Monday, May 11, 2015

How to Understand Protests in Bujumbura, Burundi's Capital.

In an era in which massive income inequalities have produced global ghettos, protests by young people are becoming the order of the day. Yet, in a tiny country called Burundi, the protests are seen as causing the "imminent collapse" of the country. "Why is this the case?" one might ask.

With a per capita income of $264, Burundi is the "hungriest" country on the African continent. Despite the country's long history of civil war and even genocide, it is very rare that it makes international headlines. Certainly never for the right reasons.

For those of us who research Burundi, it is mostly a silent endeavor. Outside the continent, chances are that very few people have heard of it. Among those who have heard of it an even smaller percentage can identify it on the map.

The current crisis started on the 25th of April when the ruling party announced that Pierre Nkurunziza the current Burundian president would run for another term. Nkurunziza has been in power for ten years. However, his party claims that the first five years do not count. This is based on a technicality that is a result of Burundi's 13-year long civil war that started following the assassination of Melchior Ndadaye in 1993.

Torn up by ethnic divisions between the Hutu and the Tutsi, Burundi has been consumed by violent conflict for at least 80% of its post-colonial existence. During that period, it was led by three Tutsi dictators from the same village (Micombero, Bagaza and Buyoya).

Resistance by Hutu masses always triggered revenge attacks by the ruling Tutsi elites. Sometimes the violence spurned into massacres. At least once, it turned into a near-genocide that nevertheless, failed to capture international attention. "The people died but the hills formed an information border that prevented the outside world from finding out," Burundian friends who survived these killings often told me. Its fair to say that the majority of Burundi living in the hills remains vastly isolated from the outside (modern) world.

So much to say about Burundi's history but one has to limit themselves to a particular historical timeline. What is crucial to anyone who wants to understand Burundi is that history has an uncanny tendency to influence current events. Burundi is no exception.

So the ruling party in Burundi argues that since Nkurunziza was not elected by popular vote in 2005, his first term does not count. However this is a dubious interpretation. While Nkurunziza was indeed elected by parliament for his first term, the Burundian constitution also equates parliament with the "voice of the people." Article 7 states clearly that, "“[t]he national sovereignty belongs to the people who exercise it, either directly by way [voie] of referendum, or indirectly through their representatives.” Thus, Nkuruniza and the claims by the ruling party largely lack legal basis. That said, the Constitutional Court in Burundi has ruled in Nkurunziza's favor further highlighting the fragility of institutions in that region of Africa.

Protesters on the other hand are hoping that they can prevent Nkurunziza from pursuing a third term. Initially, protests were largely peaceful; however, large protests have a difficult time remaining disciplined and ideologically coherent. As of now, protesters have begun engaging in acts of violence--some targeting security officials. In some other cases, protest mobs have targeted (mostly Hutu civilians) who they accuse of being members of the Imbonerakure militia. In fact, a young man who also happens to be a dual French and Burundian national was roughed up almost to the point of death by protesters who accused him of being an Interahamwe.

Franco-Burundi kid roughed up by mobs who wrongly accuse him of being a member of the Interahamwe (Hutu) group

The ethnic labeling by protesters while quite extreme emerges out of what some have described as the "sociology of the protests." In particular, protests are organized by Tutsi youth belonging to the neighborhoods of Musanga, Mutakura, Ngagara and Cibitoke. Most of the other zones in Burundi remain largely peaceful or at least devoid of violent protests.

This is to say that ethnicity as a factor in Burundi's crisis is very real. However, that is not to say that everything is about ethnicity. It is well known that the ruling President enjoys support from both Hutu and Tutsi camps, especially among the very rich. While his militant struggle was supported by Hutu youth, once in power Nkurunziza has mostly pandered to both Hutu and Tutsi elites. 

I believe he struck the following agreement with Tutsi oligarchs. He would protect their wealth and they would allow and even facilitate the emergence of a Hutu oligarchy. In other words, Nkurunziza's main accomplishment is in creating a culture of tolerance between the Hutu and Tutsi elites. However, the masses (on both sides) remain largely frustrated and therefore easy to manipulate.

What is clear so far is that Nkurunziza will not back out of his decision to pursue a third term. The question then is how should the opposition respond? How should the international community respond?

Protests have already caused the death of at least 18 people. The youth in Bujumbura continue to barricade their neighborhoods as I write this. With smoldering tires and smoke billowing over the sky in Bujumbura, there is no indication that the Bujumbura opposition will stop protests either. Hence the current deadlock.

I believe that the best way out of this crisis, at this stage, is to hold a free and fair elections. I do not mean this facetiously. Burundi, even under the most difficult circumstances, actually has a proven history of holding fairly transparent elections. If you recall, it is election organized in 1993 just a few years after large-scale massacres in 1988-9 that brought the first democracy into power. What is important here is to put in place structures that will ensure free, fair, competitive and transparent elections. In the event that an election happens, the government has relayed their willingness to accept whatever verdict the people give.

