The New Times (Kigali)

7 January 2011

Rwanda: Human Rights Myopia

Stephen Kinzer’s plea, “End human rights imperialism now”, (‘The Guardian’, 31.12.11) resonates with the thinking of many Rwandans. And it should because, like these Rwandans, Mr. Kinzer understands the working and intentions of their leadership. He has studied Rwanda’s journey from the hell of 1994 and before, to the normalcy of today. He has had the patience and care.

Patience and care that these rights advocacy 'bodies' lack. So, excepting the few Rwandans who gain from the misguided misadventures (yes, doubly lost!) of these 'bodies', many Rwandans bear but scorn for them and know that the appointment of a new board chairman cannot redeem any of them, whatever "broad perspective" he may be equipped with.

If there is a Mr. James Hope as a new board chair of Human Rights Watch, there is under him a Mr Kenneth Roth as an old misguided executive director with a posse of negative-minded underlings, like Ms Carina Tertsakian, to turn the group's advocacy work into stale stew. Like fellow activists in other groups, they do not possess the patience and care to understand their subject of interest.

For that and for their other hidden agendas, they cannot appreciate what Rwandans, in their particular circumstances, consider to be rights and how they want to enjoy them.

But, unlike them, we do not talk in a vacuum. We go to the harsh reality of life as it is lived in Rwanda.

Take Anastase Muhanuka, an 'anonymous' citizen in the remotest of remote Gatsibo District, Eastern Province.

(Apologies, Mr. Muhanuka, you are not 'anonymous'. I am quoting you as one representative of poor Rwandans.) Before 1994, he lived in a grass-thatched shack, walked bare-foot in his rags to fetch water six km away and access to education and healthcare were alien to his community. Chances of any newly-born living beyond five were all but nil.

Today, Mr Muhanuka is beginning to take his erstwhile-unknown rights for granted.

Mr. Muhanuka is now relatively well-to-do - in his circumstances. He lives in a house with a corrugated-iron roof and can afford clean shoes and clothes for the family. Second-hand, maybe, but clean. All Mr and Mrs Muhanuka three children go to school. Three children and one wife, mind you, because he is aware of the importance of family planning.

Muhanuka's family is insured with 'mutuelles de santé', a unique health insurance that practically all Rwandans adhere to, at less than $2 a year. They have a kitchen garden, a 'Girinka' cow, a health centre a short distance away (and can call an ambulance) as well as a school, piped water and a 'Murenge SACCO' credit and saving co-operative.

These and many other innovative government programmes have contributed in improving the living conditions of the family and giving the children the hope of breaking out of the cycle of ignorance and squalor.

Association with fellow Rwandans and interaction with leaders have 'broadened their perspective' and they are able to connect to the pulse of the country culturally, socially, economically, politically and otherwise.

In 'Umuganda', 'Ubudehe' and other community self-help activities, Mr and Mrs Muhanuka can offer their opinions and air their grievances. The same is replicated at all levels up to the national level in forums like the National Dialogue (Umushyikirano).

That space - cultural, social, economic, political, whatever they call it - can these rights activists beat it?

No, in the first place, they don't see it as it does not fall in the ambit of what they know. That space encompasses more rights than they can ever imagine but they see repression because the rights they know only amount one right - the right to agitate. Even then, they don't know that agitators must have a cause.

When you agitate in the name of MDR of late Kayibanda which was a variant of MRND of late Habyarimana and their surrogate offspring, FDLR, as the 'victimised' Ingabire Victoire is doing, what cause are you agitating for?

When you agitate because you fell foul of a strict-disciplinarian leadership that has no sacred cows, as the 'dummy-card' foursome (ibigarasha) of Kayumba, Karegeya, Gahima and Rudasingwa are doing, do you have a cause beyond self-absolution?

It can even be baser! When Brig Gen Rutatina recently observed in an open debate that a journalist was on the payroll of outsiders, which was true, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists screamed in a headline: "Kagame top security advisor threatens critical journalist!" Now, whose right of opinion was it?

Our rights barons may not see the nail-studded barriers that these agitators are attempting to place in the path of Rwandans but how can they? They have not been there, where Rwandans have been, and that's why they will forever be irrelevant to the life and future of this country.

Problem is, as Mr Kinzer observes, by using their international clout to whip up sympathy for these genocide-revisionists and empty-tin agitators-of-no-cause, the rights activists are lending them morale and winning them funds to subvert the leadership and disrupt the lives of Rwandans.

The agitators are thus able, even if feebly, to kill a perceived opponent here and there and blame it on government.

Even that, however, is an old lady's trickle. Nothing like the harsher tsunamis that Rwandans have weathered!

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