The ‘Justice Comprised’ report isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on

While it might seem very harsh of me to summarily dismiss Human Rights Watch (HRW), the New York-based NGO, and all they do as irrelevant, they have to admit that they make it extremely easy to do so. Yesterday, the human rights organization called a press conference and with a lot of smoke and thunder launched their latest report on Rwanda, ‘Justice Compromised: The legacy of Rwanda’s community-based Gacaca Courts’, inviting members of the press, local NGO’s, members of the diplomatic corps and the Rwandan government.  I couldn’t resist attending the press conference because, truth be told, I wanted to see just how the organization would handle the question and answer session.  I was shocked when the moderator told the gathered journalists that recording the press conference was prohibited for some reason. For a human rights organization that puts itself at the forefront of press freedom asking the press not to use their tools was a strange call. Even Paul Kagame, ‘press predator’, allows recorders during his monthly press conferences. But I digress.

The report was quite an interesting read. On one hand they criticized the Gacaca court system, and then on the other hand commended it. It was rather confusing.

The gist of the report was this: Gacaca imposed limited international fair trial rights, it was used to silence opposition, it failed to address Rwandan Patriotic Front crimes, the judges were often  influenced, corrupt and not impartial, and the process was used to settle personal grievances.  If they had left it at that I would have respected them more. But HRW’s ambiguity was revealed when a member of Haguruka asked Leslie Haskell, the report’s author, if she thought Gacaca was a failure. She simply refused to answer the question dodging the question so adroitly she’d put a trial lawyer to shame.

The Dutch ambassador to Rwanda Frans Makken asked the next question. ‘Did the NGO think that the report was unfair, especially because it got its conclusions after only reviewing 350 cases out of the 1.2 million cases that the Gacaca courts tried? Wasn’t the title misleading? And why didn’t Human Rights Watch pre-empt the more detailed government review that the donors were involved with?’

The HRW researcher refused to tackle the majority of the questions, saying that the title was open to different interpretations, that although the report made its conclusions based on a tiny number of cases the researched cases showed a ‘trend’ that made a conclusions viable, and that although they knew about the more detailed government review being compiled they wanted to write their own as well.

The HRW recommendation confused me a great deal.  The biggest recommendation that the report made was the establishment of a separate judicial mechanism in the Ministry of Justice to review all the cases pinpointed in their report. This ‘review board’ of sorts would look through as many dossiers as possible, fixing the mistakes that the various Gacaca courts in the country made. So, how many cases did the HRW researcher suggest that this new review board look at? Not more than 100.

So, let me get this correctly. Did HRW publish a report titled ‘Justice Compromised’ because of 100 shady cases out of 1.2 million? Let’s be honest here. I will not say that none of these issues raised in the report are without just cause, but there is absolutely no justice system, traditional or not, that can say that it isn’t partial to little corruption, witness tampering and other shenanigans? At the end of the day I have to ask, have Gacaca Courts helped reveal the truth about what happened, accelerate genocide trials, eradicate the culture of impunity, reconcile Rwandans and prove that Rwandans can solve their own problems? Even HRW cannot deny that they’ve lived up to their billing. So, why then write such an alarmist report? Is it possibly because HRW is biased? Or maybe they are simply trying to hog the headlines after such a long silence?


Is it time to turn our back on Western media?

On Monday, Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo appeared on the Qatar-based Al Jazeera news network to rubbish claims made by The Independent newspaper that Rwanda had sent an assassin to kill two Rwandan nationals in the United Kingdom. Rene Mugenzi, one of the people at the centre of this storm, was also interviewed by the same news network. The live interview, which was broadcast at around 3:30 pm local time, was a fair piece of journalism. Mugenzi was allowed to give his side of things and Mrs. Mushikiwabo was allowed to rebut. All in all, it was a tasty exchange which allowed the television viewer to get both sides of the argument. However, when the news story was replayed at primetime that evening Minister Mushikiwabo’s segment was totally butchered by the editors while Mr. Mugenzi’s was left unscathed. That piece of editing left us, the viewers, without both sides of the story.

About three weeks ago, the President had an interview with the Financial Times, ‘FT: Lunch with Paul Kagame’. Instead of writing about Rwanda’s socio-economic progress (or at least analyzing some of the criticisms aimed at the regime) we readers had to read about the President’s personal chef and what not. The entire paragraph gave the impression of a man, so paranoid that he couldn’t trust anyone with his food. As an FT reader I didn’t expect such unnecessary information. If I had wanted some tabloid smut I would have read The Sun or the Red Pepper. But tabloid smut was what I got and the impression I got was a man scared of his own shadow, whether it was true or not.