Some steps that would ensure free and fair elections include nominating well-known opposition activists to be part of the national electoral commission. Moreover, it would be crucial that the votes are counted at the ballot station with the population as witnesses. This would help stamp out ballot stuffing.

Otherwise, given the tenuous condition that Burundi is in, there is need to restore order which might require temporary regulation of protests. The lack thing you want in such a massively poor country is the erosion of public order. Anarchy would provide a void that would aid the "entrepreneurs of violence" to cause havoc.

Importantly, no single politician is so important that the country should be sacrificed on their behalf. Burundians must keep in mind that politicians come and go but countries must remain. Without that idea of preserving their motherland, Burundi risks to escalate into another potentially endless cycle of (ethnic) violence.

Another issue is that of refugees. Why are they fleeing? BBC Kirundi service did some great investigative reporting among the refugees in camps located within Rwanda. The constant refrain is that its a mixture of fear, hunger and rumors. As I have stated before, the rumor mill can cause tremendous anxiety among rural communities. Radios must be encouraged (by both the government and international actors) to report responsibly and avoid inciting ethnic hatred through the perpetuation of rumors. That said, the government MUST unconditionally allow the media to operate.

Over and over again, women from the camps stated that they had "fled because they saw others flee." This is really an issue that could be resolved with a strong and reputable media. Building such institutions will take some time but require close collaboration with the donor community. The hunger issue also relates to the neglect of Burundi by western donors. Even though its the hungriest country in Burundi, it receives relatively very small levels of aid in comparative terms. At the very least, donors must help Burundi  to achieve food security.

(a map comparing aid to Rwanda and Burundi over the years. Notice the rapid expansion of aid to Rwanda since 2002).

Another important issue that merits discussion is the role if any that propaganda is playing in this conflict. What is clear and perhaps worrisome is the interest that Rwanda has in the conflict. For those on social media, this can be seen in how well known Kagame supporters enthusiastically "support" Burundian protesters. They do this by starting Twitter hashtags such as #Sindumuja and #stopNkurunziza. Ironically, these same people support Kagame's third term in Rwanda. Not surprisng even Kagame has been drawn in the conflict stating that Nkurunziza should consider stepping aside.(Kagame on Burundi).

The reality between Rwanda and Burundi is very complicated. Because of history, many important officials close to Kagame (particularly his wife and security detail) grew up in Burundi. They maintain cross-border contacts with their kin. In the same way, many members of the Nkurunziza's ruling party grew up in Rwanda. Because of that, ethnic sympathies that extend beyond the border cannot be ruled out. 

However, at least for the last ten years, both Nkurunziza and Kagame seemed to have a great working relationship. In fact, the relationship seems to have soured after the discover of 40 bodies in plastic bags on the shores of lake Rweru, which separates Rwanda from Burundi. It was widely reported that the bodies came to Burundi from Rwanda, something which the Rwandan regime did not take kindly. There are some who think that Kagame's support Burundian protesters out of the need to retaliate. (Bodies found wrapped in plastic in lake bordering Rwanda and Burundi)

What seems to be clear is that tensions are on the rise. As of yesterday, Burundi made the decision to expel a high ranking Rwandan CEO whom they accused of espionage. Moreover, the Rwandan government through its foreign minister has given weight to the rumors that Interahamwe are currently active in Bujumbura. No one can fully predict how the tension will play out especially if Nkuruniza continues for five more years.

Lastly, some have called for the international community to slap sanctions on Burundi. Already, Belgium has terminated or suspended aid. However, as some have suggested, it is unhelpful to do so. Burundi is a very poor country, even by African standards. It is unclear how more sanctions or termination of aid would make the situation better.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Another war in Eastern Congo: Have we lost our minds!

As we enter 2015, the Hutu community in Eastern Congo is reluctant to welcome the New Year.

While a new year means a new beginning for many of us, this does not seem to be the case in Eastern Congo. Instead, the drums of war are beating loud and to the pleasure of Mr. Kagame, the chief architect of violence in the region. How long the West will continue to pretend that policy revolves around the wishes of Mr. Kagame remains unclear. But for the people in the region, a price must be paid.

Perhaps a price too high.

The current proposal for a joint offensive against FDLR, the Hutu militia based in Eastern Congo are reminiscent of failed attempts in the past. Assuredly, as we have seen in the past, the military operations have failed to deliver peace. Indeed, the last operation of this kind cynically code-named Umoja Wetu ("Our Unity") resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians while at least 1.5 million people were displaced (more on this, here). How long shall this madness continue, we ask.

Truly madness since very little will change by repeating the same catastrophic mistakes that have failed in the past. However, US policy makers seem convinced that a new war is the only way to consolidate peace in the region--as ironic and naive as it sounds. So convinced they are that the U.S. special envoy to the Great Lakes region, Russell Feingold has been pressing the UN to launch the offensive.  "... Military action must be undertaken to pressure the FDLR to lay down its arms," the former senator said.

While I agree with the noble effort to disarm the FDLR, I disagree that this should be done through militant means. Moreover, if the desire is to disarm the FDLR, there are many other ways to do so that do not cause such massive suffering. For instance, very little effort has been invested in trying to seek a diplomatic solution to the conflict. The ultimatum to the FDLR has consistently been "disarm or face retaliation". This has pleased Kagame but done little for peace in the region.

