By: Jennifer Fierberg, MSW
In this age of technology, email, instant messaging, Facebook and Twitter, information is available in an instant. Twitter has become an open forum for politics in nearly every country and for every reason. During the last few years, the world has witnessed some politicians engaging journalists and constituents in cyber disagreements almost as if they think the world cannot see their conversations. For better or for worse Social Media is here to stay. Often times one a person will rant or comment without thought or concern for others. We are all guilty of this behavior; but when it comes to a politician one has to think before they speak as not to offend their constituents or drive supporters away.
Over the past weekend there was another interesting debate in London between a Rwandan Activist and a former Member of Parliament (MP). Rene C. Mugenzi, a Rwandan human right activist and astrophysics enthusiast has also developed as well as teaches various community support methods within voluntary and statutory sector. He has also won various community awards such as Community Champion, Foundation of Social Entrepreneurs RISE and SEM awards. He was nominated as Local community HERO within East London Borough of Tower Hamlets as result of his work with local community based organization. Rene has also been granted lifetime membership of Millennium Awards fellowship.
In addition, Mr. Mugenzi is the CEO (interim) of LCSI. He was previously senior consultant at Interconexis and community project coordinator in a voluntary organization in East London. He is experienced community support officer, community development practitioner and community project manager. His particular expertise is capacity building of community based service providers and in creating new and innovative services at grassroots level. Mr. Mugenzi is also credited with many publications in the area of community based organizing.
Eric Joyce is an independent Member of Parliament for Falkirk who resigned from the Labour party in March 2012 due to a physical altercation with other MP’s. His website states that he has maintained an interest in African affairs and oversees development as the Chairman for the Great Lakes Africa All Party Parliamentary Group. Eric Joyce, who once thought his loyalty to Tony Blair concerning the Iraq war would win him a ministerial job, has ended up chairing the Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes Region of Africa.
Early Sunday morning Mr. Mugenzi tweeted about the life sentence that has just been handed down to former President Mubarak of Egypt. He stated, “@paulkagame Mubarak get life of ordering shooting protesters – just wondering who ordered shootings of Kibeho and former presidents Rwanda & Burundi.” At that point Mr. Mugenzi tweeted again, tagging Eric Joyce, by saying, “@PaulKagame by effectively reflecting on what is currently happening in Egypt over this week end you might be positively inspired @ericjoyce.” MP Joyce then began to respond with by focusing on the progress within Rwanda since 1994. When one begins to defend Rwanda and the progress of the current regime they always begin with discussing the economic, structural and physical changes Rwanda has undergone. Yet, few mention that the positive changes are only in Kigali where the streets are pristine and the trees are washed with soap once a week. Mr. Mugenzi retorted by pointing out that Rwanda pays tens of thousands of dollars per year to improve the Republic of Rwanda’s public relations (http://www.fara.gov/docs/6055-Exhibit-AB-20110812-1.pdf#page=17) while making one of the most thought provoking statements that all who believe Rwanda’s positive press should also contemplate: “@ericjoyce If good work is being done why pay expensive PR agencies to boost his image, achievements should enough to raise his profile.” Mr. Mugenzi then stated “@ericjoyce If he does take the rights steps towards freedom, democracy now he will inevitably ended up like Mubarak, I don’t wish that on him.” MP Joyce went on to say that comparing Rwanda to Egypt and Libya is not accurate since he believes that “Rwanda is the best DFID partner-state of all.”
The Department for International Development UK (DFID) makes Rwanda its top priority in the UK. On their website DFID states that it enables poor people to have rights and to earn more from their land. They also report that they invigorate the private sector and increase trade. Further they report focusing on education, women’s health issues and giving people the tools to hold their government to account for the public services they receive. DFID states, “We will spend an average of £83 million per year in Rwanda until 2015.” ($129,283,329.00 USD appx). The DFID website provides graphs to show how the money is budgeted within Rwanda but does not provide a clear methodology of how these graphs are produced. The closest one comes to this is the following PDF: http://www.dfid.gov.uk/Documents/publications1/op/rwanda-2011.pdf . This amount does not take into account the amounts of aid other nations provide to Rwanda on an annual basis. Many countries will provide aid to Rwanda without demanding accountability for the use of that aid. This has been a major problem cited by political analysts due to the wealth the country’s leaders appear to accumulate. Rwanda’s most recent budget can be found here: http://www.minecofin.gov.rw/library/revised-budget/
Mr. Mugenzi pointed out to MP Joyce that the amount of aid being sent to Rwanda each year could be used to hold the Rwandan Government accountable to providing media freedoms and opening political space including the imprisonment of current political leaders. Mr. Mugenzi agreed that the DFID-UK money is doing some good but that it could also be used as leverage to take Rwanda to freedom. MP Joyce replied to Mr. Mugenzi’s suggestion with this tweet:”@ReneCMugenzi Harsh reality is that, otherwise, once people feel better about DFID cash disbursal, most forget that Africa isn’t a country.” Concerning the issues of human rights as stated by Mr. Mugenzi, MP Joyce stated: “@ReneCMugenzi No, I think it’s a play-off. Human rights will, I think, improve annually. You’ll feel different, I understand.” Again, Mr. Mugenzi replied back with what appears to be irritation that “In other words, suffering oppressed people, imprisoned politicians, should be patient until maybe next year or years after!!!” as well as “human right can’t wait, as its absence caused suffering, destroying futures and destroying peace.” MP Joyce replied, “@ReneCMugenzi I understand you’ll have a strong opinion (!) but I do go to Rwanda a lot; it isn’t perfect yet, of course, but it is impressive.”
The conversation between these two men ended here but this is a conversation that continues to be debated among many who participate in or follow politics in Rwanda. These issues are debated at local meetings in the US, UK, and as well as the many Facebook Forums that are dedicated to the development/lack of freedoms debate in Rwanda. The divide on opinions and disagreements is wide and passionate.
The debaters will continue to fight about economic progress versus lack of human rights in Rwanda. These two issues are intrinsically important to a developing country and are equally vital to continued and sustainable progress. Many African countries have faced the disappointment of have a ruling dictator that revolutionizes the country yet as soon as this dictator is removed from power these improvements soon fall apart. Dictatorial regimes never end well. This has been evidenced in Libya, Egypt, Liberia, etc. (http://www.zimeye.org/?p=54755).
Within all the discussions it is clear that the time for action is at hand. The amazing people of in Rwanda and those in exile have suffered enough. Peace talks with all parties must take place in order for there to be effective and lasting change in Rwanda. As long as opposition parties fight amongst themselves there can be no effective and lasting peace. When one takes their eye off the ball the other players then run with it.