Rwanda has lately been a news desert. What I mean is that foreign reporters, commentators, activists, bloggers, the horde, seem to have lost interest in the country.
I must confess – and I think I talk for many – that I’ve come to believe that news on Rwanda is when someone is saying something negative!
What is worse is that, with time, even we in the country eventually believe these false reports. We are on the ground and know how inclusive and polyarchical (decision by majority) the government is and yet I’ve heard even our politicians try to justify the allegation of the government being authoritarian.
Anyway, I’ve been visiting foreigners’ haunts (coffee shops, hotel restaurants and open-air bars) to see if I could sound one out. So far, I’ve met quite a number and the conversation always seems to take the same pattern. There are many White Rwandans, of course, so I don’t necessarily go for colour and my opening is usually: “So, are you Rwandan or from out?”
I know there are many Rwandans who come visiting from the Diaspora but no one has challenged me on that so far. The last interlocutor I met was voluble and he told me he was European but was working here for an NGO. On how he found Rwanda, he enumerated all the positive things you find on the internet: orderliness, cleanliness, corruption-control, hospitality and all the developmental activities.
Then he considered me and, lowering his voice, leant to me and said gingerly: “But some people are oppressed, you know.” And I whispered back: “You mean us?” It was as if a heavy rock had been lifted from his head! He sighed with relief: “You know, I’d guessed! You are Hutu, short stature and all.”
And then he dived back into the internet: on how the Tutsis were dominating government and the forces, the Hutus had no voice, Hutu refugees in Ugandan camps face death everyday through a conspiracy between Kagame and Museveni, etc.
After he was done, I whispered back equally fiercely: “Sir, on that one you are wrong. Museveni wouldn’t listen to Kagame. And Hutus are a majority in government, the forces, senate, parliament, judiciary, local leadership and others. You’d do better doing some more research, you know. It might be hard, though, because most Rwandans are forgetting the ethnicity they’d been assigned!”
I winked and bade him bye. I sighed and thought back to a report I’d read early on filed by a Tristan McConnell to the ‘New Statesman’. It opens with “Paul Kagame’s oppressive regime has hurt the British government’s hopes of an international aid success story…”
Surely, to these people do we Rwandans exist? We voted for a man overwhelmingly so that he could “oppress” us! So, we are frustrating Great Britain!
The report recounts the story of a 43-year-old single mother who is excited because she has received a title deed. However, it is not thanks to the government’s new policies that have empowered women. According to MacConnell, it is thanks to “a British-funded programme”.
And, just consider the small matter of that age. You go to a lady in the village and ask her how old she is and she states categorically that she is 43. Yet even I, writing this, have to think hard to remember my age – which my elder brother guessed for me, in any case!
MacConnell’s next point of call is Efotec Secondary School, in Kigali. To seek the opinion of Rwandan students? No, sir. To listen to a “rendition of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’” taught by a “Conservative Party member” here for two weeks.
Two visits and, even then, no talking to a Rwandan. Yes, the internet: “Rwanda delivers results. Take its Revenue Authority: $44m of British aid over 12 years…..The department now brings in the same amount – $44m – each month, and helps to fund free basic education and an expanded network of hospitals and health clinics.”
Does that tell MacConnell something about helping Rwanda to finally wean herself off aid? No, “Carina Tertsakian, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch….told me that the media watchdog played a ‘negative role’….” That Tertsakian ‘expert’ is in some air-conditioned office in New York!
And it is back to the old harp (or rap?): “Human rights activists speak of a ‘climate of fear’.” In fact, MacConnell goes another up. With a straight face (I can imagine), he states that even “behind the fortress-like walls of ….the western embassies,” the diplomats talk in hushed tones.
I wonder if anybody is safe back in the West, so long is Paul Kagame’s iron fist!
The absurdities on Rwanda are simply amazing. Like this ‘Umuvugizi’ journalist who argued that there is no press freedom in Rwanda because President Kagame’s minders only allow few cameras in the interview room and he (the journalist) has not been able to take the president’s picture when he is annoyed.
“President Kagame is always annoyed when he is denouncing corruption,” fumes the journalist, “but I have not been allowed to take his picture in that state.” Remember that those press interviews are always broadcast live on TV and streamed on internet.
I wish he could seek my opinion. I’d suggest he requests for a punching duel with the president. Our journalist may lose a tooth, but he’ll have got a vicious face for his photo in the bargain!