I am convinced (as many are) that a peaceful solution to the FDLR question is possible. However, this will not happen unless the foreign arbitrators start to listen to both side of the conflict. For the longest time, the only constant in US policy in the region has been the wholesale embrace of Mr. Kagame and his position on the conflict. However, no peace can be attained unless the points of view of both sides of the conflict are addressed.

The National Democratic Congress (NDC), a party with close ties to one of the Hutu militia groups has stated that "[t]he root of the problem of Rwandan refugees in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and around the World is the prevailing political situation in Rwanda". This is quite convincing given the systematic and recorded history of repression in Rwanda under President Kagame.

Surprisingly, the proposed policy on the FDLR keeps mum on the political repression in Rwanda. It says nothing about the legitimate concerns of the refugees and young fighters within the ranks of the FDLR. Instead, armed confrontation is seen as a an attractive despite its abysmal results in the past. As it is all too clear, these operations have all failed to bring peace in the region. Instead they have led to unspeakable human tragedy, massacres and more instability in the region.

In the absence of any genuine desire by Kagame  or any efforts by the West to compel him to do so, the war will likely take place. However, there is no reason to believe that this will bring peace to either Rwanda or the DRC. The challenges that we see in Eastern Congo have their roots in the political exclusion that is the practice of Kagame's regime. FDLR might go but it will not take long before another armed group sprouts up to militarily oppose Kagame. Fighting tyranny is a legitimate right and a sacred duty for those who are oppressed in the region and any efforts to bring peace cannot ignore this basic fact.

Lastly, it is important to keep in mind previous efforts to restore peace in the region and why they failed. It is not true for instance that the FDLR has refused to lay down arms. In fact, the ROME Process, mediated by the Saint Egidio Community resulted in FDLR renouncing violence and promising to transform into a political party in 2005. Instead, in 2009, the Rwandan government launched an offensive which effectively put an end to this efforts.

Yet another sad ending to the many years of peaceful mediation is approaching as the smell of warfare looms close. As George Sntanya warned us in  the past, "those who learn nothing from the past are doomed to repeat it."

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Whats changed in Rwanda since April

Happy to blog again after a brief hiatus. So much has changed in Rwanda since my last post on April 3rd. Similarly, a few things remain the same.

What hasn't changed is the easiest to point out. Kagame is still Rwanda's indisputable leader. His nemesis, the FDLR, even while weakened are still hiding in the DRC. Lastly, the opposition is still almost entirely exiled.

M23 appears to have been weakened completely thus reducing Kagame's influence in the DRC. More arrests have happened in Rwanda targeting top officials under Kagame's regime. I am not sure whether to categorize the latter as a "change" given that, in many ways, harassment by the Rwandan state are already part of an ongoing trend.

Another important change that was largely unreported is the return of two former Kagame's critics into his government.

Evode Uwizeyimana, a lawyer by training who had been exiled in Canada, along with Celestin Rwigema who previously served as a prime minister returned to Rwanda early this year. While in Rwanda, they immediately began a seemingly government sponsored effort to lash out at critics. Little is known on the motivations behind their return; although, it is largely believed that the regime bought them up. That said, it is important to mention that both individuals had previously worked for Kagame in the past. As such, they can be regarded as "prodigal sons" returning home.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Rwanda has the highest incarceration rates. Can we talk about reconciliation?

Picture of the Mpanga Prison where close to 7000 prisoners are locked up.
No one knows for sure how many Rwandans (read: Hutu) participated in the genocide that targeted Tutsi and Hutu moderates. However, several wild figures have been thrown around. Th conventional view (in no small part a creation of the RPF) is of Hutu masses turning against their neighbors. However, was it "ordinary" civilians killing? Was it the Interahamwe? Was it the FAR or a combination of all the above?

Scott Strauss has suggested that some 200,000 people participated in the slaughter. He does this by interviewing the convicted. His estimates are based on a deduction of how many people one convict killed. Since even the total number of Tutsi killed is still contentions (no one knows where or how the 800,000 figure came about), this is not without holes.

For one, the number of Tutsi killed has been on the increase. The government now prefers 1.2 million killed. However, some academics such as Susan Thomson settles for 500,000. Christian Davenport and Allan Stam massively rock the boat, suggesting that "more Hutus were killed than Tutsis". This, for them, is based on census data. According to them, there wasn't 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda at the time of the genocide. More, the present government in Rwanda counts Tutsi genocide survivors as exceeding 300,000.

The number game though not necessarily important is not entirely useless. Again, this comes down to the fact that genocide is a political process. Some have dismissed Davenport and Stam for relying on the statistics of a government that was planning to kill Tutsis and participated in massive discrimination against them. It is assumed that such a government would have a keen desire to lower the number of Tutsis so as to justify the economic and political oppression. However, as Stam has asked before, aren't genocidal regimes good at keeping numbers? The whole premise of genocide is that you track down your victims methodically and with remarkable speed. Indeed, this is exactly what happened in Rwanda.

