Bye bye Assad, you’re a dead man walking

They say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. This is true in most things, but especially when it concerns western policy in the Middle East. I’ve been watching, with more and more discomfort, as the sounds of war drums have steadily increased in volume in Syria. On Monday, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry read a speech that, if I didn’t know better, would have made me believe

Victims of the chemical attack. The question is, who pulled the trigger? And why?

Victims of the chemical attack. The question is, who pulled the trigger? And why?

that he’d seen Bashar al-Assad personally sit in a tank and launch a chemical weapons canister at a nursery school. However, in my humble opinion, there is much more than meets the eye.

First of all, lets not pretend that the western powers didn’t have it in for Mr Assad (just as they had it in for Saddam and Gaddafi). The Baath party regime of Bashar al-Assad and his father Hafez al-Assad shared one thing in common with both the deposed Saddam and Gaddafi; a strong opposition to the Jewish state. Not only did these men totally oppose the existence of the state of Israel, they also had in their means the ability to wage war against it.

I will not for one second say that these men were angels. But in a region where they’re aren’t many good guys, doesn’t it seem strange that whenever there is a war to be fought to ‘protect civilians‘, it’s always against the person who isn’t friends with Israel? I mean, look at what happened in Egypt just a few weeks ago. Hundreds of civilians were mowed down by the Egyptian military without barely a peep from the same people who are now sending warships close to Syria’s maritime border.

I know that I might sound like a conspiracy theorist but who can blame me? I still vividly remember another US SEcretary of State, this time Collin Powell, addressing the United Nations Security Council and pleading for urgent action against Iraq. He showed the delegates satellite pictures proving beyond all reasonable doubt that Saddam was not only stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, but that he was on the verge of using them against his own people. As he had done in the aftermath of the first Gulf War.

When Hans Blix, the head of the UN inspection team asked for more time to inspect those areas the Americans said Saddam stockpiled these weapons, he was rebuffed and later withdrawn. The war machine was rumbling forward and it wouldn’t be stopped for any reason. Years later, after the war, insurgency and breakdown of the Iraqi state, there still isn’t any evidence of weapons of mass destruction. However, there IS a lot of oil being pumped out. And there ISNT a military threat to Israel.

When I look at what is happening today, a sense of deja vu assails me. First of all, there is bias. The civil war currently taking place is an ugly business. No one is blameless here. But if one is to be swallow wholeheartedly what is being put in the public domain, one would think that its a David versus Goliath fight (with ‘good’ David being the rebels). That is the furthest thing from the truth; the rebels have been receiving aid from countries like Qatar, Turkey and, in all probability, almost all western nations especially the US and the UK (in either covert military form or overt humanitarian assistance).

So, while I believe that the Assad forces might be guilty off crimes, I cannot believe that the rebels are not.

Oh when the Yanks...come marching in..

Oh when the Yanks…come marching in..

If that is so, then why aren’t we getting both sides of the story? Is it because there is a systematic ploy to cause, as Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, said “hysteria”?

Doesn’t it seem rather suspicious that the Syrian government would use chemical weapons on Damascus civilians, therefore crossing President Obama’s ‘Red Line’? I mean how stupid would Assad’s people have to have been to use chemical weapons in their capital? A place where they, in the most part, still control? The place where the world’s attention was focussed? I’m not saying that such an action would be outside the realm of possibility, but I must admit that I don’t find it logical.

Throw in the fact that the Americans have already started casting doubt on the potential findings of the UN investigative team, saying that the finding wont be accurate, and I can come to only one conclusion. The West has gotten tired of the rebel’s inefficiency and want to do the job themselves. And do the job they will. So, Mr Assad, I only hope that you are treated better than misters Saddam and Gaddafi.

Rwanda is treated with kid gloves? Really?

Last week, the doyen of American journalism, The New York Times, ran an Op-ed by David Kampf, the communication director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Titled ‘How Rwanda

Have Rwandans moved away from the dark days of 1994? Some would think so. Others would disagree

Have Rwandans moved away from the dark days of 1994? Some would think so. Others would disagree

threatens its future’, the piece written by the gentleman (whose two-year stint in Rwanda makes him an ‘expert’) regurgitates the usual spiel. Rwanda is guilty of fueling conflicts; under the surface ethnic and political tensions simmer; there is a lack freedom and there is a “repressive media environment, little protection for human rights and the sideling of political opponents”.

Funny enough, when I read his charge sheet, guess what country comes to mind? The land of the ‘free’ and home of the ‘brave’, the United States. Lets look at each indictment.

