Rwanda’s alleged ‘climate of fear’ is a hoax

Medics, we all agree, are the only authentically qualified persons to lecture others about how to live their lives; not that we like it, I don’t, hence avoid having to hear their opinion by trying to ‘live right’ and with God’s grace, I haven’t been to an infirmary in a long time.

But then there is Kenneth Roth, a member of an emerging species of phonies with a rare talent to annoy even the coolest of diplomats by painfully getting deep into one’s skin leaving it sore and acerbic like one who just ran through a garden of thorny shrubs.

Days before Rwanda went to polls, Roth, like a passenger on a wrong flight stumbled into a conversation where nationals and citizens of Rwanda were discussing aspects of the election under the hashtag #RwandaDecides.

Like a naughty kid at a thanksgiving dinner, Roth raised a tantrum and shouted some derisory barefaced lies. He was later joined by other members of his species of phonies who pushed the argument that ‘Rwandans live in a climate of fear and that they would re-elect Kagame out of duress’.

It is important that Roth ‘puts some respect’ to the otherwise adored name of Kenneth and stop dragging it further down the gutter with maladroitly attacks on a sovereign leader.

Roth and his gang against Rwandan democracy reminded me of an argument I had with President Jimmy Carter’s former speech writer, James Fallows, while on my post-graduate studies in Beijing.

We were discussing China’s heavy investment in building its own international media, CCTV which recently rebranded to CGTN (China Global Television Network). Mr. Fallows was a visiting scholar and the topic was on International Communication and Journalism.

I argued that to counter the decades’ long negative media framing and reporting on China by western based media, it was prudent for the Chinese government to invest in its own media and have a share of the international megaphone to be able to tell its side of the story.

Mr. Fallow’s argument was that, no one would believe stories told by Chinese on China hence CCTV/CGTN is a waste of money. Instead, they should allow in more foreign journalists from America and Europe who would in turn tell the story.

Most people that claim Rwandans live in climate of fear are actually out of the country, tweeting or typing with wet fingers from Europe’s frozen cities, talking from an outdated experience or misguided information.

It is incumbent upon us living in Rwanda, with a firsthand experience of life here, to counter the pejorative statements of the likes of Roth and his gang.

If Kagame was that dreaded by his own people, one would think the election, which was by secret ballot, was an opportunity for Rwandans to vote him out; instead, they re-elected him with a resounding victory.

In fact, for most Rwandans, their biggest fear is waking up one day without Kagame in charge of affairs of their country; it is a fear that Kagame himself knows about and has asked his party to address in the next seven years, to prepare Rwandans for life without him.

When in 2011, I moved from Uganda to settle here, those who knew me then, as a young man with firebrand journalism, organised prayer sessions to pray for me; convinced that by moving to Rwanda, I had signed my death warrant. Six years later, I am okay.

Journalism in Rwanda doesn’t allow one to falsely shout ‘fire, fire, fire’ in a calm market place; but it is one of the finest environments to practice development journalism where media is about informing, educating and offering positive criticism with alternative solutions to help shape public policy for the benefit of ordinary people. It’s journalism shaped by a national agenda.

In spite of claims that Rwanda is a country clouded in a climate of fear, the immigration authority is currently stuck with a 56-year old British national whose tourist visa expired but has since refused to leave the country. Mark, a former Marine soldier says he wants to live the rest of his life in Rwanda.

While his embassy knows about his case, no one is in a rush to help him pay the fines he owes the country’s fiscal authorities, to facilitate his liberation from a country where Roth says human rights are absent.

Indeed the immigration department receives hundreds of applications from Americans, Europeans and Asians who want to obtain Rwandan citizenship.

Think about it, does it make sense that one would leave the plentiful freedoms said to be elsewhere, to permanently live in a country where citizens are said to live in fear? No. Rwanda’s alleged climate of fear is a hoax ladies and gentlemen.

So what inspires Mr. Roth’s anger against Rwanda?

It must be anger at self; at a missed opportunity to have been part of the most authentic fight for human rights that Rwanda Patriotic Army under Kagame, led, to stop the Genocide against the Tutsi in July, 1994. 

It happened under Roth’s watch; just as he celebrated a year since being promoted to Executive Director of Human Rights Watch in 1993 after six years as its Deputy Executive Director.  Roth seems to have no genes of retirement. How ironic!