There is another reason the numbers are important. Rwanda has one of the highest (if not the highest) incarceration rate. For all the talk of reconciliation, the prisons are still unbelievably crowded. I have visited a number of them and it is certainly a slow death. Of course, one shouldn't have mercy for mass murderous; however, there are credible reasons to believe that some of the men in prison are probably innocent. This has to do with the poor record of Gacaca--where untrained judges were used to settle genocide cases.

I am also aware that there are some Rwandans still guilty of genocide who were never presented before Gacaca. This is are extremely disturbing cases since no one knows what the state will do with them. Its impossible to believe that the state would hold someone in perpetuity without any form of trial. It questions how deep the reconciliation rhetoric in Rwanda is. Like many things in Rwanda, you either take it for face value or you don't. Serious evaluations are almost taboo.

Then there is another disturbing aspect of the reconciliation narrative. Men convicted and later "forgiven" are basically working as slaves, for the state and for rich individuals. They work for RPF companies, primarily in construction and completely with no pay. Many Rwandans, eager to save some coins have participated in this evil. Everywhere you see the men in their pink suits. Everywhere they toil in hard labor.

Again, I am not against men paying for their crimes. However, the number are critical if we are to make sure that the government is not oppressing innocent individuals. Also, important is an estimate of the number of Hutus who have died. Where they just innocent victims of the war? Where they targeted for killings? Were they perpetrators of the genocide meeting their revenge? We know for sure that many Hutus died, but there is little memory or studies done on that. And how can we talk of reconciliation?

Pope Francis speaks out in support of reconciliation in Rwanda. But will we listen?

The pope is speaking out on Rwanda. This is a big deal and I wish it was getting the attention it deserves. Even more, I wish harder questions were being asked.

The relationship between the Rwandan government and the Roman Catholic church has improved greatly since the mid-1990s when they treated each other as nemesis. Somewhere along the road, a consensus was reached. The church would stop criticizing the government's abuses and the government would back off any form of interference.

No one knows when or where how this consensus was reached. However, it has worked for the most part--of course, with some monumental setbacks.

Among the current major points of contention is the tendency for the Kagame regime in Rwanda to demand absolute loyalty. This has continuously put the church in an awkward situation, more so since the church has traditionally regarded itself as the guardian of the masses (read : Hutu). In some cases, individual priests have rebelled against the state and some have either been killed exiled or imprisoned. That said, it is difficult to remember a time in recent history when the church, in any capacity, lashed out at the government.

Regardless, many probably doubt whether this latest statement by the pope will amount to anything worthwhile. The Rwandan government insists that the Catholic church has to issue an apology because of its past role in the genocide. On its part, the Catholic church has never accepted responsibility choosing instead to blame the "bad apples". Indeed, several priests and even nuns have been convicted of participating in the killings. But Catholic priests nuns and members were also victims--some killed by Kagame's forces. What I am suggesting here is that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

In the end, the pope is right to awaken the church from slumber. This is a pope that is increasingly concerned about the global poor--the rights of the "wretched of the earth". If priests are to push for reconciliation in Rwanda (which they should), it will definitely clash with the government's priorities. That said, there is no way we can achieve truth and reconciliation without the church participating in the process.

Questions we ask in silence on the Rwanda genocide

On one level, the horrors of the 1994 genocide demands that we keep off political debates as we solemnly remember our loved ones. Yet, genocide is fundamentally a political process. How to navigate the two challenges will continue to weigh down on most Rwandans as we enter the commemoration period.

There is one fixed truth: genocide was perpetrated by Interahamwe's and the Rwandan army against mostly Tutsi civilians and Hutu moderates. But I feel, for many reasons, we are still far from comprehending the circumstances around the killings. This is because some important factors remain largely ignored or completely unexplored.

These unknown factors have crystallized into questions that we contemplate about, even if silently so. As usual the the main commemoration event will be accompanied be a political event attended by leading political/ religious and economic figures in which Kagame will give the keynote speech. He will certainly us talk about what he refers to as Rwanda's miraculous recovery, that he is the one who has built a once troubled state into the "success" that it is. As he has done in the past, he might also use this occasion to caution his critics whom he believes are planning another genocide. "I won't allow it to happen", he will say.

But several important stories will be lost. A lot of dots will remain unconnected.

One question that definitely requires some reverse reasoning is the assassination of the Rwandan president and his Burundi counterpart. Who assassinated Habyarimana and would there have been genocide in the absence of Habyarimana's death? The RPF, which sees genocide as an culmination of a consistent policy of exterminating the Tutsi since 1958 will argue that this was bound to happen. However, many will not be satisfied by this answer. Regardless, the questions will slip away in deep silence.

Kagame's superiority complex is to some extent built around what he has done. But it is also built around this lingering silence around him. He has worked tirelessly to maintain a dauntless narrative that depicts him as a white knight. Could it be true that Kagame, as some of his closest colleagues have stated, ordered the plane of his predecessor to be gunned down? Why has the international community largely ignored this issue? Can we ever have a fuller understanding of the Rwandan event without identifying who is behind the "trigger" of the genocide?