The Ian Birell vs. Paul Kagame ‘Twitter spat’, as it was called by world’s press, was another instance where Rwanda’s wish to engage with the rest of the world turned into a shot in the foot. Instead of the Twitter exchange becoming a positive story of a leader willing to engage with both his people and the world as well, it became a story of a ‘heroic’ journalist taking on the ‘might’ of the Rwandan dictatorship because no one else could. Again, Rwanda’s message was twisted.

I’m sure that the government’s communication honchos see things in a different light, but in my humble opinion a strategic ‘withdrawal’ from the West’s media would be welcome. Question, when the last time you read a story that didn’t include the words ‘guilty of genocide in the Congo, opposition leaders killed or assassination plot in South Africa”? These allegations, which have never been substantiated, so often color any and every story about Rwanda that they’ve almost become fact, not merely allegation.

Is it time that Rwanda stopped trying to engage the traditional Western media? Maybe. The power dynamic between small states like ours and huge media organizations that influence public perception is always going to be skewed and patently unfair. Does that mean we should withdraw and lick our wounds? No. But Rwanda has to become more strategic than it has been so far. If you ask the man or woman on the street in New York, “where do you get your information from”, I bet that they tell you Facebook, Twitter or some news blog like the Huffington Post. That is where Rwanda has to become strong; social media removes the need of the middle man (BBC, The Independent or The New York Times) and delivers the message straight to the end user. Big media is on its last legs; Rwanda must move away from the traditional, ponderous and biased journalism and embrace user generated media. That’s the new frontier, a frontier that Rwanda must conquer if we are to get our messages across fairly.

‘Tis the season of red herrings and conspiracy theories

There are certain constants in my life; rent, food bills and letters from irate readers of my bi-weekly column in this esteemed newspaper. And the most irate is surely Sandra Munyana; I’ve taken it for granted that if I write something slightly negative about Rudasingwa, Ingabire, Rusesabagina or others of their ilk I will receive an outraged email from her. I have absolutely no problem having weekly exchanges with her, but the conversation becomes especially difficult when she writes in a mish-mash of French, English and Kinyarwanda. But even the difficulties I have in communicating with her are nothing compared with some of the content of her emails.

Case in point: I assume you heard, and felt, the tremor that hit Kigali around 6:30am Monday morning. I woke up, quite startled but I wasn’t that surprised. Rwanda is at the furthest tip of the Western Rift Valley, an area that scientists know will suffer the effects of seismic activity. This has happened before and will surely happen again. That is an open and shut case isn’t it? Not according to Ms. Munyana. She sent me an email ‘explaining’ the great tremor. According to her, the tremor wasn’t caused by fault lines getting a bit too close to each other. No, the tremors were caused by construction workers building a bunker for President Kagame at State House. I tried to reason with her, telling her that it simply didn’t make sense but she called me, and I quote, ‘a child’. While I can blame Ms. Munyana’s lack of scientific know-how for her ‘theory’, I also believe that this disconnect is also a result of the self-imposed exile in Europe that they’ve chosen.

The environment that they’ve chosen to live in is one that is saturated by disgruntled politicians, genocide fugitives and simple criminals; not a healthy bunch by any measure. The demonization of the Rwandan government by these people is simply a tactic they’ve used before. While they presently call the leadership of Rwanda ‘assassins’, before their defeat at the hands of the RPF/A they called them ‘vampires’. So, actually they’ve toned down their language in some way. So while the language has changed, the lies haven’t. Sadly, some of my fellow citizens are heeding these lies, as they did during the madness of 1994.

Sandra Munyana and Co don’t surprise me. What does surprise me is when people I thought actually had some brains reveal that they don’t. The Metropolitan Police of London have a certain legend to them. ‘Scotland Yard’ is a name I learnt reading about the adventures of master detective Sherlock Holmes and his fathful sidekick, Dr. Watson. Through science and good work they always found the bad guys and saved the day.

Sadly, today’s Scotland Yard is a poor imitation of the one of legend. Their written warning to two Rwandans, Rene Mugenzi and Jonathan Musonera, about an ‘imminent threat’   to their lives from Rwandan government assassins is simply stupid. They are calling themselves ‘dissidents’ and that is their right. However, when they, and the British media, call themselves political opponents of Paul Kagame, they are simply deluded.   Mugenzi told Al-Jazeera that “my movements have changed. I always have to go [out] with someone and when I’m moving around London, where I’m living, I have to look back if there is anyone following me”. Well, of course you should Mr. Mugenzi, you live in London, not Kigali; its not safe.

