They never cease to paint the government of Rwanda in the devil’s colours. Sometimes there is a lull in the demonising campaign, but it soon resumes in the same fashion and using the same methods. They should, at least be more creative and invent new stories. But no, it is the same old stories retold without much variation.
I am talking about Human Rights Watch (HRW) and its reports on Rwanda. This time they have accused this country of clearing the streets of Kigali of what they call undesirable people to maintain its image of a clean city. Much worse, these ‘undesirable’ elements are kept in horrible detention centres.
I have resisted the urge to trumpet Rwanda’s achievements – and they are many and deserve notice. I don’t want to be taken simply as a praise singer. Now, don’t get me wrong. Praise singers form part of an honourable tradition. Haven’t they given us psalms in Holy Scriptures? It is just that the successes are there for anyone to see and need no pointing.
However, when an individual or organisation dismisses the achievements of honest, hard-working Rwandans as inconsequential or trashes them as part of a criminal conspiracy, my fighting instincts are aroused and I want to shout, “no, you don’t know what you are talking about”! You can’t tell lies about a people who have defied all the odds (and those who will put them down) and resurrected from the dead, and get away with it.
At such moments my rage is such that I could fight all the liars and inventors of tales. How dare anyone dismiss efforts to give every Rwandan a decent life as a criminal act? How dare they impute base motives on honest attempts to give everyone a chance in life? Then I remember I would be accused of violating their human rights. But I, too, have rights, but for some reason they don’t matter.
That’s the reaction the recent Human Rights Watch report on Rwanda aroused in me. I should be used by now because it has been happening for a long time. But can anyone get used to lies and fabrications and insults?
In the strange world of Human Rights Watch, it would be best to keep Rwandan children on the streets. It would be more charitable to keep them supplied with drugs so that they can rummage through garbage bins for food and imagine that they are enjoying a meal in a top class restaurant, or sleep on the pavements or in the gutter without a care, in the illusion of being somewhere in the clouds.
The greater the number of these children on the streets, the better, and we would probably earn a medal for that. I have a problem with this.
First, I find this a strange definition of human rights. I can’t understand how allowing a person to destroy himself, or denying him the opportunity to lead a better life can be seen as protecting his rights. Conversely, it is incredible that preventing individuals from self-destruction and offering them the chance to realise their human potential can be construed as violation of their rights. In my humble understanding, doing nothing about it would be worse violation.
Second, it is not in the Rwandan tradition to have homeless people or not to take care of those who need assistance. Everyone is the other’s keeper. Actually, there is no exact Kinyarwanda equivalent for vagrant. Inzererezi comes close, but it is also a fairly recent invention fashioned from the verb kuzerera, to wander aimlessly, and does not necessarily mean homeless.
Third, it simply isn’t true that “undesirable” people are carted off the streets to detention in order to maintain the image of Kigali as a clean city. First of all, this claim is loaded with condescension. It equates Rwandans with trash. It suggests City Council authorities are a bunch of bumbling idiots who know no better way of keeping their city tidy. Now, who is abusing whose rights?
The fact is, as has been explained numerous times, the so-called detention camps are rehabilitation centres where young people in danger of losing their way are redirected to a normal path and allowed to grow and develop as they should.
Some of you will remember how a few years ago, a foreign reporter was taken to Iwawa and shown how it was a training centre for equipping young people with skills to enable them earn a living, but he went ahead and called it a prison, an ‘Alcatraz’ in Rwanda. He and Human Rights Watch read from the same narrative, written outside Rwanda about Rwandans but not by Rwandans in total disregard of the actual story.
In any case, it is inconceivable that a government that has in less than ten years (2005/6 – 2013/14) lifted close to two million people out of poverty, raised school enrolment o over 90%, drastically reduced child and maternal mortality, increased life expectancy to an average of 65 years, up from 48 twenty five years ago would at the same time condemn part of its youthful population, its future, to life in prison. Yet HRW says so.
For long Human Rights Watch has set itself in opposition to Rwanda and has done so through misinformation, lies and fabrication. I wouldn’t be surprised if in their next report, when they see our lakes and rivers free of the brown soil washed down from the hills, they claim someone’s human rights have been violated.