But there are more puzzling and silent question with regards to Kagame's conduct before, during and after the genocide. Perhaps we have been blinded by guilt unable to ask any bold questions. However, can we learn any worthwhile lessons from a historical event that remains only partially understood?

20 years after the genocide, a fuller understanding of the it should aim towards demystifying Kagame and the RPF. This the only way to open room for a discussion on Rwanda's future and that of the great lakes region in general. We have a horrible past in which Rwandans have butchered each other on the basis of ethnicity, the important lesson is to build a more inclusive state. How can we evaluate this when one side claims unprecedented righteousness?

Lastly, is the role that the genocide memorials (and the annual commemoration) play in Rwanda's collective consciousness--to the extent that such a thing even exists. The issue here is that, depending on who we are, we remember differently. However, image-conscious Rwanda insists on a level of political conformity that is almost unprecedented anywhere. This same conformity privileges a certain narrative while killing diversity of memories. Who is being remembered and why? How does this contribute to the reconciliation agenda that Kagame claims to have achieved?

From my experience, the commemorations can be a sphere of humiliation for some. The event is understood through the duality of good and evil, focusing on the Tutsi survivors and the Hutu killers. How can such a narrative, repeated every year, contribute to nation building? This is one of those "silent" questions.

What I am saying is that the genocide commemorations inevitably create difference, which in turn imputes superiority and inferiority, guilt and innocence. This is further solidified through events that happen throughout the six weeks or so. The "voluntary" contributions that are offered by the impoverished masses to support survivors during this period further emphasizes this difference. It is an event for some (Tutsi survivors) and not an event for all.

What is amazing is that the above ethnic contestations happen within a background that denies the existence of ethnicity. Does the government of Rwanda honestly believe that people are stupid not to notice that you can't talk about "genocide against the Tutsi" while denying the existence of Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda? I suppose this is another question many of us ask but only in silence.

But the questions are endless...

Round-up of articles as we approach 20th commemoration of Rwanda genocide

As we approach the 20th commemoration of the Rwanda genocide (the present government refers to it as the "genocide against Tutsi"even while denying the existence of ethnicity in Rwanda), there are several powerful stories that have emerged this week. These stories not only remind us of the utter horrors endured by many during this dark period but also reminds us that genocide and human suffering on a massive scale are not a thing of the past. They sadly continue to happen whether in Central Africa Republic, in Syria, Mali, DRC, Somalia or Libya.

  • Mark Doyle of the BBC has written a powerful article that revisits the 1994 horrors. Doyle was among a handful of journalists in Rwanda at the time. Its a difficult task to go back to a past you never wish to return to. He interviews the daughter of the former prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana (among the first high profile victims of the massacre along with her husband). Her name is Marie-Christine Umuhoza and perhaps due to the pain and anguish, the daughter hasn't uttered a word in the last 20 years. She is now speaking out remarkably to honor the life of a Senegalese peacekeeper Mbaye Diagne. He comments are very brief and one wishes for more. What does the daughter of this giant think of post-genocide Rwanda? However, some appear dissatisfied by the story. On Twitter, Werner De Poorter who was a Belgian paratrooper with the UN peacekeeping mission stated: "And there were many (good) people like him ( Capt. Mbaye Diagne)! That is the shame" 
  • Jonathan Tepperman of Foreign Affairs conducted an interview with Kagame. It is quite telling although there is little revealed that is new. Kagame portrays himself as a person whose life revolves around the genocide. He blanket denies participating in revenge killings. At the same time, the interview reveals that Kagame can be quite naive. For instance, he seems unaware of how expansive freedom of speech is in the United States. Contrary to his view, as Tepperman reminds him, one can start a party in the US to defend the rights/ interests of black people against the whites. This is one of those moment when I feel the Tepperman should have pushed harder. As US cable by Wikileaks reveal, Rwanda has become a Tutsi state in political terms. Moreover, Kagame picked up arms to rightly fight for the rights of the Tutsi. How could it be then that Kagame is so wary of group interests?
  • The Guardian is compiling stories of Rwanda's ""puzzling tale of growth and political repression". There are some astounding figures: the number of tourists has increased six times since 2000, rural to urban migration has skyrocketed, and the GDP has increased by a half since 1995. Other successes are in the dropping of infant mortality and the dramatic increase of women in parliamentary politics. Some of these undoubtedly represent some form of progress. However, some of the statistics such as the representation of women in parliament are extremely hollow and misleading. This is because focusing on elite women in parliament almost all of them belonging to the ruling party obscures the fact that (1) a lot of women (journalists, activists and politicians) are currently in jail for opposing Kagame's government, (2) that Rwanda's regime is run by a military elite that imposes an ethnocentric hegemony and that (3) such an analysis says little about rural women who widowed depend on small scale farming for sustenance. With their partners either dead or in jail, life remains almost unbearable.