Foreign Minister, Louise Mushikiwabo put it best.

“Those allegations are far-fetched. The Rwandan government does not do business that way.” Mugenzi is not known in Rwanda. To think that president Kagame would feel threatened by an individual like that I think is really far-fetched.”

This is simply silly season. The Brits have been hoodwinked by this Rwandan Diaspora (the Sandra Munyanas’). They are really good liars, but you still should have known better. They’ve simply fed you a lot of bull. Sherlock Holmes would be spinning in his grave.

Reshuffles are a normal thing, Mr. Rudasingwa. Don’t get overly excited

This week has given me a wide variety of topics to write about; so many things have happened and I would be short-changing my readers if I stuck to just one measly topic. First of all, I want to congratulate all the new ministers and government officials who’ve been given the opportunity to serve the country.

Sadly, some people are making the reshuffle a bigger deal than it really is. Enter Mr. Theogene Rudasingwa. I’ve written in reaction to some of his comments and I honestly I’m sick and tired of doing so.

I’ve usually ignored his rants, thinking they are simply the musings of a man disconnected, confused and possibly senile.

However, his comments about the cabinet reshuffle are surely too much and therefore deserve a response.

It confuses me when someone who once occupied some position of responsibility in my country behaves in a way that can only be called juvenile.

How he can call a cabinet reshuffle evidence of “deep crisis” and simply a way to give the impression “Rwandans and the international community that things are changing” is beyond me. Just the other week, President Barack Obama reshuffled his cabinet, moving Gen. Patraeus to the CIA and former CIA chief Panetta to the Pentagon.

Was the US government is “crisis” as well? To claim that the reshuffle is a response to “pro-democracy voices, notably Rwanda National Congress (RNC), FDU-Inkingi and other pro-democracy voices” as he puts it is hubris.

Mr Rudasingwa, don’t get me wrong, I am all for accountable leadership and all that, however, if my president made decisions based on your band of merry men, I would begin studying my exit strategy.

I simply won’t allow myself to be led by people of your ilk. Obviously you must be imbibing some kind of illegal substance; you can’t actually believe some of the things you write.

Let me quote you on some of the things that you wrote in your most recent piece of writing, ‘Shuffling chairs on a sinking Titanic’.

You say that Senator Aloysia Inyumba is “being retrieved from a long period of marginalization”.

I don’t know what alternative universe you live in. Where the rest of us normal folk live, being a Senator isn’t to be sniffed at. I wouldn’t mind marginalized if I got a seat at the Senate in return.

Dr. Charles Murigande, former Education Minister, now ambassador to Japan, has begun, if we are to believe you “his final journey to complete retrenchment after a long period of marginalization”.

Politics, and the manner in which people like you see it, is totally foreign to me. The notion of a ‘super minister’ i.e. one that is too important to retire is undemocratic and, honestly, condescending to the rest of us in the queue.

I was reading the Daily Nation the other day and lo behold, William Ole Ntimama was on the back page, inaugurating some project or other.

He’s been a minister, in some capacity, since the day I was born. And I have to mention that I am on the wrong side of 30.

Is that what we want here in Rwanda? Decrepit old men, wheezing about and falling asleep in their chairs as they hold meetings?

I certainly hope not. No man should be bigger than the institution; not a mayor, not a minister and certainly not a president. If that happened, it would be the death of our nascent democracy.

Mr. Rudasingwa, I have to ask you, why are you insulting your own intelligence? Your latest rant is, dare I say it, your most lousy yet. Up your game kind sir.

On a totally different topic, I cannot understand some of the conversations being held in the media as a result of the Bin Laden killing. Some people are complaining that he wasn’t given the opportunity to exercise his right to a trial.

Have they lost their minds? This man, in my estimate, got out the easy way. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Are we really being disingenuous Mr. Wallis?

I suggest that, if you have access to the internet, please read a Financial Times article published on May 1, ‘Lunch with the FT: Paul Kagame’. The interview conducted by FT Africa editor, William Wallis is a nice read.

Nothing new is really gleamed by the eminent journalist (other than the fact that the fruit in the West isn’t quite as tasty as that bought in Kimironko Market) However, even in this innocuous piece of journalism was a booby trap. One that I couldn’t leave unchallenged.

