How Rwanda protects its future

I read with consternation an article titled “How Rwanda threatens its future’ by David Kampf which was published in The New York Times on August 16, in which he urges the international community to put pressure on Rwanda due to what he calls interference in the Congo.
Lonzen Rugira
Lonzen Rugira

I read with consternation an article titled “How Rwanda threatens its future’ by David Kampf which was published in The New York Times on August 16, in which he urges the international community to put pressure on Rwanda due to what he calls interference in the Congo.

He argues that because of Rwanda’s “longstanding ethnic rivalry,” its interference in the Congo is motivated by a “desire to create a protective buffer along the border.” He also points to a second motivation of wanting to control that country’s minerals.

For the uninformed of the western world, these may appear to be plausible assertions, especially since the person making them spent at least two years in Rwanda, from 2006 to 2008. The logic underlying his assertions, however, is problematic.

His point of departure that ‘collective guilt over the 1994 genocide’ resulted in the international community treating Rwanda with kid gloves is at best insensitive, at worst offensive.

Rwanda is unequalled in the region, possibly in Africa, in its management and use of aid. It is not merely guilt; it is the value for money donors get for their buck. There are also questions about the integrity of the NYT and its attitude towards Rwanda and Rwandans.

It is highly unlikely that it would publish an article in which the author calls on the Jews and Israel to stop the guilt trip and ‘get over the Holocaust.’ It is as if to say “Rwandans are Africans, after all” and to imply that somehow genocide against Africans can be minimised.

The idea that Rwanda interferes with the Congo because of the supposed Hutu-Tutsi rivalry is silly and naïve, to say the least. That Rwanda would go all the way to Congo to “create a protective buffer” against “the Hutu” when millions of them live inside the country is illogical.

And even if what he had in mind were the FDLR, all Rwanda has to do is tighten up on its internal security. The idea that only a buffer can contain the FDLR is therefore nonsensical. In fact, if the buffer was against genocidaires, it would have to be legitimate and warranted.

There is also the implied argument, which promotes the idea that the rebels in the Congo are merely ordinary Hutus – presumably fighting for some legitimate cause.

I don’t really know if the Rwandan army is in the DRC. What I can say is that if its not, then it ought to be. That is because no responsible government would accept the presence of an armed force, with an expressed intent to eliminate part of its population and an experience of slaughter, right across its border.

If any idea was powerful in the past decade, it was the Bush doctrine – the legitimacy of preemptive self-defence when faced with an existential threat, such as Al-Qaida terrorism in the American context and FDLR terrorism in the Rwandan context.

Despite the credit, this idea was not invented by Bush; it was originated and perfected as a foreign policy tool by the Jewish state.

Another way to minimise the genocidal threat faced by Rwanda is to argue that Rwanda’s ‘interference’ with the Congo is motivated by the pursuit of minerals.

Try to understand. Poor governance fuels wars, which sustain themselves through resource competition. Militias take control of the trade in minerals to buy guns from arms dealers under the connivance of international capital.

This cycle can only be stopped by an effective state that is able to police its entire territory and win the trust of its citizenry. This is the only way Congo will control its vast mineral resources. Kampf is right on this point, however: Rwanda cannot be blamed for Congo’s problems, its ‘inept and corrupt governance.’

Kampf is also right that Rwanda has made tremendous progress since the genocide in 1994. But it is in elaborating this point that he speaks from both sides of his mouth.

He calls for international sanctions against the government while admitting that the brunt of the hardships would fall on the ordinary Rwandans, and that the tremendous socioeconomic gains – in health and livelihood – would likely be reversed.

Yet, he still prefers sanctions to induce behavioral change. With friends like these who needs enemies?

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the tradeoff. On one side is an existential threat and on the other is a threat of sanctions. No friend of Rwanda should wish for such a scenario.

And then the oft beaten drum: democracy. Kampf thinks that Rwanda’s progress is stunted by the supposed controls on civil liberties – human rights, freedom of expression and of the media, and political exclusion. So, is the country making tremendous progress or is it stunted?

He is also convinced that the country is ready to “explode” once Kagame leaves power. While he is entitled to his opinion, he should remember that there are millions of Rwandans in Rwanda whose interest in long-term peace and stability is enough to ensure that his fantasies will remain fantasies.

Clearly Rwanda is not a conventional multi-party democracy the likes of David Kampf are familiar with and would like to impose on everyone. But is its politics exclusionary?

For narrow-minded analysts unable to see beyond what is familiar, that certainly is how things look. However, as Frederick Golooba-Mutebi argued in The East African recently, post-genocide Rwanda has chosen the politics of accommodation over contestation.

Rwandans learned from the multiparty politics of the 1990s that competitive winner-take-all politics was bad for cohesion and harmony, and deciding on a consensus-based approach that favours power sharing.

As he demonstrated, politics in Rwanda would be exclusionary under a winner-take-all political system the likes of David Kampf want to impose on it, but which Rwanda’s leadership rejects.

Will the system change to suit the preferences of Western lesson givers of the David Kampf ilk? It is up to Rwandans, not patronising outsiders, to decide.

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