I will keep updating the list as more article spring out. In the meantime, feel free to point me to other interesting write-ups.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Anglican Church Dangerously Dances to Kagame's Tunes in Rwanda.


An American blogger and a member of the Anglican church has been investigating the eerily links between the Anglican church and the Rwandan government. If you recall, the Catholic church in Rwanda singularly supported the previous regime even as it committed the genocide. The current ruling party emanated from the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a rebel group that is also responsible for mass killings. The Anglican church has replaced the Catholic church and its leaders appear to have very close links with the ruling party. For those who know Rwanda's history, this can't be good news. The report extensive report below explains why.
If you look around the blogosphere for Anglican news you will generally find surface level press-release journalism, particularly when it comes to CANA, the REC, and PEAR USA. No one that I am aware of is offering scrutiny or asking hard questions. If you want an interview, you better be on the good side of bishop so and so. And when it comes to Rwanda, the many experts on the country pay very little attention to the Anglican Church there, despite it’s role as a propaganda arm of the State. This puts me in a unique position at the confluence of Rwanda and PEAR, a spot that no one else is paying attention to (as they ought to be). With that in mind, I want to summarize how PEAR USA is structured for those who know about Rwanda but have little knowledge about the Church.

Brief History

Before PEAR USA there was the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA), which was also part of the Rwandan Anglican Church from 2000 to 2011. The head of the AMiA, Chuck Murphy, defied the Rwandan House of Bishops when they attempted to exercise authority over him. His defiance led to the collapse of the AMiA, with churches either staying in a now puny AMiA, fleeing directly into the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) or remaining under Rwandan oversight as PEAR USA. The glorification of the Rwandan Church was the reason that many of us in PEAR USA remained with Rwanda, setting a premium on the relationship with them, which allowed Americans to maintain theological distinctives1 and do as they please with minimal oversight from the Rwandans.

Part of Two Churches

The bishops of PEAR USA are part of both the Rwandan House of Bishops and the ACNA College of Bishops. How does this work? Who really knows? American clergy in PEAR USA are canonically resident in Rwanda, which place an onus of responsibility on them.
Figure 1

The American Bishops

There are five American bishops as of this writing, including:
Bishop Steven A. Breedlove, Presider of PEARUSA, and Bishop Ordinary of the Atlantic Coast Network
Breedlove and Gasatura
Figure 2. Breedlove and Gasatura
When I asked Breedlove if the Rwandans showed any degree of self critique or criticism for their government, he could not come up with an example or answer of self criticism. He later worked with my parish priest to censor a post I wrote which affirmed the UN reports of John Rucyahana’s fundraising for M23.
Bishop  Ken A. Ross, Bishop Ordinary of the West Network
Fig 3. Bishops Rwaje, Ross and Rucyahana
Fig 3. Bishops Rwaje, Ross and Rucyahana
Bishop Thad Barnum, Assisting Bishop of the Atlantic Coast Network-Northeast Region
Figure 4. Bishops Rucyahana and Barnum
Figure 4. Bishops Rucyahana and Barnum
Bishop  Quigg Lawrence, Assisting Bishop of the Atlantic Coast Network-Mt. Virginia Region
Lawrence is good friends with Kagame sycophant John Rucyahana, and even had him attend his consecration to bishop after Rucyahana had been accused of M23 support.
Figure 5. Bishop Lawrence and Rucyahana
Figure 5. Bishop Lawrence and Rucyahana
Bishop David Bryan, Bishop Ordinary of the Southeast Network
Figure 6. Bishop David Bryan
Figure 6. Bishop David Bryan

Americans Working in Rwanda

There are a couple notable Americans from PEAR USA working back in Rwanda, one is Brandon Walsh and the other is Jay Greener. Bishops Rwaje and Mbanda serve as the public face of PEAR to the West since Kolini and Rucyahana retired and started their work supporting M23. It is logical therefore that they have westerners working directly for them to cultivate relationships with PEAR USA congregations.
Figure 6. Americans in Rwanda
Figure 7. Americans in Rwanda
Greener formerly served as Communications Officer for the Anglican Mission in America and as such has experience with public relations.
Figure 8. Bishop Mbanda (second from left) with Jay Greener (right)
Figure 8. Bishop Mbanda (second from left) with Jay Greener (right)

Meet the Bishops

The Rwandan bishops include:
Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje, Bishop of Gasabo.
Figure 9. Archbishop Rwaje with Rwandan Dictator Paul Kagame
Figure 9. Archbishop Rwaje with Rwandan Dictator Paul Kagame
Archbishop Rwaje was the co-author of a letter to the United Nations protesting a report that the UN issued on Rwanda’s involvement with M23. This letter attacked both the UN Mapping Report and the Group of Expert’s report and said, “Overall, we think that blaming Rwanda for the DRC crisis is a result of manipulation which leaves behind the real issue of governance and the responsibility of the Congolese government to solve this conflict.”
Bishop Alexis Bilindabagabo, Bishop of Gahini
Figure 10. Bishop Alexis with the Rwandan First Couple
Figure 10. Bishop Alexis with the Rwandan First Couple
Bishop Alexis heads the Barakabaho Foundation, an NGO.
Bishop Nathan Amooti, Cyanguggu Diocese
Quigg Lawrence’s church in Virginia has a church building partnership with Bishop Amooti; this church in Georgia did too. Amooti was formerly an assistant to retired Archbishop Kolini. Like many bishops, Amooti is from outside Rwanda, as he was born in Uganda.
Figure 11. Bishop Amooti
Bishop Jered Kalimba, Shyogwe Diocese
Figure 11. Bishop Kalimba
Figure 12. Bishop Kalimba