While discussing the just-concluded presidential election, where President Kagame got 90-plus percent of the vote, Wallis sought to diminish the achievement by casting doubt on the ability of a Tutsi candidate to get such overwhelming support.

The election results were probably surprising to most people, save Rwandans themselves.

They knew the benefit of Kagame’s leadership and they flocked to vote for him in the hundreds of thousands.
The will of Rwandans has, unfortunately been ignored by the so-called ‘experts’.

In their highly-educated opinions, there is something about being African that stops them voting with their heads, for the best candidate.

To quote Kagame, “Why isn’t the majority in the developed world interpreted on the basis of race or colour or tribes? Why?

You want to tell me that, in the United States, Barack Obama comes from which majority?”  Instead of answering that question, Mr. Wallis simply made a snide comment.

‘He (Paul Kagame) continues with a tactic often deployed by African heads of state but which in this instance seems somewhat disingenuous: to harp on the exaggerated expectations made of developing nations by the West and the West’s failure often to meet the same exacting standards.’

I think that Mr. Wallis would have better served FT readers by actually analyzing the President’s remark and not simply calling it ‘disingenuous’.

What I think is disingenuous is the outright dismissal of African changing attitudes to what constitutes ‘democracy’ and ‘majority rule’.

I will not say that voting patterns in Africa haven’t been based on tribalism, sectarianism, outright bribery and intimidation.

The vast majority of African post-independence political parties and movements have been based on ethnic and religious biases and the voting patterns have reflected this very thing.

So, for example, the Democratic Party in Uganda (which was historically Catholic-Buganda) still hasn’t made inroads into the Protestant non- Buganda areas.

While I’ve used Uganda as an example, this was true almost everywhere in sub-Saharan Africa.

What has been the result of this tribal voting? Africa has become poorer as the rest of the world gets richer. However, it seems that Africans have gotten tired of endless poverty.

In many parts of the continent people have voted for politicians that promise development and more accountability.

Some dinosaurs are being kicked out of State House and others are continuously being forced to enact reforms.

That is the real state of democracy in Africa.  We aren’t zombies that keep voting for the same politicians as long as they come from ‘our’ community.

Just before the US election that ushered in Barack Obama’s presidency, US media were in a tizzy, wondering whether the ‘inherently racist’ voters would vote for a half-Kenyan man from Hawaii with ‘Hussein’ as a middle name. Especially in the ‘conservative’ South.

Well, while the ‘experts’ were busy second guessing American voters, they listened to him speak, liked what he said, and voted for him. So, even though he was black, they didn’t care. Why wouldn’t it be the same for us, Mr. Wallis?

What are the lessons from Abbottabad? Trust no one

I woke up on Monday morning to learn that the arch-terrorist, Osama  Bin Laden, had finally been killed by American forces after years on the run.

What raised my eyebrows wasn’t the fact that he’d finally felt the full wrath of America, but rather where they finally cornered him.

I’d fallen for the lie that he was living in caves in north-western Pakistan and I was shocked to learn that he was living in a mansion a few kilometers away from a huge military base.

Abbottabad is certainly the last place I would have thought the most wanted man in the world would decide to pitch camp, but I was wrong.

He lived in a million dollar home, in relative luxury and probably with the knowledge of members of the Pakistani military and intelligence.

President Zardari has been left scrambling to appease the US and I can understand why; American aid to Pakistan, military and non-military, is in the billions of dollars and he certainly can’t bite the hand that feeds him.

In my opinion Al-Qaeda is his mortal enemy; So, at the very top, Bin Laden was persona non grata; but this message wasn’t transmitted to the lower rungs of leadership.

So, while the president said one thing, members of his state apparatus did the opposite.

This brings me to another criminal, Felicien Kabuga. While Bin Laden is guilty of killing a few thousand, Kabuga played an active role in the killing of more than a million innocents.

He was the chief financier of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi; he funded the Interahamwe and the infamous Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM). This fellow was quite nasty.

He’s been on various most-wanted lists for years, but like Bin Laden, he has evaded the law for years. A few years ago, reports surfaced that Kabuga was seen in Kenya.

Then president, Daniel Arap Moi said this wasn’t true and because Kenya was a friendly country I was hesitant to say he was lying.

Sadly, these rumors haven’t subsided and I must say, bearing in mind Sunday night’s events, my suspicion has been rekindled.

