Monday, May 3, 2010

Mr. Michael Fairbanks an Apologist for Rwandan Dictatorship?

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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.


Mamadou Kouyate said...

Great piece!
You're right....
The Kagame regime ranks first worldwide in terms of military expenditure. According to the CIA World Factbook, 2006, Rwanda has spent 13% of its GDP on military spending. Even development assistance to Rwanda is drained up to 10% to finance law enforcement agencies, twice the proportion allocated to the agricultural sector despite the fact that this sector employs 80% of the workforce in Rwanda…


Nkunda said...

Mr. Kouyate,

Thank you for providing the numerical evidence. I will need that in my next post. I think the myth of Rwanda's development calls for serious analysis--especially given that the so called development is the reason being given to justify Kagame's oppression.

PA CHAIR said...

Mamadou Kouyate, in this age and time it is imperative that people debate objectively and avoid being corrupted by their biases. You cannot quote a CIA report of 2006 in 2010. For your information, a lot change in a year in Rwanda. Apparently, your biases cannot allow you to keep in step with the developments in Rwanda, hence your outdated and fabricated statistics. Nkunda, you can go ahead and use the statistics - someone like you cannot bring himself to use correct statistics on Rwanda because they would not satisfy your biased ego

Anonymous said...

A couple of questions:
1- Do you live in Rwanda right now?
2- Do you think this is the most productive way of fostering development in Rwanda.

As for Mamadou, the figures you give are from 2006, is it possible that you can update said figures. the world has moved on from 2006.

Nkunda said...


1. Those living in Rwanda do not have a monopoly of understanding and analyzing Rwanda's politics. I am Rwandan and where I live, should and is, immaterial to the debate.

2. Yes, I think supporting democratic reform is crucial to equitable development. When you divorce human rights out of economic development, then you breed tyranny (ask the Chinese).

Nkunda said...

PA Chair,

I think CIA fact sheet is a rather reliable source--In fact, more reliable that Rwanda's bureau of statistics.

If you think, the statistic are wrong, please offer us a more viable alternative.

Will Jones said...

1. The numbers we have on military expenditure are not reliable, if only because [a] it's not clear what counts as military, and [b] it's not clear how you account for possible extra funding from illicit sources (ultimately, we don't and can't know the scale of this). But also: why do we think public data released by the CIA is credible? What do we know about their methodology? However, if PA Chair thinks the CIA 'fabricate', I would also like to see that evidence.

2. It is not true that there are no charges against Victoire Ingabire. She has been arrested, and Tom Ngogo has released a summary of the charges. However, we should be pushing for the full indictment to be published as soon as possible (i.e. if there is evidence - which I suspect there is - we need to see it).

Anonymous said...

Its very unfortunate a person like Mike who is an alumnus of thwe most prestige school like Harvard to write this shallow piecemeal of information about Rwanda without carrying out a thorough investigation about the rumors and propaganda he's been drawn into. Rwanda has more than 200,000 troops in a country of less than 8 million population. do you call that a less financial expenditure?
Recently the University students of Rwanda National University who are on bursary had been told to go home because the government couldn't meet their financial assistance and now you are calling this government to be the most caring government education wise?come and talk to us students in UNR Butare. we will at least teach you about our country if not our current leadership thus will enlighten your writing perspective and stop supporting a dictator just because of few coins you are receiving at the expense of young innocent boys detained at IWAWA ISLAND if you have not read the Jeffery G report in NYTimes.

Champ said...

Fairbanks came out with a joke that was not funny. He said that Rwanda has a good neighbor policy. Hahahahahahahaha for real? Since when? Rwanda invaded Congo TWICE and killed 5 000 000 innocent Congolese souls. Then during that process fought a war INSIDE CONGO against UGANDA. That's a hell of a good neighbor!!! Today, they continue to support proxy rebels in the Congo as well as WANTED WAR CRIMINALS in the Congolese army such as Bosco Ntaganda. Good neighbor I tell ya. lol

Fairbanks talks about a bunch of media outlets that broadcast in foreign languages. OK, how does that serve 90% of Rwandans who don't speak such? Then talks about some gossip from the military. I guess he is well connected.

More interestingly, he talks about education budget. I have been to places in Rwanda where students sit under trees and use that for a classroom. So much for the education expenditure, while Rwanda has the ability to occupy a foreign country. Even Stevie Wonder can see the lie in that.

Then the quote from Umuseso. Umuseso is sounding like Paul Kagame and his cronies when they invaded Rwanda from Uganda in 1990. How is that wrong? But what that means to me is that Rwanda is not ready to accept peaceful change. He is confirming that and sees reason to worry about those comments. If the country was open to peaceful change, those words would mean nothing.

Champ said...

I meant to add to my comments that Kagame charging Ingabire with co operating with terrorists and genocidaires is HYPOCRITICAL. That also makes Fairbanks a hypocrite. Here is the reason. Today, Kagame's government employs the top terrorist in Rwanda in 1994. For the better part of the last decade, the minister of defense in Rwanda was general Marcel Gatsinzi, who was the CHIEF OF STAFF OF THE EX FAR during the GENOCIDE. In other words, Kagame is working with the leader of the genocide.

Mamadou Kouyate said...

"a lot change in a year in Rwanda..."

You're right from 2006 to 2010 a lot has changed every year so that in 2009 "more than 50% of children in Rwanda have become stunted" according the the latest report from INICEF (;

Rwandan peasants are on the brink of extinction (

campaigners say the country is starving while the government says criticism is unfounded

Rwanda has gone from being a “low-inequality” country in the 1980’s to being in the world’s bottom 15% in terms of inequality today;

One-third of Rwanda’s population now suffers from nutritional deficiencies, and life expectancy is among the 20 lowest in the world at only 44 years;

Wealth and power are concentrated in the cities, the government’s stronghold, leaving 92% of the poor in underrepresented rural areas;

World Bank agrees with International Monetary Fund that Rwanda is off track to attaining most of its millennium development goals....

Please do your homework about the current myth on Rwanda's economy.

The following research article may help you a lot. It comprises recent references from UNDP, IMF, and WB.


Anonymous said...

It is a shame!

Anonymous said...

It is already far not exception