Rwanda is thousands of years old. Kings have ruled and left. Presidents have faked democracy and undemocratically left. Rwanda has remained. Rwanda will remain. Unlike us Rwandans, Rwanda is everlasting. Our ancestors lived in Rwanda and died. Like you and me, Kagame will die one day. Rwanda will never die. Rwanda will always be there for our descendants to call home. This is how important Rwanda is.
Unfortunately, today’s Rwanda seems to have been overshadowed by President Kagame. He has been made to believe that he is more unmovable than our lovely Rwanda. Kagame has been given so much power that nothing in his vicinity is nearly as powerful. Not even laws. In fact, he seems to believe that Rwanda would be non-existent without him. Astonishingly, a good number of Rwandans have been too terrorised and/or indoctrinated to question such a brainless propaganda. They find it safer and/or materially rewarding to toe the government line. Some are ready to play the devil’s advocate in defence of Kagame and his clique’s use of brute violence against their critics. The seemingly ill-informed fanatics exhibit extreme levels of confusion about Kagame’s identity. To them Kagame is synonymous with Rwanda. This kind of madness is rare!
To assert his unquestionable power, Kagame has always been able to create a slave-like but ever-changing clique to satisfy his ego. Through this clique, he has assumed the Almighty God’s responsibility to determine how long Rwandans can live and how much they can say or write to retain their right to life. They kill for fun and they are happy to show it. After the brutal assassination of Rwanda’s former spy chief Col. Patrick Karegeya in South Africa, where he had sought refuge, President Kagame and his ministers came out beating their chests, arrogantly warning anyone opposed to their government of similar consequences. On the 5th June 2014, while addressing Rwandans whose relatives, friends and neighbours had been disappearing without due process of law, President Kagame said, “Those who talk about disappearances… we will continue to arrest more suspects and if possible shoot in broad daylight those who intend to destabilise our country”. That is how destructive Kagame’s power has become!
The justification of these extrajudicial disappearances, incarcerations and killings is as ridiculous as Kagame’s decision to detach himself from reality. According to Kagame and his clique, having a differing opinion makes you an enemy of the state. Criticising Kagame is regarded as criticising Rwanda. To prove that you love Rwanda, you must praise Kagame even if your heart is unwilling. Those with submissive genes have flourished in this kind of environment. You simply need to part with your intellect to temporarily gain access to Kagame and his clique’s inner circle of trusted puppets. Pierre Damien Habumuremyi is a good example of the aforementioned temporality in Kagame’s Rwanda. The former Prime Minister served his master to the best of his subservient capacity. He was too complacent to question the extrajudicial disappearances and assassinations of Rwandans from his constituency. He went as far as echoing Kagame’s celebration of his unconstitutional assassinations. In January 2014, in reference to Karegeya’s death, Habumuremyi twitted “Betraying citizens and their country that made you a man shall always bear consequences to you”. Now that he has been “thrown up” by the unpredictable regime, he must be having loads of regrets. He had been duped into believing that he was eternally special.
Kagame as a brand is not entirely a product of himself. He has the following institutions and individuals to thank and recognise for his military and political career: The National Resistance Army (NRA), Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and President Yoweri Museveni who imposed him on Rwandans after the death of Major General Fred Gisa Rwigema. Unfortunately, Kagame seems to have forgotten his roots. For many years now, he has been preoccupied with promoting his image rather than building an institutionalised state. Most of those who played key roles in his rise to power have been either eliminated or sidelined. A systematic operation appears to be underway to weed out the remnants of the above-mentioned history. I find it strange that Kagame has been able to uninterruptedly position himself as a supernatural public figure.
I appreciate the heroic sacrifices made by some former members of the RPF/RPA establishment who resisted the temptation to promote their selfish interests in favour of creating a more inclusive and tolerant Rwanda. Col. Patrick Karegeya is an excellent example of those who have offered their lives in pursuit of a better Rwanda. Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa refused to part with his intellect while many of his colleagues reluctantly put on cold-hearted masks and persecuted innocent critics to impress their boss. Kagame, whose life he reportedly saved during the RPA liberation struggle has targeted him for assassination multiple times. In his court ruling, South African Magistrate Stanley Mkhari confirmed that the 2010 plot to assassinate the former Rwandan army chief was politically motivated.