If in a state like Pakistan, with its intelligence apparatus, a president can be hoodwinked why would it be impossible in Kenya? Obviously some people knew about Bin Laden’s presence in their neighborhood but they didn’t say a word; maybe a few dollar bills were slipped into their pockets, who knows?

He was after all a very rich man. Well, so is Kabuga. He was probably the richest man in Rwanda in 1994 and according to reports his wealth has increased since then. He has the ability to bribe almost everybody.

While I would hesitate to say that the Kenyan state is protecting Kabuga, I cannot say that he definitely isn’t living there.

Abbottabad has taught me to be skeptical. It is my sincere hope that I’m wrong and our East African ally is not home to this arch criminal.

On an entirely different note, I read in yesterdays New Times that the Senate was taking one last look at the proposed criminal code.

I was bemused to read that attempted suicide would be penalized by a jail sentence of between two to five years. According to the esteemed lawmakers, failed suicide was equivalent to attempted murder.

Thankfully, Senator Agnes Kayijire dissented saying “there is contradiction in this article, I don’t understand how someone survives suicide and then that person is charged. There should be a special way to treat this person”.

Suicide is not a criminal matter but rather a psychological one, what is the point in criminalizing it? If someone is feeling so depressed that death is the only way out, a jail term of two years is the last thing on that persons mind.

Honestly, I’m shocked that Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama is defending article 162. It’s a waste of space.

Give of your time, give of yourself

At Papyrus café and bistro a few weeks ago I met a young American lady living in the Eastern Province, Rwinkwavu to be exact.

To say that I found that a mite baffling is an understatement, it hadn’t crossed my mind that a visitor to our country would choose to live there. It doubt whether it has the basic amenities of say Kigali, Ruhengeri or Butare.

I doubt that you can get regular electricity, forget about enjoying a cappuccino and wireless internet.

In other words, it wasn’t a place you’d think that a young woman, living in Rwanda, would choose to call home.

But she had.  Why , I wondered, would a young, educated woman decide to leave her country and live in a village? Because, she told me, she was a volunteer at a local primary school in the area, teaching young children how to read.

The conversation had me thinking. Why should someone travel thousands of miles to teach our children skills that we certainly can teach just as well?

Because she had the spirit of volunteerism while we don’t.  I find this fact uncomfortable because as I indict other Rwandans, I must be honest enough to acknowledge that I, too, am part of the problem.

We are so busy attempting to get ahead in life and earn the big bucks. They say that time is ‘money’… and well we’ve become disciples of this gospel.  However, is that enough?

Like I said earlier, I’m the first to acknowledge that I fall short. However, that doesn’t mean that I, or anyone else, should shrug our shoulders and continue living like we don’t see the need.

Our government is doing a great job in bringing development to all corners of the country.

It’s using our taxes (which I think are ridiculously high, but that is a topic for another day) to build road networks, put up schools, bring clean water to homesteads and provide health insurance for the poorest in our society.

However, it can’t do everything. Society must contribute as well, and it has.

The Bye-bye Nyakatsi and the One-Dollar campaign are examples of initiatives where Rwandan society took up the mantle of development.

So, giving away our money for altruistic purposes isn’t a facet of character that Rwandans lack. Maybe what we don’t want to do is actually get our hands dirty. Sometimes money can’t fix everything.

Talking to the American volunteer, I listened as she told me about the challenges that the children had.

While the school had plenty of books (kudos to the Ministry of Education) the children didn’t enjoy them because they didn’t have anyone to read to them.

Hearing this I was heartbroken. I’ve loved reading since I was young and the thought of life without the magic of books is one I cannot envisage. But I needed someone to get me started.

Luckily I had parents and teachers who read to me and as soon as I learnt how to read, my imagination ran riot.

The books took me away from the confines of my bedroom to places as far away and Nepal and Austria. They opened the world, with all its possibilities to me.

So, while the government did its best, providing books, the kids didn’t have anyone to simply read to them. That is, until someone came to read to them.

It’s as simple as that. Sometimes we don’t have to simply throw money at a problem until it goes away. Sometimes, by our very involvement, problems are solved.

A few years ago, I went to ‘solidarity camp’ (ingando) after high school and I thought it was great. However, I think the people that planned it could have done better.

Instead of having a bunch of teenagers march up and down and what not, I think the entire programme would have been more far reaching if they had taken us to different parts of the country to volunteer in building homes for the needy, building wells and yes, reading to school children. I think that the ministry of education should work in tandem with the local government ministry to make this a reality.

Teaching Rwandans to give of their time, and not just their money will be a result of this proposal.