Rwanda is guilty of fueling conflict? Really? It isn’t the country that invaded an independent nation without provocation and contrary to international law and creating a sectarian imbroglio that poor Iraqis have to deal with?  Don’t even get me started about Egypt, Iran and Libya. He says that Rwanda has simmering ethnic and political tensions? Really? I mean, between the Trayvon Martin case, the Birther nuts, Occupy Wall Street, the Newport shooting and the Detroit bankruptcy, there are enough political, class and racial tension to pass around.

Rwanda has a lack of freedom and a repressive media environment? Maybe.  But at least we pretend to give EVERYONE the semblance of due process. One might complain that the courts are unfair, but at least they try people. And if they are found innocent, they ARE released. Unlike the poor people chaps in Guantanamo Bay. Many of these men have absolutely no evidence against them, but they are still stuck on the fortress, unable to go home and reunite with their families. Things are so bad that they are now refusing to eat (of course they are now being force fed by the ‘caring’ prison wardens).

And lets talk about media freedom. Despite the First Amendment that protects free speech, the US is doing all it can to muzzle journalists. Do you think that David Miranda, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner, was detained in Heathrow airport for nine hours under Britain’s anti-terror laws, without the US’s knowledge and tacit go ahead? To do so would be naïve. Greenwald was the first journalist to report Edward Snowdon NSA leaks. In fact, the White House spokesperson admitted to knowing beforehand that the Brazilian native was about to be detained.

Some of the 'terrorists' killed in US drone attacks.

Some of the ‘terrorists’ killed in US drone attacks.

Lets not even talk about human rights. Rwanda isn’t in the news almost on a daily basis for assassinating opponents, bombing wedding parties and using Predator drones in the most inhumane possible. So, as a certain Galilean once said, “don’t remove the speck from your brother’s eye before removing the log from yours”.

Honestly though, I’ve stopped getting outraged by the hypocrisy that I find my beloved nation besieged by. What really got my goat was the Kampf’s belief that the international community has treated Rwanda with kid gloves. Well, if we are being with kid gloves now, I wonder what harsh treatment would be like? Aid has been cut over and over without warning, patently unlawful indictments have become a mainstay, different international groups have built their CV’s on our backs and so have know-it-all individuals. Still Rwanda hasn’t been pressured enough. Kampf is advocating sanctions. Egypt’s generals mow down hundreds of unarmed civilians and life goes on. In fact, more than a billion dollars in US military aid continues uninterrupted. But Rwanda should get sanctioned because of unproven allegations. That doesn’t make a lot of sense. But as I’ve learnt, sense is a rare commodity these days.

Foreign financing of political parties is an enemy of our budding democracy

Prof. Shyaka (R) and Green Party’s Ntezimana yesterday. Saturday Times/ John Mbanda.

Prof. Shyaka (R) and Green Party’s Ntezimana yesterday. Saturday Times/ John Mbanda.

On August 9, the RGB (Rwanda Governance Board), the body that’s mandated to register political parties, seems to have caught the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (or, as I call them, the Greens) with their pants down by actually approving their registration request.

I say that the Greens were caught unawares because as soon as they got the registration certificate, they started complaining that they didn’t have enough time to put forward a list of parliamentary candidates. They begged RGB to postpone the 12th August deadline, something that the body was unable to do. Talk about being unprepared for success. Why didn’t they already have a list of candidates? Couldn’t they prepare for the elections and finalize the registration concurrently? What did they expect would happen? That the electoral commission would change their rules?

While talking to reporters, the Greens leader Frank Habineza complained about a provision in the new law on political parties banning external financing. The law, officially known as Organic Law N° 10/20/2013/OL of 11/07/2013 Governing Political Parties and Politicians, makes it illegal to get money from foreigners. Article 24 of the said law in part reads that A political organization shall not be allowed to accept donations and bequests from foreigners, foreign business companies, industries and organisations involved in other activities or in which foreigners are shareholders”.

Mr. Habineza is quoted by the Associated Press saying that it is a “tough law”. He continues saying that the law will make it difficult for other parties, other than the RPF, to exist. RPF, he says, “has abundant resources”.

I have a lot of issues with his stance on political financing. First is his assertion that it is a tough

Frank Habineza, founder and Chairman of the Greens

Frank Habineza, founder and Chairman of the Greens

law. What is so ‘tough’ about asking our political parties, which make decisions that affect Rwandans, to get their party funds from the same Rwandans? Is he worried that without funding from Green parties around the world, he won’t be able to run his party? Is he scared that he doesn’t have enough local support to survive?

