Dr Theogene Rudasingwa

By Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa

JANUARY 6, 2018

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen.

Thank you for gathering here again in Brussels, Belgium to remember Colonel Patrick Karegeya, assassinated by President Paul Kagame’s security agents in Johannesburg, South Africa on January 1, 2014.

In remembering him we also call to our memories many gallant sons and daughters of Rwanda who have been killed by the current regime and those that preceded it.

We can only offer our prayers to Patrick Karegeya’s family, and to all Rwandan families who have lost their loved ones at the hands of the tyrannical regime,

It is right and fitting that we take a minute of silence in memory of all these martyrs.

Thank you.

Let me take this opportunity to thank my colleagues, fellow leaders of Ishakwe-Rwanda Freedom Movement who extended this honor and privilege to me to deliver the first Patrick Karegeya Memorial Public Lecture.

Since I was tasked to decide on what I would like to talk about today, I chose to reflect on the problems, promises and prospects of Rwandan intellectuals.

But first, let us look at definitions of these English words.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary:

Intellectual: “relating to the ability to think and understand ideas at a high level, or involving ideas” or “a person whose life or work centers around the study or use of ideas, such as in teaching or writing”

Intelligentsia: very educated people in a society, especially those interested in the arts and in politics

Elite: those people or organizations that are considered the best or most powerful compared to others of a similar type

Peter Drucker, writing in Landmarks of Tomorrow (1959) defined knowledge workers:
the knowledge worker includes those in the information technology fields, such as programmers, systems analysts, technical writers, academic professionals, researchers, and so forth. The term is also frequently used to include people outside of information technology, such as lawyers, teachers, doctors, scientists of all kinds, and students of all kinds.

For this lecture, I am using the word intellectuals in a narrow sense as defined the Cambridge Dictionary.

The role of intellectuals in human civilization in general is a vast enterprise that is not the subject of this lecture. The role of intellectuals in Rwanda’s history is equally a daunting task that cannot be tackled in a 30 minutes lecture.

My intention is to focus narrowly and in general terms the 120 years since Rwanda made contact with Western imperial powers towards the end of the 19th Century.

This lecture is not a postmortem on the four political parties (UNAR, PARMEHUTU, MRND, RPF) and the intellectuals or military who founded and dominated them and Rwanda’s history for almost seven decades.

Still numerically small, Rwanda’s intellectuals have shaped the small nation’s history for good or for worse. They have had to contend with Rwandan history, culture, ethnic identities, monarchical or republican governance, the meaning and practice of democracy in a Rwandan context, decolonization, power sharing, war and peace, genocide, justice, freedom, God and evolution, science, equality, reconciliation, forgiveness, healing, what it means to be an African, how to be a good a volatile Great Lakes region, or how to achieve sustainable and equitable prosperity for all Rwandans.

Some of the above problems were not indigenous to Rwanda. Many have been universal concerns since time immemorial. Others, like the ideas of freedom, equality, evolution and democracy achieved a new level of importance during and after the European Enlightenment period.

Most importantly, as they penetrated, and disrupted Rwanda, foreign ideas were not placed on empty shelves of the “Rwandan mind”. For centuries, Rwandan society had an elaborate set of myths, institutions, and complex unequal socio-economic relationships among its constituents that reproduced society and the monarchical order that stood at its apex.

For example, the Rwandan creation myth (Gihanga, Gahutu Gatwa, Gatutsi), hereditary kingship, clans, ubuhake, ubukonde, ubwiiru, etc. are indeed superstructures in the what some historians have described as a rigid caste system with sharp distinctions, and others as a symbiotic one with mutual gain. Suffice it to say that Rwanda’s history shares much with the surrounding Great Lakes region, and indeed Africa.

Historians, and most of them non-Rwandans have attempted to reconstruct this relatively stable and yet unequal order that lasted for centuries until it was first disrupted by the German colonial enterprise and later, in more pervasive ways, Belgian colonial rule.

Through a policy of indirect rule, the Germans and Belgians first had to justify the basis of colonialism, and then the socio-economic-political pyramid constructed by Tutsi kings.

Successively armed with ideas and practices of Christianity, capitalism, education, revolution and Republicanism, the Belgian colonial power and the Catholic church nurtured a new “Hutu consciousness”. It is this new social consciousness that became the midwife of the 1959 Hutu Revolution, with Hutu intellectuals at the helm.

To these Hutu intellectuals, emancipation of the Hutu “masses” was the primary goal and independence from Belgium a secondary one. Their party was PARMEHUTU.

The Tutsi monarchist camp, which had benefited most from the little that the colonial state offered, organized as UNAR, and demanded the end of Belgian colonial rule and to leave the centuries-old system intact albeit with some reforms when and where necessary.

In crisis, the first group of Rwandan intellectuals, organized around their respective ethnic groups, making irreconcilable demands in a highly polarized atmosphere in which the foreign power, Belgium, sided with Hutu intellectuals,.

The “Coup of Gitarama”, the end of the Monarchy, the declaration of a Republic and independence from Belgium followed.

The violence that followed this change of power from a Tutsi elite to a Hutu elite claimed many lives and produced some of the earliest refugees, Tutsi, on the African continent.

The climate of intolerance, blanket ethnic dehumanization, and targeted killings of “the other” engineered by intellectuals and their fellow partisans gradually evolved into the events of 1973, and subsequently to 1994 until now.