Following Col. Karegeya’s murder and the third assassination attempt on Gen. Kayumba’s life, the relationship between Rwanda and South Africa has turned sour. Last year, President Kikwete of Tanzania advised his Congolese, Ugandan and Rwandan counterparts to negotiate with their armed rebels for the sake of regional peace. Whereas Kabila and Museveni understood that Kikwete’s advice was given in good faith, Kagame’s reaction was shocking. He and his government created a drama scene and labelled Kikwete “FDLR sympathiser”. Sustained undiplomatic and childish verbal attacks were publicly hurled at the friendly Tanzanian advisor! It is weird that President Kagame refuses to negotiate with Rwandan rebels but advises other heads of state to negotiate with their rebels. Before the defeat of the M23 rebels, Kagame had successfully convinced Kabila to negotiate with the Rwanda-backed rebel group. This shows that he perceives himself as a supernatural being who expects others to do as he says not as he does!
The Rwandan government’s patronising foreign policy has backfired. Our Congolese neighbours are clearly fed up with Kagame’s military aggression through proxy forces. Bujumbura and Kigali are not in good terms. Kampala seems to be playing cat and mouse games with Kigali. The former appears to be controlling the game, which Nairobi has joined for economic reasons. South Africa, Tanzania and DR Congo joined the UN peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to defeat Kagame’s proxy M23 rebel group. The UN force has now turned its focus on the disarmament of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). However, Kigali is suspicious that the countries that the Rwandan government has turned into enemies might be trying to create a tricky situation that would force Kigali to the negotiating table with FDLR.
President Kagame’s typical arrogant belief that he can always get away with anything seems to have been profoundly shaken by a combination of the increasingly intensified international coverage of his human rights atrocities, the resounding defeat of his proxy M23 rebel group and his “self-created” hostile neighbourhood. Additionally, Rwandans are tired of living under fear and suffocation. There is increased dissent within and outside Rwanda. More Rwandans are willing to risk their lives and speak aloud against the rampant state-sponsored extrajudicial assassinations, disappearances and arrests. Kagame and his clique are not comfortable with the fact that Rwandans are increasingly getting as hard to pocket as holding melting snow under scorching sunshine.
The pillars of the dictatorship seem to have loosened. The regime is nearly crumbling. The recent arrests of prominent and sensitively connected senior RDF and RPF members depict a serious crack in Kagame’s inner circle. One specific arrest that raised many Rwandans’ eyebrows was that of former presidential guard chief, Col. Tom Byabagamba, who was believed to be very loyal to president Kagame. Like many other military and civilian victims, Tom is accused of plotting to overthrow the government. This charge is most likely concocted. When pro-government musicians such as Kizito Mihigo are arrested and accused of planning to topple the government, you know paranoia is at its peak. Those who fall out with Kagame and his establishment are dubbed enemies of the state. Local courts of law are unwillingly ready to echo the nasty propaganda to avoid falling into the death trap. Kagame’s photography is intentionally made visible in nearly all public places including courtrooms where his perceived enemies will have to carry the double burden of listening to made-up charges and watching the photo of the key source of their pain.
What lesson can Rwandans learn from these developments? Well, it is obvious that no one is safe. In the blink of an eye, your status could change from oppressor to victim; from neutral to victim; or from an innocent critic to rebel. Some Rwandan intelligence operatives are ready to prove their loyalty to Kagame and his clique at all costs. They can do anything to win their superior’s trust, promotion and more money to spend. In fact, one of the most common tactics they use is to make up enemies and strive to present the innocent target as a serious threat to the government of Rwanda. You simply fall into the devil’s trap without knowing. Therefore, in such an unpredictable socio-political environment being cheerful or unconcerned about the state-orchestrated terror is not only naïve but also self-deceiving.
Four years ago, while in the United Kingdom for my first master’s degree something horrible happened to me. I narrowly escaped death after someone believed to be working for the government of Rwanda deliberately poisoned my drink. The heartless agent was able to gain easy access to my drink because I was unsuspecting. It never crossed my mind that my genuine and constructive political views would be seen as posing a security threat to the government of Rwanda. I behaved normally, completely unaware that I had been falsely associated with Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa and the Late Col. Patrick Karegeya. I went through untold trauma as I desperately fought for my life. Fortunately, I miraculously survived. This experience further opened my eyes and strengthened my drive to advocate for political change and social justice in Rwanda.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate the fact that Kagame and Rwanda are two very different entities. Whereas all Rwandans love Rwanda, no Rwandan in his or her right senses would claim to be loved by all Rwandans. Using the right definition would not only do justice to our beloved Rwanda but also relieve the president of a great deal of pressure to behave like Superman. As paranoia increasingly overpowers President Kagame, more innocent Rwandans from all walks of life will be exposed to all sorts of torture. In such an unpredictable environment, being indifferent is as wrong as siding with evil. It is irresponsible to hide your face and defencelessly wait for your turn to cry alone. Therefore, let us join hands in pursuit of a more conducive socio-political environment.
Authored by Eng Emmanuel Ngarambe