the leader who turned around Rwanda in the wake of a horrific genocide that should have sent the country in a tailspin. He is also the autocrat who stifles opponents in Rwanda and is accused of inciting rebellion in the neighboring DR Congo by supporting rebel groups.
Yolande Makolo, the communications director for the Presidency in Rwanda, responded critically to the article in allAfrica. She said that she turned down Gettleman’s previous requests to interview Kagame, but was convinced by a mutual acquaintance to allow for the conversation. When it did happen, Gettleman went well beyond the hour that he was allotted to speak with the president. Continue reading →
Howard G. Buffett is pushing the international community to fully restore aid to Rwanda.
When a UN Group of Experts (GoE) report found that Rwanda was supporting rebels fighting a deadly conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a number of countries including the U.S. and Britain cut or suspended foreign aid in protest.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame steadfastly denied supporting the Congo militias that have been wreaking havoc along the Rwanda-Congo border, but the evidence was strong enough to convince even some of Kagame’s biggest supporters that Western powers needed to send a message of disapproval.
That didn’t include Howard Buffett, Warren Buffett’s son, and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Buffett and Blair argued against the move, contending that reducing aid to Rwanda would just cause more harm than good to the unstable Great Lakes region of central Africa.
“Cutting aid does nothing to address the underlying issues driving conflict in the region, it only ensures that the Rwandan people will suffer — and risks further destabilizing an already troubled region,” Blair and Buffett wrote in a recent Foreign Policy article.
This was followed by a report from the Howard G Buffett Foundation making the same points. The report went further by questioning the reliability of the GoE – the group that originally reported evidence the the Rwandan government was supporting rebels in the eastern DRC.
It’s worth noting that the Buffett Foundation report was written by unknown authors and using unnamed sources. Continue reading →
Physicians with the health advocacy group Partners in Health visit with child patients at the hospital they helped build in Butaro, Rwanda
Rwanda is a beautiful example of how even the most devastated country can, with enough support and the right kind of planning, make a stunning recovery and get itself on the path of progress.
On many indicators of health and welfare, as well as economic growth, Rwanda is at the top of the list in Africa and, in some cases, globally. I’ve seen the evidence for this in person, having visited and reported on Rwanda more than a year ago. It is an impressive ‘success story’ – a story that gets repeated over and over and over.
But a bizarre juxtaposition of events that took place this week illustrates, for some anyway, the dilemma that Rwanda poses for the humanitarian community.
Days before that, late last week, Rwanda’s Minister of Health Agnes Binagwaho was celebrated at a big global health meeting in Washington, DC, for her country’s rapid progress against poverty and injustice. Twitter went nuts with people referring to Binagwaho as “inspiring, amazing” – a veritable “rock star” for the aid and development community.
You can argue, as some did with me, that trying to link these two events together is unjustified and misleading.
Yet you could also argue they are fairly difficult to de-link — in that foreign aid is a big reason for Rwanda’s celebrated success in health and threatening to withhold foreign aid is how the US government, the Brits and others have been trying to encourage Rwanda to stop messing around in Congo. Continue reading →