Friday, November 18, 2011

Response to Linda Melvern's Attack on Paul Rusesabagina's Credibility

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This comment was submitted to the Guardian's "Comment is free" section. The original version of it was initially posted, but deleted within a few hours. Apparently, as it seems, comment is not exactly free. As no reason was given for the deletion of my comment, I decided to post it on my blog as well.

I am not exactly sure why, but my comments seem to have been deleted. In the comments, I questioned the validity of Melvern’s position. I argued that Melvern has been a little too sympathetic to the dictatorship of Paul Kagame—responsible for killing tens of thousands of Rwandans. At no time (and I stand to be corrected) has Ms. Melvern expressed concern over Kagame’s highly questionable human rights record. Her silence, and continued support for a murderous regime, dig a black hole on her conscious. It is a reminder, at least to me, of the dangers that arise when intellectuals get co-apted by cultic regime worship. African pro-democracy scholar, George Ayitteh, calls this the prostitutioning of academia.

I find it quite wanting that a scholar, who has established her name through writing about genocide, would ignore Kagame’s crimes both in Rwanda and in the DRC. Just as a point of reference, the United Nations (UN), has suggested that the nature of killings Kagame’s “rebels without borders” perpetrated in the DRC could be classified as genocide. This is for me, a serious allegation, one that ought to challenge conventional scholarship on genocide. The threat of counter-genocide is just as real as genocide itself. Unfortunately, and to the disappointment of victims, Ms. Melvern was among the first to repudiate the report. How shameful! 

The attacks against Rusesabagina began after he questioned Kagame’s conduct. Of course, judging by the level of support that Kagame, at that time, enjoyed in the west, it would have been much easier for Rusesbagina to keep mum. After all, fighting a popular regime like Kagame’s is no easy feat. However, just like in 1994 Rwanda, Rusesbagina has chosen the more difficult path. Unlike Melvern, who has chosen to be completely indifferent about Kagame’s crimes, Rusesbagina perhaps because he is Rwandaan, recognizes the humanity of Hutus—especially those who have become victims of Kagame’s killing machine.

Like I noted, it may well be the case that Rusesabagina’s story is hyperbolized. The link between reality and fiction as far as the Rwandan genocide is concerned, is something that is continuously being unraveled. It is too early to claim that we have a complete knowledge of what transpired. I keep up with research on the region, and it is fair to say that more divergent narratives are beginning to emerge. What is clear is that Kagame is not the white knight that he has been postured to be. And Rwanda is not just the tale of good (Tutsi) and evil (Tutsi). The reality is more complex. This is not at all to deny the reality of Tutsi victimhood in 1994. It is to suggest that the story does not end or start there. Rusesbagina’s ultimate error is to question this narrative—treasured by both Ms. Melvern and Kagame as it is.

Lastly, as several commentators here have articulated, Rusesbagina was in the hotel while Ms. Melvern was not. To liberal scholars like Melvern, genocide is more of an intellectual preoccupation. For us, it is a matter of death and life. I caution the tendency by scholars to politicize genocide. If Rusesabagina was a member of the Kagame’s (RPF) government, would Melvern and the rest of the commentators here be outraged? I highly doubt that they would be. Mr. Melvern would have better used this space to call for accountability for crimes that Kagame has been accused of, including possible genocide. Such a call, coming from her, would do more for the cause of justice.


Anonymous said...

I concur wholly with this well written response but wish to point out that Melvern is no academic or scholar but is an investigative journalist.

Vincent Harris said...

An interview with Martin Ngoga on Dutch radio making unverified allegations against Victoire Ingabire has been cancelled at the last minute this weekend. Apparently Kigali is hoping to push the can further down the road with the help of this kind of "investigative journalism".