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Nov-03-2011 17:44printcomments

Is Rwanda Losing What It Has Gained Since 1994?

Mr. Kagame is from the school of thought who consider dissent as being irrational, uncalled for, and therefore, something that must be fought.

Rwanda rooftops
Rwanda rooftops

(WASHINGTON D.C.) - The script most of the world has about Rwanda is of a nation on the verge of losing what it has gained since 1994. Not surprising. Sixteen years ago, Rwanda, many will agree looked a complete write off. The mess that was the genocide had left the country on its bare minimum, with no clean water, no hospitals, no justice system or infrastructure and a people that saw themselves as victims or perpetrators.

So much needed fixing. The marauding Interahamwe had been defeated, the killings halted and a new government promised so much in terms of development and getting the country back on track. At the centre of all this, a certain Major Gen Paul Kagame, was pulling the strings. After successfully leading the force that took over Kigali, he embarked on forming an inclusive government, with the aim of uniting Rwandans. Not credit him for trying or at least for the economic progress that Rwanda has witnessed during this period, would be unfair.

There is going to be the argument about time spent in power. People can rightly argue that he has had so much time to do what he has done, and that with as much aid that Rwanda has received during his tenure, any fit-for-purpose human being would have performed.

This may be true but you still would have needed someone with character. While President Kagame has the character, has had the luck, agility and steady fastness, he truly is no saint. So often, he has been discovered as wanting in statesmanship, democracy and ability to engage with perceived enemies.

Mr. Kagame is from the school of thought who consider dissent as being irrational, uncalled for, and therefore, something that must be fought. To Kagame, leaders are meant to be respected and any divergent views must be expressed directly through stipulated channels (in most cases, composed of his most trusted lieutenants) and on which he has ultimate control. In doing so, he has centralised power, creating or promoting a circle of top trusted friends, who many see as the inner circle, which is out to make or break Rwanda. Remember, this is a government, which accused their predecessors of promoting the infamous “Akazu” a top circle grouping of Juvenile Habyalimana’s trusted cadres, believed to have executed the genocide.

So, when Hilary Clinton, says that “We really don’t want to see Rwanda undermine its own remarkable progress by beginning to move away from a lot of the very positive actions that undergirded its development so effectively,” she has a point.

Culture of Silence

Rwanda’s problem has been and continues to be the inexplicable silence embraced by her citizens who despite having mixed feelings about what is going on inside their country choose to either pretend that everything is right, or keep numb about all. Silence in Rwanda, is a virtue. Anything said, risks being misinterpreted for the bad and after years of experience, Rwandans have learnt to gag themselves, or control their speech. It is a culture not only of silence but self-censorship as well.

While silence insulates some of the prevalent anger from some members of society at say such things as governance issues, imbalance in power, lack of political space or a not very fair policy, some say, on unity and reconciliation, it encourages pretense. In Rwanda today, there are people who believe that the government should have borrowed a leaf from South Africa’s handling of apartheid, when dealing with genocide and its effects. But because such rhetoric risks being interpreted as a way of inciting public anger, a possible crime under the genocide ideology law, many choose to stay silent and instead moan about it to friends and relatives under closed doors. The government then, gets the feeling that the policy is working when in actual fact, it is the silence and the fear of persecution or being wrongly misinterpreted, which are keeping argument, at bay.

Normally, when members of the public are so afraid to speak out, the onus falls on the media to express people’s views. But the media in Rwanda remains dysfunctional. Weeks after a critical journalist was shot under circumstances that we may never establish, another, Saidati Mukakibibi, has been arrested for comparing Kagame to Hitler. The state maintains her writings would have incited public disorder and promoted divisionism. I asked a government minister if Kagame has become so incomparable that trying to find a comparison amounts to a criminal offence. On top of insisting that I don’t quote him, the minister believes “the police should not have over reacted to someone’s personal opinion although the president deserves respect”. Hitler, the minister added, “cannot be the best comparison you can have”.

If Hitler is worse a comparison, then who is, I asked? He hung up before answering. My chat with the minister goes to explain what many struggle to see with Rwandan politics. In Rwanda, you either, dance to the melody of “Kagame is Lord”, “the best we ever had” and keep your bread, or challenge his views and risk being done for either corruption, genocide or immorality. If a minister finds it hard speaking to journalists, even when he is giving a plain statement, imagine how it must feel being a local and standing out to challenge the establishment, inside Rwanda?

