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 →
Rwandan President Paul Kagame and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, center-left, light a memorial flame at a ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.
AP Photo/Ben Curtis
“The genocide we remember today – and the world’s failure to respond more quickly – reminds us that we always have a choice,” said US President Obama in a statement marking the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, today.
“The horrific events of those 100 days – when friend turned against friend, and neighbor against neighbor – compel us to resist our worst instincts, just as the courage of those who risked their lives to save others reminds us of our obligations to our fellow man.”
Rwandan President Paul Kagame lit a flame at the ceremony that will burn for the next 100 days, in what was reportedly an emotional commemoration. It represents the period of time when an estimated 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, were killed by Hutu soldiers.
Notably absent from the day’s events was France. France canceled its participation in today’s genocide commemorations in Rwanda after the nation’s leader accused the country of being directly involved in the genocide.
The Kagame-led government has remained critical of France for its role in the genocide. Accusations include helping the Hutu soldiers who carried out the atrocities in 1994 escape. There have been further allusions made regarding the fact that France helped to train the Rwandan military prior to the genocide.
“The Western powers would like the Rwanda is an ordinary country, as if nothing had happened, which have the advantage to forget their own responsibilities, but it is impossible. Take the case of France. Twenty years after, the only eligible reproach in his eyes is that of not having done enough to save lives during the genocide,” said Rwandan President Paul Kagame in an interview with Jeune Afrique, conducted in French.
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).
A quick look at the top ten stories on Google News this morning maintains the stand-off in Ukraine high on the list, of course, along with the missing Malaysian airplane and, well something about Justin Bieber, Tiger Woods and Oscar Pistorius’ trial for murder. It’s good to see that at least a third of the top stories (according to Google anyway) are not about celebrities or sports.
But what’s not so good to see is that some fairly significant stories have been shoved off the media’s radar screen. Sure, it’s important to pay attention to what Russia is trying to do in Ukraine. But the idea that the conflict there is more important than conflicts in other parts of the world is highly debatable.
We are not entering a new Cold War, and the likelihood of Western intervention in Ukraine is nil. Such talk neglects the reality of today’s geopolitics. American politicians’ moral outrage at Russia seems odd outside of the U.S. given our own government’s extensive history of invading even distant sovereign countries (Iraq, Grenada, Vietnam, much of Latin America….) based on ‘national interests.’ At least Ukraine used to be part of Russia.
Here are five stories Humanosphere thinks are maybe as important as the Ukraine story:
Amid UNESCO’s jaw-dropping report on the immense challenge to education around the world is an important fact: Some 37 countries are losing half of the money they invest in primary education because students are not learning.
Even when children go to school, they are not learning. That is in part reflected in the statistic that an estimated 175 million young people cannot read a full sentence.
This problem is reflected in the language of the report and its accompanying release. The problem is learning, not education. Despite that knowledge, there is still attention on the basic goals of teachers and schools.
“We need 5.1 million teachers to be recruited by 2015, and we need to work harder to support them in providing children with their right to a universal, free and quality education,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.
It is held that education is an important step of development. However, the evidence that spending money on education will not lead to job growth. Economist Francis Teal determined that more graduates is well and good, but they have nowhere to go if there are no jobs. Some may argue that better education can lead to the creation of working opportunities, but it appears to be that it is more about investing in connections to global markets.
Whether or not education can lead to income growth, the issue does not matter if students are not learning while they are in the classroom. Continue reading →
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 specter of genocide and the public shaming of the UN have helped mobilize some international action in the Central African Republic crisis.
US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power arrived in the capital city of Bangui yesterday as a show of US support and with the hope of bringing an end to the violence that spun out of an ongoing political crisis. She met with people affected by and involved in the present violence.
Power announced that the US would provide an additional $15 million in humanitarian support for the Central African Republic (CAR). The former journalist who critically covered atrocities in Rwanda and Kosovo, said immediate action was needed to save lives. She evoked lessons from the recent past as evidence that the world cannot wait.
“Somalia taught us what can happen in a failed state, and Rwanda showed us what could occur in a deeply divided one,” Power said. “The people of the Central African Republic are in profound danger and we all have a responsibility to help them move away from the abyss.” Continue reading →
Daytime television host Katie Couric courted controversy where it does not exist, yesterday. She featured Emily Tarsell a woman who said the HPV vaccine Gardasil is responsible for her her daughter’s death.
Remaining guests, including medical doctors, discussed their support and opposition to the HPV vaccine. Couric builds ‘controversy’ by rising fear of vaccines based on non or pseudo-scientific claims. The ‘balanced’ style of reporting left viewers with few answers and may have caused more confusion than help enlighten misinformed Americans.
“So we’ve obviously heard two different sides about the HPV vaccine and I think for parents watching, it’s probably still rather confusing when you hear these heartbreaking stories that these parents have endured,” closed Couric.
Viwers are left thinking that there is an actual debate over the HPV vaccine when there isn’t.
There is more agreement in the medical community than Couric’s show lets on. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women both receive the vaccine and are screened regularly for cancer. It is the same recommendation made by the World Health Organization for countries around the world. Continue reading →