Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Want Democracy in Rwanda? Sanction Andrew Mwenda!

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As those who read my blog might already know, I am the least likely to advocate for sanctions.

Over the years, many Rwandans have heightened the call for the international community to impose sanctions on Paul Kagame's regime. This has included well known personalities such as Hotel Rwanda's real life hero, Paul Rusesbagina.

On my part, I have been reluctant to join the choir, fearing that such an action might have the unintended consequence of bleed the country to death. Indeed, sanctions that have massive detrimental effects on the people they are supposed to help are of little value in the struggle against despotic regimes. Here I am referring, not to sanctions that target specific individuals, but to sanctions that make it difficult for states to trade or gain access to credit.

It is high time, though; those certain individuals who defiantly advocate for an anti-reform agenda on Rwanda get placed on the international sanction list. On the top of my list is an unsuspicious candidate: Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda.

Many Rwandans, find it difficult to believe that there is a time in history when Mr. Mwenda used to be a fervent advocate for liberalism. In fact, despite having mellowed with time, he has not stopped denouncing the excesses of the Ugandan ruling class. Time and again, he goes on the airwaves to expose one scandal after another involving president Yoweri Museveni's regime. In return, he has been threatened and arrested on multiple occasions. However, the regime has largely respected his work and Mwenda continues to be an outspoken voice in Ugandan politics.

In Africa, it is often very difficult for someone to amass considerable wealth without having ties to the regime of the day. To varying extents, this is the dilemma that face most dissidents and activists. Often, those who speak out are cut from economic opportunities. They are however constantly enticed with goodies from the ruling class. Inevitably, such a system has the consequence that some opportunists speak out with the hope that they will become noticeable enough so as to get entry into the exclusive elite.

As reformers grow tired of isolation and imposed poverty, some turn around sacrificing their ideals to join the oppressor. Thus it is not uncommon for a reformer of today, to become the advocate for tyranny tomorrow.

Money corrupts absolutely and there are many cases in point. In Kenya for instance, most of the individuals linked to the Anglo-Leasing scandal which cost the country billions in losses, tout reform credentials under their belts. Jonathan Moyo once a spokesman for Zimabwe's Robert Mugabe was once the dictator's fiercest critic.

Mwenda seems to have found a way out of this dilemma without forsaking the struggle in Uganda. Quite convenient for him, through his newspaper, he uses his pro-democracy credentials to defend a monstrous dictatorship in Rwanda. In exchange, he receives a fat check of $200,000 every year and other benefits which include: traveling in Kagame's private jets, vacation in Rwanda's five star hotels and attending high-level international meetings alongside the Rwandan dictator.

For Kagame, Mwenda is perfectly suitable for the whitewashing task since, given the fact that he is not Rwandan; he can easily masquerade as an independent and objective voice. In reality, Kagame is being taken for a ride as well.

The mediocre pieces Mwenda writes are hardly capable for convincing anybody. The money would be better used to support reform in Rwanda, rather than paying an inconsequential lobbyist. My biggest contention with Mwenda is not that he will influence the global community in Kagame's favor (a very difficult task at the moment). Rather, I worry that he provides the life-line for the cruel dictatorship on the verge of inevitable collapse.

Kagame, like any other dictator, loves praises. Mwenda has strategically tapped into this weakness. Just like Mr. Moyo in Zimbabwe, there is little doubt as to whether Mwenda's advocacy undermines democracy in Rwanda. By using his newspaper to spin news on Rwanda, he helps enlarge Kagame's personality cult. Moreover, Mwenda functions as a decoy to divert attention from Kagame, as more Rwandan activist focus on repudiating his lies.

At a time when Rwandans have a lot more critical issues facing us, we cannot afford fighting mercenaries at the same time. The burden is too much and exhaustive as well. By slapping sanctions on the likes of Mr. Mwenda, the international community will help ease the struggle for democracy in Rwanda. It is the only way we can do so without reverting to violence.

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