Bishop Augustin Mvunabandi, Kigeme Dicoese
During the 1990′s, it appears that Bishop Mvunabandi actually participated in scrutinizing his government, as this government attack blog lists him as part of an NGO in Rwanda: “A Kenyan section was represented by an Anglican Bishop, Augustin NSHAMIHIGO who lived in Nairobi, and Tanzanian section was represented by another Anglican Bishop Augustin MVUNABANDI, and who was in the refugee camp in Ngara, Tanzania.”
The bishop is a representative of Rwanda Bible Society. This link notes his preaching at a Business Funding Project in his diocese.
Figure x. Bishop Mvunabandi
Figure 13. Bishop Mvunabandi
Bishop Emmanuel Ntazinda, Kibungo Diocese
Bishop Ntazinda has been developing relationships with Ireland. He praises the Kagame government, particularly NURC,  in this interview.
Figure x. Bishop Ntazinda
Figure 14. Bishop Ntazinda
Bishop Augustin Ahimana, Kivu Diocese
Bishop Ahimana has been a vocal defender of the Kagame regime in the Western publication Christianity Today. One biography of him says that he is “part of Pastor Rick Warren’s PEACE initiatives, a member of the World Vision Organization, and a contributor to Christianity Today Magazine. Ahimana has an MA in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Seminary, a BA in Business Administration, and a diploma in Law.”
Ahimana attributes the actions of Christians during the genocide to superficial faith, despite the massive influence of the East African Revival:
We were nominal Christians without a life changed by the Gospel. It was so-called Christians who rose up and killed other Christians. It was church leaders betraying church members. People were butchered in sanctuaries. How can you explain this in a country that was said to be 90 to 94 percent Christian? Only because of a superficial faith. There was none of God’s love in people’s hearts, no faith in their hearts.”
Figure x. Bishop Ahimana
Figure 15. Bishop Ahimana
Bishop Nathan Gasatura, Butare Diocese
Figure 16. Bishop Gasatura at a prayer breakfast in Rwanda.
Figure 16. Bishop Gasatura at a prayer breakfast in Rwanda.
Gasatura is another face of Rwanda to the West. He was born in Uganda. Bishop Gasatura heads the Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD)  one of the many NGOs that seem to work hand in glove with the Rwandan government. As the RISD website says: “Rwanda Government Ministries” are a “partner” for RISD, in particular, the Ministry of Justice (MINIJUST).”
But perhaps more troubling is an event in 2010, when Bishop Gasatura hosted an event for the Global Peace and Unity Foundation presenting President Kagame The Service to Humanity Award.
Bishop Laurent Mbanda, Shyira Diocese
Figure x. Bishop Mbanda (rear) at the recent appalling prayer breakfast
Figure 17. Bishop Mbanda (rear) at the recent appalling prayer breakfast
Bishop Mbanda was born in Rwanda but grew up in Burundi and spent many years in the United States. Mbanda recently attended the prayer breakfast at which Kagame boasted about his killing of Patrick Karegeya and made promises to hunt down and kill other critics of the government.
Mbanda praised the Rwandan government, saying, “The country enjoys peace, security throughout and visionary leadership. It is a story of success and model of good governance in the region. Reconciliation is taking hold, the country and people are turning to the Lord.”
In the 90′s, Mbanda wrote:
Hopefully, the new Kigali government will keep its hands clean in the matters of the Church, just as they have so far. My prayer is that the Church can divorce itself from the kind of church-state relationships that seek favours from politicians in exchange for the Church’s prophetic voice.
This has of course not happened, and Mbanda is silent in public about the role of Kagame and the RPF in Rwanda. He claims that the country has healed and is on the rise in this interview.
Bishop Louis Muvunyi, Kigali Diocese
muvunyi 2
Figure 18. Bishop Muvunyi
Muvunyi was principal of Kigali Anglican Theological College prior to his elevation.
Bishop Emmanuel Ngendahayo, Byumba Diocese
Figure x. Bishop Ngendahayo
Figure 19. Bishop Ngendahayo
Bishop Ngendahayo replaced Archbishop Rwaje upon his elevation. RPF Government representative James Musoni spoke at his consecration, saying, “A good Christian leader is one who preaches the word of God while at the same time strives to promote unity of Rwandans, in addition to working closely with government to spearhead development.”

