Dear Ignatius Kabagambe, this open letter regards your recent writings about me, in particular, your article in KT Press dated July 30, 2021. I begin by acknowledging your writing. After all, we are both in the business of analyzing the politics and economics of our country and none of us has a monopoly of knowledge about the two subjects. However, I strongly object to personal attacks and character assassination that prominently feature in your article.
Dear Colleague, we should aim to remain principled in our arguments about our country’s development process and leadership. Surely, as a seasoned journalist, you would agree that debating is, by no means, the same thing as engaging in full-blown hostile personal attacks. We are both aware that meaningful and impactful debate is about persuading the public with compelling and succinct logic backed with evidence, rather than simply attacking one’s adversary recklessly.
Let me illustrate why your writing about me falls in the category of attacking an opponent indiscriminately. First, look at the photo you used to term my work as “plastic politics unwanted and undesirable in Rwanda.” This is astounding – Rwanda is not yours to determine who can write about it.
For the record, the photograph you used to attack me was taken at Niagara Falls, Canada, on a boat cruise featuring the world-famous Maid of the Mist boat ride that passes underneath the waterfalls. When you visit me in Canada, I will happily take you through this jaw-dropping incredible experience.
Second, you described me as “David Himbara, the forgotten enemy.” I am not an enemy of anyone on planet earth, least of all in Rwanda, my homeland. The term ‘enemy’ refers to someone antagonistic to another, especially a person seeking to injure, overthrow, or confound an opponent. I am not a politician seeking political office either through the ballot box or via a coup d’etat aimed at the incumbent ruler and the man you speak for, General Paul Kagame. Rather, I am a Rwandan-Canadian human rights activist seeking to hold Kagame accountable for the atrocities he continues to unleash on the people of Rwanda, in and outside the country. Even Kagame’s British friends earlier this year reminded him that as a member of the Commonwealth, and future Chair-in-Office, he should model Rwanda to the Commonwealth values of democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights. They recommended that his government should “conduct transparent, credible and independent investigations into allegations of extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture, and bring perpetrators to justice.”
Third, you claim that I suffer from “High Office Attachment Syndrome” and that I find it difficult “to completely detach himself from the past, having briefly been one of President Kagame’s close assistants.” My work in Rwanda from 2000 to 2002 and from 2005 to January 2010 is in the public domain for anyone who wishes to review it. I consider this phase of my life most rewarding not because of the syndrome you attribute to me but because I had the opportunity to serve my country using the modest skills I have acquired over the years. For example, I helped establish the Strategy and Policy Unit (SPU) in Kagame’s office and headed it in its formative years. The African Development Bank (AfDB) that funded some of our work at SPU and evaluated the results concluded as follows:
“The preparation process of this project entailed regular interaction and close consultation with management and staff of the SPU, IPAR and PSCBS. Key findings include the need to keep project design simple, and focus on a few beneficiary institutions deemed to be critical for policy analysis/advocacy, and improving strategic leadership capability in Rwanda. The participatory approach during the design allowed inclusiveness of ideas…The team was able to provide a good logical framework which was easy to monitor during implementation stage leading to the achievement of tangible results for instance the creation and operationalization of a digital archive has enhanced the effectiveness of SPU.”
Kabagambe, as you might recall, I also helped set up Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and was its founding chairman. With RDB we sought to create a world-class business climate that would build on our country’s assets, expand the private sector, create jobs, and increase opportunities for all Rwandans. The RDB incorporated elements of eight government agencies: 1) Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency (RIEPA); 2) Rwanda Office of Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN); 3) Privatization Secretariat; 4) Rwanda Commercial Registration Services Agency; 5) Rwanda Information and Technology Authority (RITA); 6) Center for Support to Small and Medium Enterprises (CAPMER); and Human Resource and Institutional Capacity Development Agency (HIDA). The realignment of these agencies allowed the government to gain greater efficiency and productivity. RDB would drive legal and regulatory reforms to eliminate inefficiencies and streamline bureaucracy that might hinder private sector development.
Later I was charged with reforming RDB. The New Times then led by you, Kabagambe, described the RDB reforms assigned to my team and I as follows: “Himbara and his team were on Tuesday handed the task by Cabinet, to work alongside RDB senior management over the next two months to adopt and implement new measures to further improve the institution.”
Colleague, my proudest moment was in 2009 when Rwanda spectacularly climbed from the 143rd position to the 67th position in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Rankings. Our hard work had paid off.
Lastly, I helped to build the Rwanda-Singapore cooperation that assisted our country to strengthen and reform seven priority areas, namely: 1) Workforce Development; 2) Public Sector Capacity-Building; 3) Civil Aviation; 4) Social Security Fund Reform; 5) Urban Planning; 6) Investment Promotion; and 7) Info-communications Technology (ICT) Planning. The Singaporeans were keen to work with us in our prior areas especially from May 21, 2008, onwards. That was when Alphonsus Chia, the CEO of Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (SCE) and I signed the cooperation agreement in Singapore as part of the Rwandan delegation accompanying Kagame on his state visit.
Kabagambe, in conclusion, my two pieces of advice to you are as follows: first, don’t equate Rwanda and Kagame. Rwanda has existed for hundreds of years and will not disappear tomorrow. Kagame will soon or later depart from high office and planet earth. Second, be careful in what you say. The internet never forgets. I wish you all the best in your dual capacity of serving as the official spokesperson of the University of Rwanda and unofficial spokesperson of the Rwandan ruler, General Paul Kagame.