Monday, July 5, 2010

Rwanda is Nearing a Political Precipice - by Deo Lukyamuzi

July 4, 2010 - Source: WORLD NEWS JOURNAL

Between February and April, 198 I met the late Seth Sendashonga on two occasions both, in Nairobi, Kenya. On my first visit, we met at the Regency Hotel. I have a vivid memory of that occasion. I remember the Hotel had a pellish pink paint –at least the terrace where we sat. Seth was wearing a golden suite, red necktie white shirt and black shoes, and he had a somewhat oversized moustache. I on the other hand, had a light blue shirt, black trousers and shoes. I also had on a bleu jean jacket and a Rastafarian hat–evidently, la mode has never been my forté. As a by-the-way, I later lost my jean jacket to a comrade in Havana and gave as souvenir, my rasta hat to an Eritrean lady friend at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg.

The second time we met with Seth Sendashonga, we drove around town talking in the car, the same in which he was later assassinated, a beige Toyota Corolla with red UN number plate, and we ended at his home for lunch where I met his wife and a teenage girl, I believe, his daughter.

There was a scheduled third meeting on the 24th of May, 1998. He was assassinated on the 22nd of May while I was in Zanzibar where I had gone to do some work concerning preparatory meetings the Pan African Movement Secretariat was organizing across Africa to create awareness of the campaign for the creation of the African Union. These meetings were being sponsored by the Libyan government and being implemented by the Pan African Movement Secretariat. As his Assistant on the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa regions, the General Secretary, the late Dr. Tajudeen Abdul Rahim had entrusted me with the duty of being the point person on conducting these meetings.

I was to proceed to Nairobi from Zanzibar, again, on instructions from Dr. Tajudeen to carry his message to his friend Seth Sendashonga.

At that time, there was an effort (basing on the information I had, I am not sure whose initiative it was) to patch the ruptured relationship between Seth and his former colleagues in the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). I know for a fact, that Dr. Tajudeen and PAM was not the only line by which information was being passed to and from RPF and Seth. There was another initiative that involved Maj. Gen. Salim Saleh. We talked about it with Seth but I also heard it through other avenues.

When Sendashonga was assassinated, I was heart- broken. I had developed a certain appreciation of him as a decent person, genuinely honest and inspiring. We may not have shared the same political philosophy, him being a liberal democrat and I leaning towards social democratic but there was more that we shared than we did not.

Sendashonga was killed because of his political stand and nothing else. All those phony constructs that he was involved in a business deal which went bad are irritating to say the least. As it so happened, he became a bona fide poster boy for the countless political figures Rwanda has lost over these past two decades. There are never any investigations, no public inquiries to shed light as to what may or may not have happened, only the usual casual who cares explanation of ‘it was an accident’, ‘suicide’, ‘business deal gone bad’, and so on.

Among the many topics we discussed was Kagame’s personality because even as Vice President, it was always known and rightly so, that he was more important than the actual President Bizimungu. The later was more of a unity symbol to comfort the Hutu population and show the rest of the world that it was not all about Tutsi victors and Hutu vanquished. Sendashonga’s opinion of Kagame was mixed and shifting. He told me that during the earlier days the two men met and started working together, he saw Kagame as a disciplined person and a listener. He saw him as some he could ‘work with’. However, in Sendashonga’s words, ‘Kagame overnight developed an almost ready-made mistrust of his Hutu colleagues in government and the rest was a matter of time that the rupture occurred”. He recounted to me how in the earlier days of RPF taking power, the used to have frank meetings and discuss openly and criticize each other where need was. He said however, as grave errors started to be committed by RPA soldiers killing civilians at any flimsy excuse, Kagame started to be defensive along fellow RPA officers and he and others in the army side started skipping the consultation meetings and eventually they ceased taking place.

I sat in President Pasteur Bizimungu’s press briefing on 22nd April, 1995 at Hotel Meridien Umubano at Kacyiru across the New times Offices. He had come to explain the massacre or tell if u will, the International Community what happened at the Kibeho camp of internally displaced people (IDP). The President came to that meeting with an air of self-importance that I had not seen about him before. He asked the international community to accept the official figure of 300 people as being the victims of that massacre. This was after, he and Vice President Kagame, had flown over the destroyed camps in a helicopter to see for themselves the extent of the catastrophe. It is worth noting that before the President and Vice President, the Minister of Internal Affairs had been denied entry into the camps by the RPF soldiers guarding the camps.

UNAMIR, on the same night of the massacre gave an estimate of the dead to be about 4000 which it later revised to between 1500-2000 people. Even considering the UNAMIR’s lower figure of 1500 and compare it with that of the government of 300, leads to the conclusion that either both sides were not referring to the same incident or one of them is not being sincere. It is u and I to tell in our opinion who was telling the truth and who was not and who had the motive to lie.

It is my opinion, I may be wrong, that the then Vice President and Minister of Defense Kagame was not aware of all the details of what went on in the Kibeho camp, especially the days leading to the massacre, but still I find him, together with the then President Bizimungu, responsible for their conduct after the massacre where no efforts were spared in covering up the extent of the tragedy.