Is there hope?

Eleneus Akanga

A friend of mine asked me this particular question the other day on Facebook. While I believe in hope being abundant, I know it takes some convincing to tell people it is there when you have pregnant mothers being imprisoned for attending peaceful demonstrations, opposition party members like Bernard Ntaganda, the founder president of PS-Imberakuri being denied their constitutional right to bail and some opposition party activists simply disappearing, as in the case Andrew Kagwa Rwisereka of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda.

The future looks not so clear and I am sure there are so many Rwandans out there, who would love to see Clinton, demand freedoms from Rwanda’s iron man, instead of meandering around diplomatic language and deploring the fact that Rwanda is in danger of losing what it has gained since 1994.

America, just like other Western countries should rethink their relationship with Mr. Kagame, not for his sake but that of democracy and Rwandans. Like Timothy Kalyegira put it the other day, for all the fine wine, decorations and music at a wedding party, it is resolving differences, balancing needs and compromises that are the core of a marriage.

Submitted by: Jennifer Fierberg, MSW

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Alex.M December 6, 2011 1:59 am (Pacific time)

If really silence in Rwanda enabled the economy to grow faster, education enrollment go high and to all , access to quality health becomes such simple to all( Mituelle de sante), infrastructures get well established and the Cleanliness that welcomes at the moment you step in the Capital. Stop yo hatred.

Alex.M December 6, 2011 1:48 am (Pacific time)

If really silence in Rwanda enabled the economy to grow faster, education enrollment go high and to all , access to quality health becomes such simple to all( Mituelle de sante), infrastructures get well established and the Cleanliness that welcomes at the moment you step in the Capital. Stop yo hatred.

Eleneus November 24, 2011 10:08 am (Pacific time)

Hope I speak to those who are not letting themselves be blinded by regime gimmicks. I speak for the countless voiceless Rwandans who have no access to alternative news and are being fed on government propaganda and denied the chance to read and know what exactly is happening in their country. You talk of high enrolment in schools but you also fail to explain the context. While high enrolment figures are good to politic around and may give better sound bites to an out of touch elite, they are useless as an indicator of a country's development. You did not give us the exact figures but most people know that these figure have been boosted by Universal Primary Education (an arrangement which on paper sounds convincing but one where me and you would struggle to let our children into). UPE simply does not work. As for health, this again has been possible through mituelle de sante and this is not a freebie. It is accessible to those who contribute. When I was in Kigali, I was a RAMA person and the reason I didn't go mituelle de sante was because it was not fit for purpose. I guess your point is that these despite their shortcomings have made and continue to make such a difference, which is great. But that is what governments are meant to do. Provide services and provide for the governed. What we are saying is that PK might be a good leader under whose leadership Rwandans have gained access to the things you mention above, but that does not mean he shouldn't endeavour to become a great leader. As long as the poverty levels in the country are still what they are (people living on less than a 50 cents) and freedoms squeezed, the criticism shall suffice and you might choose to ignore but there are people in the country who are suffering and wish they had food on the table than a hyped mituelle that they cant access.

Jennifer November 14, 2011 6:25 pm (Pacific time)

Mr. Bugingo..AKA "Edmund Kagire" thanks for your input! You should use your real name not your Reuters alias..but in true RPF style you go for character instead of facts..lets start there first and have an intelligent discussion..

Kennedy November 9, 2011 1:05 am (Pacific time)

Well done Akanga. It is not surprising that this article is going to attract many supporters of Kagame regime. They are scared to loose their bread, scholarship, and they have to protect their job, But inwardly they know that kagame government is out of control.

Hope Keza November 6, 2011 9:04 am (Pacific time)

I wonder to who and for who, people like Akanga speak! A mixture of truth and lies is what the devil (Satan) used to seduce our ancestors. If really silence in Rwanda has enable the economy to grow that fast, education enrollment go that high, access to quality health becomes such simple to all, infrastructures get well established, etc.., i would rather adhere instead of making Akanga's analysis and false predictions. Hope

Manzi November 5, 2011 12:39 am (Pacific time)

Good article,well written.

Bugingo November 4, 2011 2:56 am (Pacific time)

Foolish is all I can say to you Mr.Akanga, you are such a loser. Concentrate on satisfying white women sexual needs and leave Rwanda to those who love it. Take your bigotry with you to hell and Ms. Jennifer Fierberg, your hate for Kagame has transcended normal boundaries, you have become delusional

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