Rwanda: A government with deep pockets and shallow morals

By: Jennifer Fierberg

The US State Department made a strong statement today in regards to the ongoing reports of the arrests and disappearances of dozens of Rwandans over the last two months. The statement by Marie Harf, Deputy Department Spokesperson, and Office of the Spokesperson US State Department stated in part:

“Rwandan authorities held individuals incommunicado for periods up to two months before presenting them to a court of law. We are encouraged that Rwandan authorities have recently taken steps to bring a number of these individuals before a court. Nonetheless, the United States remains concerned that additional individuals may still be held incommunicado and without due process of law. We are also concerned by credible reports that individual journalists were threatened, and that the Government of Rwanda ordered the suspension of a call-in radio program that provided citizens with a platform to discuss current events.” (Read the full statement here.)

This statement follows a reaction by the Ministry of Justice in Rwanda against Human Rights Watch in which the government owned newspaper reported that the Justice department is questioning if HRW is an independent organization or an “embedded undercover political actor.”  

Human Rights Watch African Director, Daniel Bekele,responded by stating in part, “Human Rights Watch has worked on Rwanda for more than 20 years, since before the 1994 genocide, documenting abuses against Rwandans and defending the human rights of all, regardless of their political or other affiliation. Human Rights Watch and its staff are independent of any government or any other group. The positions Human Rights Watch takes are guided solely by our intensive on-the-ground fact-finding, legal analysis, and careful organizational review process. Human Rights Watch uses the same rigorous methodology and objectivity in all the countries where we work, and Rwanda is no exception.  We strongly reject accusations of political bias and stand by our reporting on Rwanda.”

For many years, Rwanda has been under investigation by human rights groups and individuals for their practice of disappearances and unlawful detention along with many other human rights concerns. Amnesty International produced a 45-page report in 2012 titled ,“Rwanda: Shrouded in Secrecy, Illegal Detention and Torture by Military Intelligence”,  in which they call attention to these same issues. They state, in part:


 “Progress over the last decade by the government of Rwanda in improving conditions of detention in prisons falling under the authority of the Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) is being undermined by the parallel detention system run by the military. Scores of people are held in detention in military camps and the safeguards which protect detainees in police stations and other official places of detention are circumvented. Hidden from view, detainees have been unlawfully detained as well as reportedly tortured and otherwise ill-treated. “


Rene Mugenzi of the Global Campaign for Rwandans Human Rights based in London responded to questions by this writer as to why the US handles Rwanda with “kid gloves” despite 20 years of reports on human rights violations? They simply seem to make statements of dissatisfaction with human rights issues in Rwanda and do not take any formal action (i.e. cutting aid etc.). Mr. Mugenzi stated that, “It has been a dilemma for USA to criticize Rwanda because Rwanda has been useful for USA by sending troops in Darfur etc.  The USA doesn’t want more of its soldiers abroad in order to avoid another Somalia experience – if Rwanda can do it for them – better for them.” Mr. Mugenzi further stated, “ Rwanda has managed to get them to have a guilty conscience about not having stopped the genocide.”

Dr. Susan Thomson, Professor at Colgate University and scholar on Rwanda, responded to the same question by this writer in a similar fashion; “I am not an American foreign policy specialist, but my own two cents is that the US is concerned with national interests abroad. So intervening to save Rwandan lives in 1994 did not meet the stress test of American national security. Part of it is also timing. The murder of American marines in Somalia had happened about six months before and the US public and government was not keen on having American boots on the ground in another African country.  Clinton actually passed in response to Somalia and Rwanda Presidential Directive 25 on the threshold that events must pass to have American troops deployed. I don’t know if this directive is still shaping American foreign policy as the ICC and R2P could have supplanted Clinton’s directive.” Dr. Thomson further stated, “I think too the Rwanda is a government that speaks the language of technocratic governance and development language of the international aid community, making them a good partner because donors can see their money at work.  Lastly, I would say that Rwanda is a partner in the war on terror and in peacekeeping. I don’t think it’s any accident that Rwanda is a friend to the US because of the volume of peacekeepers it has deployed in conflicts across the continent. “   When this writer asked further why if since they are allies, why would the US make a statement of judgment about detentions in Rwanda instead of just ignoring it? Dr. Thomson responded by stating, “Probably because American aid is tied to human rights conditions. The US government, like any government is not consistent in its action. States might raise human rights concerns like today’s statement while AFRICOM is training the Rwandan military, for example.”

Further, Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa, Rwandan National Congress Coordinator stated the following as to why the US State Department would make such a strong statement concerning an ally in arms, “They are caught up in a dilemma. Kagame remains their ally, but he embarrasses them because his human rights abuses have become too public to ignore. So, once in a while they have to slap him on the wrist.”

The government of Rwanda pays high prices around the world to public relations firms to bolster their image in the international community.  In this document, freely found on the internet, it clearly states on page 22 that the monthly fee for this service is $50,000 per month with additional fees for travel. The entire document details how the Government of Rwanda wants the world to view them in the media and specifies which areas should be the focus of all media.

Further, the Government of Rwanda pays $5,000 a month to one person in Chicago, IL USA for consulting services described in this document.  It was a six-month contract that was renewed for another six months and remains an active consultation. They further paid $15,000 per month to Good Works Intl for lobbying US Congress on behalf of Rwanda.

In 2011 this writer composed an article regarding a multi-million dollar contract to train Rwandan soldiers. This speaks to the statement that was made earlier by Dr. Susan Thomson on how the US trains Rwandan troops.

Rwanda pays a great deal of money to outside consulting agencies in order to bolster their image to the world. Unfortunately, it appears these monies are not resulting in positive image building. Once again, Rwanda is a naked emperor and the world is seeing the government for whom they truly are. They are a government made of deep pockets and shallow morals. 

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