A book that helps explain what is happening in Rwanda and why
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In 2012, the World Values Survey asked the inhabitants of the land of a thousand hills a crucial question: “Do you think that if they had the opportunity, some Rwandans would try to commit a new genocide?” The reply disappointed the Office of the President, because 40 percent of those questioned in the reconciliation barometer answered “yes”.
Those between the ages of 18 and 34 were the ones who thought so the most (43 per cent). After that, the older a respondent was, the less they shared that view. About 29 per cent of those over 65 also thought so.
The survey took place after the final closing of the Gacaca tribunals, a massive therapy launched at the end of 2002 to settle accounts after the Genocide. Turning this page is the Rwanda’s president perpetual combat, which Jean-Paul Kimonyo vividly describes from the point of view of someone within the government.
A historian by training, he wrote a work of reference, Rwanda, un génocide populaire (Editions Karthala) in 2008. Based on the archives of two communes, Kimonyo presents the reasons and the conditions for the extermination in Butare and Kibuye prefectures (regions where many Tutsis lived).
This book is an expansion of a doctoral dissertation that he wrote in 2003 at the University of Quebec in Montreal, Canada.
Now adviser to President Paul Kagame, Kimonyo is clearly a stakeholder in the effort promoted by the President to eradicate the ideology of genocide and completely transform a miserable, rural country into a modern and relatively prosperous state. As adviser, the historian has retained a certain distance and precision.
In the first part, Kimonyo sheds light on the background of the 1994 catastrophe, by providing little-known information on the emergence of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).
A second part, entitled “In the aftermath of catastrophe”, lays to rest much conventional wisdom. The author recalls and provides proof of the international community’s incomprehension in dealing with the urgencies of reconstruction.
That also stands for the errors of the first years of the new regime. A fluent English speaker, Kimonyo passes along to a French-speaking public the abundant production of Anglo-Saxon authors on contemporary Rwanda.
His contextualisation of the “Gersony Report” (an extrapolation of the RPF war crimes in 1994) puts an end to a debate that feed much discussion (pages 152 to 157).
Kimonyo also recalls how ex-FAR soldiers and the Interahamwe militia in Zaire (now DR Congo) deeply destabilised the Rwandan government with their attacks in the north of the country.
They caused a quasi-insurrection in the region between 1995 and 1996, which led the new government to decide to attack the refugee camps in order to force their return.
In the West, the diabolisation of Paul Kagame, accused of being the deus ex machina of a conspiracy seeking to acquire absolute power, has hidden the reality of a reconstruction that got off to an erratic start.
Based on abundant documentation, Jean-Paul Kimonyo describes the contradictions of the first years of the new government, including the return of the great evils of underdevelopment, namely nepotism, favoritism, corruption, incompetence and weak government services.
In 1998, public opinion began to turn against the authorities and dissention between the political elite led to the prohibition of the MDR. Under the Arusha Accords, Faustin Twagiramungu’s party was the privileged representative of “the democratic opposition” but was unable to settle its internal conflicts between its hardliners and the pragmatists.
The end of the second and third parts of Kimonyo’s book, unfortunately the shortest, are fascinating. They describe “Kagame’s approach” aimed at “bringing about the new Rwanda”.
The author refers to discussions organised at the highest level, notably one called “Kicukiro II” in December 1998. The participants did not try to avoid vexing questions.
“During the review of justice, the question of false accusations of participation in the genocide and abusive incarceration in order to confiscate property from the accused led to heated discussion and changed the course of the debate. Talks began to focus on questions of injustice, abuse of confidence and corruption. Long discussions took place about the question of the Akazu.” Paul Kagame then speaks out… and accepts his accusers’ arguments against some dignitaries of the government (pages 203–204).
This led to a purge that spared neither ministers nor military leaders. Progress in governance moved Rwanda from being one of the most corrupt African countries to one of the four most ethical.
Kimonyo shows that the decision-making process is based on detailed and frequent opinion polls and instances of governance that are little known but very effective, such as the auditor general who oversees the public treasury, or the reform of the banking sector.
On the long road of socio-economic transformation, we discover a Paul Kagame who is sometimes lyrical. Accused of devoting too many resources to beautifying Kigali, the president explains that making cities attractive is a factor of economic advancement.
Socio-economic progress is spectacular. In 2000, 40 per cent of Rwandans lived in extreme poverty, a rate that dramatically dropped to 16 per cent in 2014. During that same period, life expectancy rose from 48 to 64 years.
“Between 1990, the year the United Nations Human Development Index was created and 2014, Rwanda was the country that made the most progress. Between 2001 and 2014, the GDP grew at a rate of 8 per cent, one of the highest in the world.”
The question of the extermination of Tutsis still haunts Rwandan history. In his previous work, Kimonyo described the ravages of the “mass genocide” in which people killed their own neighbours.
In a 2007 World Values Survey, to the question “Can most people be trusted,” it was not surprising that Rwandans expressed one of the lowest levels of social confidence in the world: only 5 per cent answered affirmatively.
New measures were taken to build confidence and eradicate the ideology of genocide. Abuses were committed that had to be corrected.
Kimonyo shows that the exercise of power, especially in Rwanda, is not a smooth path paved with rose petals.
Hesitation, one step forward, setbacks, the settling of accounts, the pursuit of a distant and intangible goal... Rwanda demain! leads to an understanding of power in Rwanda. The decision-making process is checked against opinion surveys.
In 2012, Rwandans’ confidence in “most people” reappeared: 17 per cent of favourable responses, one of the highest rates in sub-Saharan Africa.
Considered to be extremely intransigent on the issue of genocide, Paul Kagame turns out to be pragmatic.
“The issue of the genocide is complex. We have to understand it by taking into account the country’s future, by avoiding becoming hostages of our emotions, feelings and rigidity, by keeping a sense of sacrifice.”
Discussions are often lively in the government.
The portrait, often implicit, of President Kagame, is one of Kimonyo’s book’s revelations. President Kagame is a man passionate about his country and who is determined to restore its pride.
The author describes a gathering with a group of youth in 2014.
“In the desire to reach young people, President Kagame began to theorise and popularise the notion of Agaciro (dignity). ‘Agaciro is about creating a sense of self-worth. And self-worth is only achieved if all of us together value one another.
“This is about Agaciro, self-worth. And for us Rwandans we understand that, from our history, from our tragedy of 20 years ago, and the history of that. We are able to understand the full meaning of self-worth; because, for so long, we never had that. Deprived of a sense of self-worth, taught us and gave us the full meaning of it. That’s why whatever we do; we have at the back of our mind this sense of self-worth: its dignity, its agaciro.’”
In the non-African French-speaking world, Rwanda and its president are the subject of much speculation and, recently, an excess of “Kagame bashing”. Kimonyo’s work brings us back to reality, that of a country and a people that merit understanding and consideration.
The reality of a great pan-African leader little affected by neocolonial criticism, along the lines of Patrice Lumumba, Kwamé Nkrumah, Thomas Sankara and several others. To take on the weighty challenges of the modernization of Africa, is like lying on a board studded with nails, floating on a pond of crocodile tears.