One Important Non-Bishop

One key Anglican figure who is not a bishop is Anglican Pastor and Vice President of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) Antoine Rutayisire.
Figure x. Rutayisire and Kagame
Figure 20. Rutayisire and Kagame


According to the most recent PEAR USA budget, $77,460 was given to the Rwandan Anglican Church in 2014. I don’t think this counts other money that individual parishes might send directly to Rwanda, although I imagine that most money is consolidated via the top level PEAR USA budget.
Figure 20. 2014 PEAR USA Budget
Figure 21. 2014 PEAR USA Budget

What Rwandans Think About the Anglican Church of Rwanda

Getting Rwandans inside the country to speak openly about anything political is difficult to impossible. I have the testimony of three Rwandans, two who had been very high ranking and one former journalist, about the Church. Their opinions are anecdotal and may not represent what most Rwandans think, however, I think we can take them as a fair indicator of public opinion.
1. Theogene Rudasingwa. Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa served as the Secretary General of Rwanda’s ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), as Ambassador of Rwanda to the United States, and as President Paul Kagame’s Director of Cabinet (Chief of Staff).
I spoke to Dr. Rudasingwa about the Anglican Church in Rwanda and asked him how it relates to the oppressive Kagame regime. He told me that after 1994, the goal of the RPF was to make the international community feel guilty for what happened – the “you did nothing” narrative. He said that Kagame has co-opted evangelical churches, such as the Anglicans, as tools of his own corruption. He specifically mentioned Bishops Rucyahana and Kolini and how they talk to “unsuspecting Americans” with their narrative. He mentioned that Kolini was the head of the National Commission for the Fight Against HIV/AIDS and how Rucyahana is now the head of National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), government positions that not just anyone gets.
Rudasingwa told me that Bishop Kolini was “very pro Tutsi” and that we (meaning Kagame’s inner circle) considered him to be “one of us.” He says that the bishops could not operate without the RPFs’ permission and that the RPF likely decides on who is a bishop, where they serve, etc. I asked Rudasingwa how to explain that Archbishop Rwaje, a Hutu, is Archbishop. He said that Kagame allows these kinds of things as PR moves, more or less. He said that some of the bishops are good men who are afraid, but he went on to say that there is no excuse for silence or neutrality in the face of the evil occurring in Rwanda.
2. Gerald Gahima. Gerald Gahima was ”central to the rebuilding of Rwanda’s justice system in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, first as the chief of staff to the Rwandan Minister of Justice from 1996-1999, and subsequently as the country’s Attorney General from 1999-2003.”
He was asked about his opinion of the Anglican Church in Rwanda regarding reconciliation, and this is what he said:
OK I have very strong opinions about the Anglican Church in Rwanda. The Anglican Church  in Rwanda, one cannot even say it has been compromised by the State, it has basically made itself an arm of the State. It has…you remember what the, the role that the Catholic Church had during the Colonial period and the time of the monarchy? How the Catholic Church was very close to the State and how this continued even during the post independence period? The Anglican Church has basically taken the role of the Catholic Church as being the chief apologist of the RPF and that has taken away a lot of the credibility that the Church should have and because of this the …I don’t think the Anglican Church would be a viable, a useful contributor to the process of reconciliation in Rwanda because it has taken sides.
3. Godwin Agaba. Agaba is a journalist and was a resident of Rwanda until he was forced to flee in 2010. Agaba is Tutsi and an Anglican, he attended the Remera parish in Rwanda pastored by the Rev. Canon Peter Twahirwa. Agaba said:
Rwanda’s context: The Anglican Church of Rwanda operates within Rwanda’s boundaries. It is subject to the socio-political dispensations obtaining in Rwanda today. Its leaders are Rwandans – pooled from the citizenry who are fed daily on the dangers of dissent. Like other Rwandans, the civil society, the media, silence is a survival instinct. The social, political, economic, and even religious institutions of the society — outside of state control — have been deliberately weakened, subordinated, and some replaced by new regimented institutions used by the state or ruling party to control the society. The population itself has often been atomized. The result is predictable. Speaking out has a heavy price, and very few can pay such a price.
Bishops can’t operate without RPF permissions and indeed they are chosen by RPF strongmen, in other words these are politicians not men of God.
I think the Rwandan political culture has been corrupting church leaders. In order to be influential church leaders have to be insiders of the ruling party! The Anglican church of Rwanda can’t address injustice and human rights violations committed by the RPF because they are insiders! It’s not easy to challenge injustice when one is not independent.
The same situation happened to the Catholic Church during Habyarimana’s regime, as a result the RPA killed the Catholic Bishops and Priests in Gakurazo and Kabwayi! The Catholic Church in the DRC showed its independence when they spoke against Kabila’s controversial election!
The churches are not as powerful as they used to be in Rwanda. The RPF chooses bishops to have some influence similar to how other religions choose a Mufti. Also note that the Catholic Church deliberately chose Bishop Smaragde Mbonyintege as their spokesman because they think he can talk to the RPF. It is a calculation that happens in almost all African countries.


Americans who are involved with PEAR USA and ACNA have very little idea of what they are signing up for when they affirm a relationship with the Rwandan Anglican Church – I certainly didn’t. They should educate themselves before the relationship openly blows up in their face.