If that is the case then he should finally do what all good politicians do. Attract supporters (and potential donors) through his rhetoric and political platform. For too long, it seemed to me that many African parties were simply briefcase parties, surviving by attracting donations from unsuspecting Westerners, with more money than sense.

In my opinion, these donations caused a situation akin to that caused by foreign aid. This ‘free’ money, encouraged party leaders to spend more time heeding the wishes of their ‘sugar daddies’, instead of actually doing the grunt work needed to build a viable political party.  Instead of travelling the length and breadth of the country, going from one village to the next, some politicians would prefer to travel to Sweden or Australia and come back with a suitcase of other people’s hard earned money.  What would such a politician do when asked to choose between the concerns of a Musanze resident and their funders? As they say, “he who pays the piper picks the tunes’.

This external funding causes a situation that I find patently undemocratic. The will of the people, which is what democracy is fundamentally about, is slaughtered at the altar of easy money.

Lets examine the party that Habineza complains about. The RPF, from its very inception, survived through its member’s donations. Their monies sustained a four-year guerilla campaign, paid for the reconstruction of a damaged country after the end of war and then helped create the juggernaut that is Crystal Ventures. Even today, RPF members still sustain the party’s activities through their donations. I advise the Greens to borrow a leaf from the ruling party instead of crying foul.

Human Rights Watch has no legal teeth, its only a flat track bully

201271012205914864_8I read Frank Kagabo’s article in this week’s issue of The East African ‘Why Human Rights Watch reports, opinion matters in Rwanda’ with a lot of interest. Not only because I found the topic rather thought-provoking but also because he’s someone I worked with for a few years at this very publication. I know I promised not to react to any more foreign reports, but something he said in his article raised my hackles.

He states that “HRW reports have the institutional credibility to influence court decisions in international jurisdictions, especially in the West’”. He goes on to say that that credibility was displayed during a recent US State Department press briefing where Jen Psaki referred to a Human Rights Watch report alleging continued Rwandan support for the M23 rebels in war torn East DRC.

While I will not argue with his point that HRW has a certain credibility in western capitals, rightly or wrongly, there must be an acknowledgment that this credibility is strictly political and not legal. Currently, whenever HRW or any advocacy group publishes a report, very often the majority of western media and political elite take it as the truth. Voices challenging the findings are either ignored or called bias.

Kagabo writes that HRW focuses on a need that is largely unmet. That is true and I respect the fact that they try to do their job. The late Alison Des Forges, who passed away in a 2009 air crash, was one of the first people to document and warn the international community about the MRND government’s plan to exterminate the Tutsi.

However, just because they are doing a thankless task doesn’t mean that they have ironclad credibility that cannot be questioned and challenged. The recent report quotes a witness, allegedly a former RDF soldier, stating that Rwandan troops operated as peacekeepers in Somalia. But as anyone with a slight interest in Rwanda peacekeeping affairs know, Rwanda doesn’t have any peacekeepers in that east African nation. While HRW said that that was a simple mistake, and that the organisation stood behind the rest of the report, it certainly put in question their fact checking and editorial control.

HRW’s credibility is strictly political, not legal. The difference between political corridors of power (where weak nations and individuals are excluded from discussions) and courts of law is that defendants are not only allowed to examine the entirety of the evidence against them, but they are allowed to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses.

  In December 13, 2009, HRW published a report titled “You will be punished’ which highlighted FDLR abuses and its chain of command. This report became the basis of ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo’s prosecution of FDLR’s Executive Secretary Callixte Mbarushimana in 2010. The FDLR bigwig was allegedly criminally responsible for five counts of crimes against humanity including murder and rape, and eight counts of war crimes. Sadly, on 16 December 2011 the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Hague-based court in a majority decision declined to confirm the charges against him. Mbarushimana’s attorney poked so many holes in the prosecution’s evidence (evidence that HRW helped gather) that the judges had no choice but to throw out he case before it even got to trial phase. HRW evidence could not stand up in a courtroom, rendering it legally ‘no-credible’. Perhaps if Mr Ocampo had done the legal grunt work himself, this criminal would have faced justice. Sadly the FDLR leader is now untouchable in France and able to wage war in comfort.

As Mr. Kagabo states, HRW reports have been used by captured genocidaires in court to fight extradition to Rwanda. But as Leon Mugesera and others have learnt, Western courts have repeatedly pooh-poohed HRW reports alleging unfair court systems and deadly prison conditions.

Western courts have repeatedly ignored HRW reports. Sadly however, politicians don’t always hold themselves to the same standards of hard evidence and facts. And that is why HRW is still able to throw its weight around. Let’s not think any different.