So, on the day that Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame is ranked 5th on the list of the world top predators of the press, by the The Reporters Without Borders , a certain Michael Fairbanks, who boast of being Paul Kagame's senior adviser, decided to write an op-ed on the Huffington post in defense of the Rwandan dictator. His main argument is that the latest criticism mounted towards the ever increasingly authoritarian Rwandan regime is racist.
He begins his writing by offering a confession “I am a teacher, author and philanthropist, and I was a racist. “And then sounding a warning, “Racism doesn't have to mean you hate those who are different than yourself. It can mean the subtle, pernicious accumulation of unconscious prejudices against those who see the world differently.” Subtle in his message is the notion that any westerner who criticizes Kagame is a racist. But, really? Let’s dig deeper into Michael Fairbank’s article. Oh by the way, I am Rwandan and black. My own conclusion is that, Mr. Fairbanks probably is still a racist but not in the way that he thinks.
His logic calls for a serious rebuttal. Just to make it clear, hanging out with African elites does not make anyone less bigoted. Racism is no longer an exclusively color based phenomenon. It is the utter disregard and contempt for the humanity of other people—especially the poor. You don’t have to be well traveled to know that an elite class exists in every country. Being sympathetic to this elite class, whether white, black, yellow or brown does not make anyone a converted racist. If Michael Fairbanks needs some serious conversion, this video of a commencement speech given by JK Rowling might offer him some tips
Also, for the record, confronting the evils of bad governance does not make anyone a racist. Contrary to Mr. Fairbanks' insinuation, Human Rights Watch is not and has never been racist. If need be, I will not hesitate to remind the world that Human Rights Watch through Allison Des Forges was the first US based organization to sound the alarm when millions of my country mates were being butchered in 1994. While criticism has its own place, I think asking for fairness and factual honesty is equally important. A quick google search by Mr. Fairbanks would have shed more light on Human Rights role in fighting genocide as well as combating impunity in Rwanda.
Other than racism, Mr. Michael Fairbanks seems to harbor a complete disregard for facts. Since he is a Harvard alumnus, I will not argue that this worrying mistake is a consequence of ignorance. I speculate that he is willingly accepting to be used as a tool for disseminating propaganda. This should not surprise anyone. It reminds me of none other than Goerges Ruggiu, a Belgian national who was a staunch apologist for the Extremist interahamwe government at a time when the same interahamwes were killing Belgian troops. That an American would choose to side with an oppressive elite is no news.
I will quickly expound on what I see as Mr. Fairbanks disregard for facts:
Michael Fairbanks statement that “Rwanda is one of the few nations in the developing world that spends more on education than on the military” cannot be accepted without any factual backing. Since, Mr. Fairbanks acknowledges a penchant for sharing rumors with Rwandan generals, I take this to be one of those barrack gossips. Rwanda is easily the most militarized state in Africa. It has invaded the Democratic Republic more than twice and continues to support Military proxies in the Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Just for a reminder, the war in the Congo has resulted in the loss of more than five million lives. The Eastern part of the country remains destabilized and illegal mineral trade continues unabated—further fueling the conflict.
Second, the existence of “a varied list of world-class organizations “ in Rwanda, does not mean that the dictatorship is a supporter of free press. The list that Mr. Fairbanks gives is truly international and I agree with Mr. Fairbanks that President Kagame loves international attention (Loathes local press). The international press continues to pamper him with praises. We know very well that journalists (both local and international) who have tried to defy his wishes have end up being threatened, harassed, arrested or completely disappearing.
Thirdly, Mr. Fairbanks conclusion that Umuseso is divisional is baseless. The statement he quotes from a recent Umuseso publication "He who refuses a peaceful political revolution makes a bloody revolution necessary... The queue of those who want change in the governance of this country, (and not a peaceful one since all avenues for peaceful revolution can no longer work) is growing by the day. This is leading Rwanda into total darkness. This statement, whether true or false, does not, in any way, prove his point that the local Rwandan press is divisionary. Is there anything wrong with a newspaper editorial denouncing a dictatorship in support of a “peaceful political revolution”?
Fourth, Fairbanks’ statement that “Now, due to international and regional cooperation, there is evidence of wire transfers showing that Ingabire sent thousands of dollars to Congo to pay for arms and ammunition.” Is very troublesome, to say the least. We wonder where and how Mr. Fairbanks found this evidence.” Mrs. Ingabire continues to say that the court is yet to level any charges against her. I remind the readers that the same accusations are being levied against Hotel Rwanda hero, Paul Rusesabagina for his criticism of the Rwandan regime.
Fifth and lastly, Mr. Fairbanks treatment of what seems to many as a power struggle in the RPF regime “A senior military official informed me that the general was actually sleeping with the wife of another general who was away on duty, and was about to be indicted under military law” reveals an abstruse indifference to the complex dynamics of Rwandan politics. Even if this allegation were true, would that make an African general to flee the country? And why wasn’t this information given to the public?
I hope Mr. Fairbanks will consult widely before writing his next op-ed. And, perhaps he can even join the fight against injustice in Rwanda.