BAD INFLUENCE: THE DANGERS OF U.S. FOREIGN POLICY IN RWANDA
A RESPONSE TO AMBASSADOR ERICA BARKS-RUGGLES
Ambassador Erica Barks-Ruggles
The United States Embassy in Rwanda
2657 Avenue de la Gendarmerie (Kacyiru)
P.O. Box 28
I read your letter to the Rwandan people in the RPF-owned and Rwandan intelligence-controlled newspaper, The New Times of 4th February, 2015. For such a beginning in distant place plagued with demons of death and destruction in its past and present, you must be feeling both excited and challenged. In responding to your hopeful letter, I only wish the Rwandan people to whom you address the letter shared in your very optimistic estimates, notwithstanding their smiles and wishes. Nothing that I say in my response to your letter should be misunderstood to mean that I do not wish you a fruitful tour of the land of thousand hills. Like many in your country and mine, I do wish you a fruitful and memorable endeavor during your three year tour of Rwanda
From the start let me say that I am not surprised that you should have chosen The New Times as the vehicle for you message. It is the most favored vehicle for the Kigali regime, and you must have endeared yourself to President Kagame and his small band of supporters who maintain the regime. They have used this platform to lie about, insult, and intimidate opponents, be they Rwandans or non-Rwandans. Consider yourself very privileged that you enjoy a right that many in Rwanda would consider far beyond their reach.
I am not surprised by the content of your letter either. You confirm and reiterate the pro-Kagame policies of the U.S. Government for the last twenty years. It is not my duty to question the rationale of the United States Government to spend over 1 billion U.S. dollars over the last ten years, and 180 million U.S. dollars this year alone, in its tax payers’ money in covert or overt aid to a brutal and dictatorial regime.
However, as a Rwandan citizen, I would like to disagree with you respectfully, publicly and strongly on three points; namely, 1) strengthening democratic institutions and good governance, 2) a commitment to acknowledge ALL lives tragically lost, and urging ALL to tolerance and respect, and 3) improving regional security.
First, there are no democratic institutions in Rwanda, and the country is in a deep and worsening governance crisis. If Rwandans were free to tell you the truth, they would tell you their predicament. They would tell you that President Kagame runs Rwanda as an absolute and cruel ruler, tolerating no dissent from any quarter. That is why many of real or perceived opponents-political or military-are in jail on trumped charges. Institutions, while maintaining a façade of democracy, only function only when they abide by President Kagame’s will. Political space is closed to non-RPF Rwandans. There is no freedom of speech or assembly. The problem of refugees remains unresolved as Rwandans continue to languish in refugee camps, jungles, and exile across Africa and the world. The U.S. Government, in its 2013 Rwanda Human Rights Report, made its evaluation public:
“The most important human rights problems in the country remained the government’s targeting of political opponents and human rights advocates for harassment, arrest, and abuse; disregard for the rule of law among security forces and the judiciary; restrictions on civil liberties; and support of a rebel group in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Other major human rights problems included arbitrary or unlawful killings both inside and outside of the country, disappearances, torture, harsh conditions in prisons and detention centers, arbitrary arrest, prolonged pretrial detention, and government infringement on citizens’ privacy rights. The government restricted freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association.”
In 2011, Ambassador Susan Rice, whom you know very well, then U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, on a visit to Rwanda had this to describe the state of affairs in Rwanda:
“I believe as well that friends should speak frankly to friends. Rwanda’s economic vitality has moved the country forward. Social progress has been substantial. Yet, the political culture in Rwanda remains comparatively closed. Press restrictions persist. Civil society activists, journalists, and political opponents of the government often fear organizing peacefully and speaking out. Some have been harassed. Some have been intimidated by late-night callers. Some have simply disappeared.”
While the U.S. Government knows the truth, its political, financial and diplomatic capital has not been to invest in stopping and reversing this abominable state of affairs.
Second, the U.S.Government has, since 1994, acknowledged genocide against Tutsi and helped the Government of Rwanda nationally and internationally to bring the perpetrators to account, but totally failed to acknowledge the crimes against humanity, war crimes, and possibly acts of genocide against Hutu committed by President Kagame and those under his command. By failing to acknowledge these crimes, and actively shielding President Kagame and some in his regime from accountability, the U.S Government has immensely contributed to the deepening inter- and intra-ethnic polarization that sooner than later will lead to another catastrophic implosion.
Third, rather than help to improve the regional security situation, the U.S. Government has committed sins of commission and omission which have fueled President Kagame’s continuing aggression in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The privileged relationship between President Kagame’s regime and the U.S. Government has put priority on war-making rather than promotion of peace, as evidenced lately by the stampede championed by the U.S. to find a quick military solution against FDLR and Hutu refugees in DRC.
I hope you genuinely addressed your letter to all Rwandans. If you did, you will have thought carefully and seriously about Rwanda’s problems, those inherited from past regimes, and new ones created or made worse by the regime that welcomed you in Kigali. It is in this context that I must say that the U.S Government policies and actions have been and remain a source of bad influence in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. This is dangerous.
As a diplomat, you are keenly aware that not all problems can be solved by more money, sheer brute force, or powerful allies. The most important contribution that you may offer to all Rwandans is not a simply an invitation to a conversation with you, important as it for your effectiveness and success, but a dialogue amongst Rwandans across the multiple divides hidden from your eyes.
You have come to Rwanda in times of silent peril. The choices before you are rather limited. Will you be a bridge to encourage all Rwandans to find peace and prosperity through a tough dialogue? Will you continue the well-trodden yet dangerous course of the status quo that once again leads to violent conflict, death and destruction, and thus become another American diplomat to announce bad news to the world?
You are a descendant of generations of bold and imaginative Americans who founded and united your nation, at perilous moments, steering it to great heights when they were barefoot and rode horses. They sacrificed much for freedom and unity, which one would hope President Obama and Secretary Kerry sent you to promote in Rwanda.
In the 21st Century Rwanda, there are Rwandans who equally seek freedom, peace, healing and shared prosperity for their country, even when, like your ancestors, they may have to offer nothing else except their blood, tears and toil to achieve that.
Therefore, boldly ask good questions and you may find answers. Seek the builders of a peaceful Rwanda and you will find them. Knock on unlikely doors, and who knows, that is where you might find enduring and faithful partners. Be not deceived by the looks and uniform answers. Perhaps you may find a trusted friend in Rwanda who will decipher for you this Kinyarwanda proverb: “Indyarya ihimwa nindyamirizi”
Murakaza neza, Madamu Ambasaderi.
Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa