In Africa the contradictions espoused by western powers when it comes to human rights loom large. On one hand, you have regimes that are hard pressed to respect human rights. These currently include those in Kenya, Sudan and Zimbabwe. On the other, you have regimes that are given the blessing to violently violate them, or so it seems. The dictatorial regimes of Uganda and Rwanda fit the latter category. They form a special club of untouchables, whose members can openly rig elections, shoot journalists, even commit genocide and the international community, except for a few lukewarm statements, will stay mum.
In the case of Rwanda, the regime is too brutal that it is becoming difficult to present it as a “democracy in progress”. As a result, proponents of the regime are finding it increasingly difficult to defend the regime’s dictatorial tendencies.
For that reason, they now shamelessly argue that oppression is good for Rwandans because Rwandans cannot handle democracy. This thinking is akin to the one that supported the institution of slavery. During that time, it was believed that blacks were incapable of managing their own lives. Living under a “benevolent” slave master was seen as the only possible and reasonable solution.
This week, in his latest apologia for the Rwandan regime, Steven Kinzer laid out a poorly thought out attack on human rights watch. I need to remind my readers that human rights watch has been one of the most vocal defenders of democracy in Rwanda. The organization, through the late Allison Des Forge, was the first to raise the alarm on the killings that were taking place during the 1994 period. Ever since, they remained active in Rwanda until their officials were kicked out by the Rwandan government prior to August Presidential elections.
Kinzer argues that Human rights have become a “new form of imperialism”. He further argues that human rights are not universal and that he sees the current “human rights movement as opposing human rights.”
Kinzer’s view on Rwanda is misplaced and lacks an updated context. For instance, the fact that 13 heads of states attended Kagame’s inauguration is not proof that the Rwandan regime is endorsed throughout Africa. Since a greater number of African presidents attended the 50th anniversary of the DRC’s independence, does it mean that such leaders are impressed by the mass rapes taking place in the eastern region of that country? Certainly not.
Kinzer also needs to be reminded, that during the same period of the inauguration, a high level conference was taking place in Rwanda that was assessing the progress of the UN Millennium Goals. Hence, many of the leaders jetted in to attend this event, and Rwanda strategically arranged the summit around the date of Kagame’s inauguration. Even if we were to believe that the leaders came in to coronate Kagame, why would this silence human rights watch?
But it is Kinzer’s extremely arrogant and insensitive statement that completely drives me nuts. He says, “By my standards, this authoritarian regime is the best thing that has happened to Rwanda since colonialists arrived a century ago.” This statement is very problematic and reflects a very patronizing way of thinking. When is it ethical for a foreign journalist to praise an authoritarian regime that is killing its own people? And what standards are these? Is this not the most despicable form of “imperialism?” Don’t Rwandans have a voice?
Rwandans deserves the same right to pursue democratic values as any other country. Rwandans are not “thrilled” by an oppressive regime. If the people were happy as Kinzer wants us to believe, Kagame would not have had to rig elections (he “won” by 93%) and imprison opposition activists. If the people were happy, we would not be having an outraging number of government soldiers marauding with guns in our streets and villages on a daily basis.
Otherwise, he needs to explain why the media is constantly harassed and never allowed to function? why opposition leaders are silenced through murder and unlawful imprisonment?
Rwanda is still a military dictatorship, and the world is right to support the growth of democratic movements. Otherwise, it is difficult, as Kinzer well knows, to defend a heinous and murderous regime.