Rutayisire’s Death and General Kayumba’s Presence

In his recent interviews, exiled General Kayumba talks about the loneliness he felt when he lost his parent and none of his comrades showed up at the burial nor call him to offer condolences. I am sure this came as no surprise to the good General since it was not the first time it was happening. When Lt. Col. Wilson Rutayisire (Shaban) was murdered in Congo, in June, 2000, I was in Kigali. I say murdered in spite of the official version that he killed himself, because I have very good reasons to counter the official story:

For those who knew Shaban as a friend knew that one of his daughters, Hope or Charity, I cannot recall her exact name, was to undergo a medical procedure in a week’s time. We had met at the Meridien Hotel where I was staying doing preparatory work for a Justice Africa project, the Peoples Panel. He told me he was leaving for DRC but that he would be back to be present when his daughter underwent the procedure;

Having seen him less than one week before his death, having talked to him on phone from DRC two days before his death, not having seen, sensed, felt, heard of any indicator of fore-bearance, I have no choice but to conclude that Shaban did not take his own life but those who were quick to concoct a suicide story, know better of who killed Shaban.

It is only Gen. Kayumba, who represented the government and army at the burial. Those who were present can attest to the anger or fury on Kayumba’s face at the unceremonious ceremony. The interpretation we all had was that nobody should dare question the government version of events since shortly after his death and at burial it was a known secret that it was not suicide but murder. Any doubts were quickly removed by the way his wife and children were treated thereafter. Perhaps Kayumba is in a better position to explain his posture at his Comrade’s burial.

In Rwanda, since the coming into power by RPF, once you are perceived to be on Kagame’s watch list, you are treated like a leper even your close friends cannot get distance themselves as much as they can the best you can expect from them are warning messages through third or fourth parties advising you to run for dear life. That explains why there is not a single person, former RPF or not, having disagreed with President Kagame, is still living in Rwanda. They are all dead, in prison, under house arrest or in exile.

President Kagame, during an interview with Daniel Kalinaki of the Daily Monitor, posed a rhetorical question as to why all people who don’t agree with him decide to run into exile. I am not sure he did not know the answer to his question but if indeed he did not, the only possible answer is in the immediate above paragraph.

President Kagame’s government is allergic to opposition even if some two years ago he declared that it is not him to do the job of the opposition but the opposition itself. It is an impossible mission to be an opposition in Rwanda and not be called a genocidaire, negationist, revisionist, genocide denier. You are lucky if you are a Tutsi because you cannot fit into these categories. You are instead a thief, corrupt, terrorist and or treacherous. You can be all those depending on the mood of your accuser since prosecution is at the pleasure of the powers that be. Genocide is less of a national tragedy than it is a political tool used to ensnare genuine opposition in the Country.

Politics in Africa is dangerous business but it is also more dangerous in some countries that in others. Rwanda is an extreme case. Having gone through genocide, you would think that the leaders would do whatever it is in their powers to avoid war ever happening again in that country. What the RPF government is doing to its political opponents leaves no room even to the ultra-pacifist to conclude that the only avenue left to oppose President Kagame, is through violent means. War is not an avenue that any responsible right thinking person should encourage but, there are circumstances that dictate there to be war in order to have peace –paradoxical as it sounds.

Why is it a crime to have a different opinion, differ politically, opt out of a political formation or even dislike your political leader, yet all the above constitute a grave misconduct in the eyes of RPF regime and endangers anyone who habours or is perceived to have such sentiments . This is not limited to politicians but even to civil society like non-governmental organisations and journalists and newspapers. Rwanda is cleaned of any independent minded opinion leaders and all we have today is an array of government NGOs, and government newspapers and journalists –talk about nationalization engineering, this is futuristic in style only if we were dealing with comedy.

In economics there is what we call the ‘law of diminishing returns’. Simply stated, the law of diminishing returns refers to how the marginal production of a factor of production starts to progressively decrease as the factor is increased, in contrast to the increase that would otherwise be normally expected. This law is as true in economics as is in realpolitik.

The RPF government made a strategic choice that being feared than being loved will keep them in power and in my opinion, they were right, if one considers being in power as an end in itself –in which case you factor out transformation of society as not having been part of their ‘patriotic’ agenda. Rwanda under President Kagame, is a classic police state where intelligence is more important than defense. The enemy of the state is defined as more internal than external and the regime has crafted an atmosphere where nobody can trust anybody therefore organizing dissent within and/or without the system is a challenge for those who would want to see change.

The result of the above policy choice has been sledge-hammering of whoever does not worship the General of Generals, Kagame.

But as with all policy choices, there are limitations and so has RPF’s. Going after the regimes opponents with all fury, leaving nothing to chance, in the end leaving a trail of murders, arrests and imprisonment, herding others in exile, has its own limitations. This is where the law of diminishing returns comes in. State terrorism is gradually falling short of its desired effects. It has instead awakened up the regimes’ friends from their slumber of denial to realize the regime in Kigali is not the victim but a villain when it comes to human rights violations.

Many cold-blooded actions can no longer be explained or spinned or denied, not all and certainly, not for ever. The guilt-tripping of the west has come become stereo-typical and its weight has lessened, due to time and the regimes own crimes.

Since at least 1997, opposition to RPF regime has been growing in different forms and shape but most importantly, this opposition internal or external, has been democratic and pacifist (save for FDLR which never accepted RPF from the onset). The experience of this political opposition can be compared to tilling a rock –you certainly do not get anywhere. As much undesired as it is, violent opposition is going to be the next phase of opposing RPF regime. It is simply a law of natural progression. Contesting RPF’s monopoly of the means of violence is a very tempting thought.