An Open Note to President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron
By Theogene Rudasingwa
In 1994 both of you were still young in distinguished political journeys that eventually placed you at the pinnacles of power in the United States and the United Kingdom. You recall that 1994 was a watershed moment in Rwanda that gave birth to a national tragedy-that of genocide- of unimaginable magnitude.
It has been 20 years since then, and one would have hoped that the most important lessons of that period would have been learned, and that history would never have to be repeated. Unfortunately, history is repeating itself in Rwanda, and our nation is yet again on the brink of another national disaster. In the prelude to the 1994 genocide, all the signs for the impending gloom and doom were visible, and yet the world community, your countries inclusive, chose to ignore them. As mayhem descended on ordinary Rwandans, the world community, your countries included, chose to abandon Rwanda. It was the United States that initiated the shameful policy of abandonment which the rest of the international community had to follow, leading to the guilt-laden behavior of the international community in post-genocide Rwanda.
Post-genocide Rwanda under President Paul Kagame has betrayed the expectations of the majority of Rwandans, despite their hard work and resilience. Responding to the crushing needs of Rwandans, and of late, to geopolitical interests, the United States and the United Kingdom emerged as the chief benefactors and protectors of the Kagame regime. It is this unquestioning support to one of the most undemocratic and brutal regimes of this age that has fueled Kagame’s arrogant intransigence with impunity; politically motivated assassinations, disappearances and imprisonment of political opponents, journalists and human rights activists; total closure of political space; war-making and gross human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Since 1994, the United States and the United Kingdom have overtly and covertly sheltered President Kagame and officers under his command from accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, including those documented in the United Nations Mapping Report of 2010. As we speak, several dead bodies, presumably of Rwandans, have been discovered in a lake at the Rwanda-Burundi border. South African police has completed investigations in the assassination of Colonel Patrick Karegeya at the beginning of this year, and the perpetrators are now known. The court case in the attempted assassination of Lt. General Kayumba Nyamwasa was concluded in August, and four agents of the Rwandan regime found guilty and sentenced to long prison terms. Within Rwanda, Kagame’s ruling party, the Rwandese Patriotic Front, and its twin brother, Rwanda Defence Forces, both of which had always claimed to be the only defenders of Tutsi against recurrence of genocide are unraveling in ways never seen before, as top Tutsi military officers and civilian cadres are arrested or harassed on trumped-up charges. Yesterday it was the Hutu. Today it is the Tutsi. The circle of illegitimacy is now complete. President Kagame and a narrow band of sycophants must rely on brute force to survive.
Rwanda is on the brink of civil war. The world is once again silent. The policies and actions of the United States and the United Kingdom in Rwanda will, unless stopped and reversed, sooner than later prove to be the fuel that will ignite Rwanda into another war. And, with war, there is greater likelihood of humanitarian catastrophe, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
Historically, your two countries have had much to say about freedom, democracy, and war in their defense. From the Magna Carta, the American Revolution, the American Civil War, the Second World War, the Civil Rights Movement to modern times, your countries have made claims to champion universal values of peace, freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
Currently you are rightly outraged by the sight of American and British citizens being beheaded by extremists, and you are engaged in mobilizing the whole international community against them. Shouldn’t you be equally outraged by Rwandan dead bodies floating in lakes, and politically motivated assassinations that you lightly condemned? What moral values do you hope to derive from a close relationship with a rogue ally who publicly gloats in killing citizens? If there are legitimate U.S and British interests in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region, aren’t they much safer when you collaborate to foster freedom, democracy, and the rule of law?
In such times as these, when the countdown to violence and chaos in Rwanda is a question of “when” rather than “if”, you could possibly avert the flare up of civil war and its regional and international implications.
First, use coercive diplomacy. Talk to President Kagame candidly, and let him understand that his behavior has consequences and that you, and the rest of the international community, will hold him accountable for human rights abuses and the break out of war.
Second, stop military cooperation and security assistance with Rwanda. Though the Kagame regime tempts your defense and intelligence establishments with various services, peacekeeping being one of them, a semblance of military power is the only card that the regime can use against the population. The perception among Rwandese people, and many Africans, is that the Rwandan military is a tool of U.S and British military and intelligence for covert operations against Rwandans and Africans.
Third, unconditionally engage all Rwandans, first and foremost President Kagame, to pursue a path of dialogue rather than war. Your recent effort to pressurize Africans in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to push for the unconditional surrender of FDLR, under the threat of a military option to fight and defeat them is a recipe for failure and disaster. It may turn out to be the trigger that will trip Rwanda onto a point of no return as it accelerates to war.
I urge you to see the urgency of the Rwandan situation and strive to be on the right side of history this time. Will you continue on the pro-Kagame path that inevitably leads to war? Alternatively, will you help all Rwandans on a path of dialogue, peace, freedom, democracy, justice for all, genuine reconciliation, shared prosperity, and regional stability? It is time to choose. A stitch in time saves nine, the English proverb wisely counsels.
Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa