Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Susan Rice expresses concern over absence of fundamental freedoms in Rwanda

Do you like this post?
US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice arrived in Rwanda yesterday after concluding her trip in Libya. Her time has been very occupied, first with a visit to the Mutobo de-mobilization program, and later a speech at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST).

As had been speculated, her speeches focused on how the Obama administration (and allies), determined to avoid a repeat of Rwanda, decided to intervene in Libya. In Libya, ambassador Rice had earlier witnessed mass graves in which, Qaddafi's regime is believed to have damped bodies of suspected opponents. This is certainly a horror scene that is reminiscent of the killing fields in the Rwanda of 1994. To that extent, the trips to both Rwanda and Libya seem very well timed.

Susan Rice is also to be commended for her pro-democracy speech, which certainly surprised many of us. Well, I need to be clear here. I am one of those who believe that there has been some positive (though very slow) change towards US relations with Rwanda. I think the model is becoming less personalized and more institutionalized--which is a very positive development. Of course, President Kagame is unlikely to embrace this new model, which will likely contribute to a backlash in a few years to come. Regardless, such honest engagement can help preempt a looming crisis in Rwanda.

This is how ambassador Rice's speech got report by Reuters:

Rice also slapped Kagame on the wrist, saying that his country's political culture is being stifled, that freedom of the press is minimal and that activists, journalists, political opponents don't have the ability to organize peacefully.

"Some have simply disappeared," she said, referring to highly suspicious deaths of political opponents.
If I am not mistaken, ambassador Rice is the first high ranking US official to caution Rwanda publicly.  I have argued before that Kagame is losing the "propaganda war". His crimes are becoming a little too obvious to conceal and an embarrassment to the Britain and United States, which are Rwanda's two leading supporters.

Of course, ambassador Rice needed to be careful in her rebuke. Kagame is still of high strategic benefit to the United States. As Howard French has observed, Rwanda is important to the US because Kagame's troops can do things things for the US that their own military is unwilling or incapable of doing (For an excellent documentary on this, watch here ). Rwandan troops can die if need be for causes that have little benefit for Rwanda. Sudan and Somalia are still very important regions for U.S. policy makers, and Rwanda is an important ally in that regard. Sadly, other unpopular African dictators such as Burundi are now realizing the importance of this dangerous military-based model.

Susan Rice will also address the Rwandan parliament, which she has also praised for having the highest representation of women in the world. One wonders whether she does not get the irony in this. How could it be that an oppressive regime where people cannot freely express themselves has the highest women in parliament?

On paper it looks good but is that really the case? The "highest women in parliament" model, is in line with Kagame's big appetite for international awards. It does not necessarily reflect a more progressive policy. Rwanda is not a parliamentary democracy; real powers remain in the hands of the military. And the military ruling clique is exclusively male and of ethnic Tutsi. Besides, if a dictatorship can co-apt elite women as a means of  maintaining international legitimacy, is this praiseworthy?

One just needs to read a quote from Senator Aloysia Inyumba, one of the most powerful women in the RPF clique to realize how controlled these "powerful women" are. She once said, "ordinary citizens are like babies that need to be completely educated before we can talk about democracy". By "educate" she means sending ordinary Rwandans to Ingando indoctrination camps for an amateur brainwashing program.  She might be a woman, but she is nonetheless an operative of a heinous dictatorship!

For more, read Colored Opinion Blog post, " [Rwanda] still the model for Africa?

No comments: