Monday, May 30, 2011

Andrew Mwenda’s rhetoric poses grave dangers for Rwanda

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For the past decade, Andrew Mwenda has been Paul Kagame’s most ardent defender. A prolific writer who has been recognized by Foreign Policy magazine as one among its top 100 intellectuals, he has shown a willingness to compromise his democrat ideals by rendering near fanatical support to the Rwandan dictator. That he is always ready to defend the Rwandan leader at times has prompted Rwandans to wonder whether he is indeed the government spokesman. There are countless of debates on social media websites, where Rwandans accuse him of being a mercenary propagandist. His latest rants in defense of Kagame’s deteriorating human rights record ( how some people continue to do so, I cannot explain) reveals the sad reality of a man who is working tirelessly to prevent Rwandans from enjoying democratic freedom.

Mwenda’s defense of Kagame is not that sophisticated, as in deed no support for a dictator can be. However, it is slightly compelling for people whose knowledge of Rwanda is limited. He has always argued that Kagame has a special context which prevents him from being judged in the same light as other leaders. As this logic goes, Kagame should be allowed more time and be encouraged rather than condemned. His other argument is that Kagame is on an ambitious project of state development, something Mwenda argues has never been tried in Africa. His proof for this is the relative low corruption and a hallucinatory belief in Kagame’s efficient distribution of public goods.

Mwenda’s views lack any grounding in the reality of post-genocide Rwanda. No decent researcher that I know would agree with his thesis. State development cannot not be measured by the mere capacity of a state to enforce laws or its use of coercive force. It needs to move beyond the state’s ability to collect taxes. The state has state has to protect its citizens. Otherwise, most dictatorships have excelled at enforcing draconian laws. You cannot talk about state development when thousands of Rwandans are still exiled or fleeing their country due to fear. State development lacks meaning when journalists are being assassinated and newspapers closed.

Researchers have long understood Kagame’s Rwanda as a military with a state. It is no wonder that the most visible arm of the state is still the military. But the presence of a high number of troops does not necessarily lead to the protection of Rwanda nor does it make Rwandans feel safe. It might well lead to the contrary. Name even one democratic country where soldiers are always marauding around with heavy artillery. If Kagame is building a state, it is Kagame inc. A personal fiefdom much like what King Leopold had in the Congo more than a century ago.

Of course the similarities between the two are troubling and sickening. It is Kagame who has terrorized the DRC for the last decade, leading to a death tool of more than five million people. The provision of public good cannot be justified be a substitution for democracy. If there is one lesson that people would learn from the Middle East and in particular, Libya, this would be it. Libya ranks higher than any African country on economic indicators and is by no doubt a stable economy. However, this would not stop demonstrators from taking to the street to fight for freedom.

The same demonstrators abandoned the free health care and free university education to demand self determination. This is a reality that will soon happen in Rwanda. But do not count on the dictators and their cheering squad to understand this.

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