Friday, August 6, 2010

Avoid Simplistic Rwanda Narrative


The Dutch government claims Rwanda's elections are sufficiently "free and fair" and has therefore accepted to co-chair the Rwandan National Electoral Commission. So does Gaston Ain of the National Democratic Institute. It apparently all depends on what "Rwanda Narrative" you adhere to and how you assess the "Rwandan context". Norah Mallaney wrote a summary of a meeting on Rwanda's election organised by the National Democratic Institute June 14th, in which she explains why. Several American policymakers/lobbyist/experts voiced their opinions concerning Rwanda's civil society at this meeting. Norah summarizes the consensus at this meeting as follows:
"Kagame wants Rwanda to create its own identity and path to democracy, simultaneously serving as a model for its neighbors."
"Rwanda’s civil society is also an exception to more classic concepts of “civil society.” It does not fit a freely vocal, oppositional model nor does it fit with spaces for public interaction in government policy decisions"
"Through a decontextualized lens, the events (killing journalists, silincing political opponents) can be strung together in a narrative of “authoritarianism,” much like what we see in other one-party states such as Vietnam, Cambodia or China.But the reality is much more complex and fits less well with this somewhat simplistic narrative."
Nancy Welsh (National Endowment for Democracy) said:
“the very existence [of civil society in Rwanda] is a question.”
Gaston Ain (who works for NDI’s political party strengthening program in Rwanda since 2008): 
"repeated the refrain that international analysts and practitioners need to understand and respect the Rwandan context if they want to have any impact in nurturing the country’s nascent civil society."
However, precisely this "Rwandan context"  is increasinglly the center of heated political debate on- and offline. Paul Kagame encountered fierce hostility in Spain precisely because of this controversy. US lobbyists at the Atlantic council, instead of engaging Paul Kagame's critics in a fair debate, have tried to brand his political opponents  and those who claim that Paul Kagame's Maoïst revolutionarires are guilty of massive crimes against humanity and acts of genocide both in Rwanda and Congo, as "genocide deniers". It even seems the American and European friends of Kagame have tried to create a "fait accompli" by nominating Paul Kagame as co-chair of a UN group of "super heros" for the Millennium Development Goals.

Avoiding a simplistic narrative is exactedly what Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza has repeatedly asked for when she said:
“There was a genocide against the Tutsi, but there were also crimes against humanity, and Kagame doesn't like to talk about that.”
 If you want to have an idea of  what political debate in the Rwandan Context  looks like today, read this blogpost by Lydia, an American from Chicago and teaching in Rwanda:
"On my second day of teaching, my students asked me what I thought of Rwanda and after answering vaguely that I’ve enjoyed my time here thus far and that I am excited about the elections, I thought to ask them what they thought of their own country. Three students immediately raised their hands and began to profess their love for Kagame. One of them, a female student, became especially passionate when she discussed how people were previously defined and discriminated against by their height and the shape of their noses, but that these things were no longer important. She also talked about how women have been empowered since 1994 and that they now have more rights and opportunities to educate themselves and run their own businesses. I listened to the vocalized support of Kagame and commended the students for practicing their English, but my attention was not so much on the rehashed lists of Kagame’s achievements as much as the pervasive silence of the rest of the classroom. While the three students gushed their undying love for Kagame, I couldn’t tell whether the other students were silent because they were letting their peers express opinions with which they were in agreement, or whether they had reservations that they could not or would not vocalize."

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