This little country has done it again. It does not cease to confound its critics and detractors. A motley collection of people on the periphery- ranging from creatures choking on hate to criminals, from the deranged, publicity seekers and liars to those who would jump on any bandwagon – thought they could bring the country down by the weight of the noise of their made-up stories.
Their unlikely champion? A man given to theatrics, who claims physical frailty and is certainly unstable. As you would expect, they failed woefully.
Last Thursday the High Court in Kigali freed Peter Erlinder, an American lawyer charged with denial of the 1994 genocide, on unconditional bail. He can even return to his country. The reason for the decision was compassion for a sick man. The substantive charges, however, remain.
The court’s decision was a victory for justice in Rwanda, although it diappointed many people, not least the screaming mob who thought they had the country by the throat. You see they had painted Rwanda as a country where no one expects justice.
They had expected, and I dare say, wished, that their man would be denied bail and so languish in detention a while longer. And this for a sick man! Their noise, already very loud, would turn into a deafening din accompanied by righteous chest-thumping and, “we told you. This country is repressive.”
Imagine therefore the disappointment when they found out that their man could have a fair and expeditious hearing. Think of their feelings when the wish was denied. I can hear a loud sigh of collective deflation when Judge Johnston Busingye’s decision reached all the Rwanda-bashing crowd..
Also imagine the disapproval of Rwandans who believe (rightly) that nobody should be allowed to make their painful history a platform for building careers and reputations.
The high court made the correct, if unpopular, decision. It showed that it could base its ruling on humanitarian compassion without compromising the course and cause of justice.. This can only happen in a few countries where the needless loss of many lives has taught the people that life is sacred (even that of individuals like Erlinder who trivialise the lives of Rwandans).
As I reflected on the ruling, I wondered: is it possible that the country that had been loudly condemned as being incapable of providing a fair hearing to an accused because its judiciary was in a shambles could do this? Yes, it had done it and proved that all the nasty things that had been said were clearly malicious.
It was not the first time either that Rwanda had confounded most people and made unpopular decisions. This is the country that had done the impossible – rejected the easy option of retribution for the more difficult path of forgiveness and reconciliation. The Erlinders and Blacks of this world must still be smarting from that earlier decision as well.
This country is very generous, even to those who wish it ill. Which other country would give the likes of Erlinder and Christopher Black and Victoire Ingabire the opportunity to come out of the darkness of professional and social obscurity into the light and gaze of the world, and earn some sort of fame? It does not matter that the fame was earned from walking on the graves of the dead. Notoriety is a sort of fame, isn;t it? And well deserved, too.
It seems the light was too strong for them (literally and metaphorically). They were dazzled by what they saw. Now they must scurry back, through the grimy crevices, to the dark and horrid holes from where they had crept.Their experience on the surface has not been a particularly happy one.
Still, there are other things for which Erlinder and his crowd should be grateful. This country has allowed these people angry about nothing to work themselves into a rage and then vent it against the very people who made this possible.
As Gerald Caplan puts it, they are stuck in a misplaced ideological quarrel and fulminate against an imaginary imperialist conspiracy and seek to fit the world into this mould. If we can help some of them purify their emotions and intellect, why, we will do it. It is the humanitarian thing to do. All these people on the fringe like Erlinder and Black have been given the opportunity to say whatever they want, hurl insults, invent stories, tell outright lies, shout and even act. It is good for their sanity, I suppose.
Again, there is nothing wrong with allowing ignorant people the appearance of being well-informed, which they crave without deserving. People are entitled to self-delusion if it is their wish. You cannot deny them that if you are charitable. But even charity has its limits.
Self-delusion should remain just that and not be allowed to spread to others who have a balanced view of the world.
Delusion of whatever sort, whether it is informed by hate or craving for recognition, cannot be permitted to distort or rewrite history. That remains the work of level-headed people. And there is no shortage of those.