The military coup of 1973 and its offshoot, MRND, simply redistributed Hutu power to a northern faction, but having created “the other” among the Hutu from the south, who had to be targeted and killed.

In the meantime, the Tutsi who had resigned to live as second-class citizens within Rwanda, and as refugees in exile, mutated into the Rwandese Patriotic Front that led the 1990 invasion from Uganda.

Heavily influenced by Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement, RPF probably had the most representation of intellectuals compared to many other rebel movements. RPF’s intellectuals were schooled in the most influential texts among African freedom fighters: Frantz Fanon’s the Wretched of the Earth, and Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. In clandestine political schools. cadres were taught the basic tenets of Marxism: historical and dialectical materialism, protracted war and revolutions. Fidel Castro, Samora Machel, Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara, Mao Zedong and many others in Latin America and Asia were then inspirational figures.

RPF’s written promises, the eight-point program, sought a fundamental restructuring of Rwandan society: end the problem of refugees, unite the Rwandan people, create an economy that is equitable and self-sustaining, ensure security for all people and their property, and promote good neighborliness in the Great Lakes region, to mention but a few.

In retrospect, RPF had the benefit of hindsight. Compared to the kings of Rwanda, UNAR, PARMEHUTU, and MRND, it knew very well the pitfalls and failures of the intellectuals in previous periods who had promised and failed to deliver. Its failures have sharpened old contradictions, created new problems, and once again brought the whole nation to the edge of an existential catastrophe.

Thus far, I have indirectly argued that Rwandan intellectuals have consistently demonstrated a paradoxical behavior.

On the one hand, they have been able to sense moments when change is both desirable and inevitable. They have mobilized and organized politically, socially, diplomatically, and militarily. They have scored temporary victories, gained material wealth, and wielded tremendous power. They have committed unimaginable crimes in Rwanda and neighboring countries, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

On the other hand, three times, since 1959, there has been Hutu-Hutu-Tutsi violent transitions of power, without altering the basic equation of rule by ethnic-based cliques.

In power, many intellectuals serve as conventional knowledge workers. In the PARMEHUTU, MRND, or RPF one party nation, silence is a virtue. You belong to the party and serve its government by default. The more opportunistic and ambitious among the intellectuals become party propagandists, and join the echelons of military and intelligence services to serve the Presidential King.

The intellectual who decides that he/she would like to live an independent, authentic, life soon discovers that the price is simply too high: “agatebe”, public humiliation by “asking for forgiveness”, destruction or confiscation of property, impoverishment, self-censorship, jail, disappearance, death or exile.

Let me briefly address two questions before I conclude with seven propositions.

First, because power is Rwanda is by habit gained through violence, it is lost through violence. The losers, their families, friends, and those even remotely associated though ethnicity suffer immensely. Those who committed crimes end up in national and international tribunals. The victors decide on who is guilty.

The intellectuals who are now in the jails of Rwanda or ICTR in Arusha and elsewhere, or those who have been acquitted and yet have nowhere to go, can testify that this is not what they expected in life.

Second, while exile is a deadly and painful limbo of extended waiting, it is a place where dreams can be nurtured, promises made and where victory can begin its journey into the future. The problem in exiled intellectuals is that they tend to fight along the premises of the previous struggle, fall into the trap of small dreams and quick wars, and frequently get trapped into a self-imposed silence due to fear,

PROPOSITION ONE: The Rwandan intellectual must courageously liberate himself/herself before he liberates others. The intellectual becomes an authentic representative of self before representing others. No party, government, institution, or organization should hold an intellectual in bondage to such an extent that silence becomes the default position. The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka said.

PROPOSITION TWO: The Rwandan intellectual must embrace the totality of Rwanda’s shared history, the good and the bad. The temptation to see fault in “the other” and to “liberate” one’s ethnic group, which entails branding the other as the enemy who must be destroyed, has proved to be both a fleeting illusion and a dangerous one. All Rwandans bear some trauma.

By simultaneously being doctor and patient, teacher and student, each one of us can become a positive influence in the healing and reconciliation process. All Rwandans can, and must, re-imagine a new Rwandan community in which we both remember, and yet refuse to be hostages to the past.

PROPOSITION THREE: The Rwandan intellectual must endeavor to expand the civic space by struggling to roll back the overwhelming power of the state that has encroached on the space of individuals, families, communities, academia, press, think tanks, business, NGOs, and civil society in general. Nothing stands in the way of Rwanda to become the most free society, but our very limited imagination. Freedom is the raw material for spiritual and material well-being. However, this critical resource lies dormant and untapped in most Rwandan citizens. It is the duty of Rwandan intellectuals to ignite the power of freedom that will transform Rwanda and change Rwandan lives.

PROPOSITON FOUR: The Rwanda intellectual must become culturally and language competent to navigate the diversity and complexity of regional, African and global realities. Diplomacy, communication, negotiations, innovation and entrepreneurship are the new tools of adaptation and collaboration in a fiercely competitive world. Confrontation, belligerence and conflict are not assets but liabilities.

PROPOSITION FIVE: The Rwandan intellectual must work as a knowledge-multiplier in places where Rwandans are born, live, learn, work and play. It should a national goal for every Rwandan is to live a long, healthy and fully productive life. For a small landlocked country whose majority population is under twenty-five years of age, the intellectual should burn the midnight candle. Winners in this age combine science, technology, innovation, art, entrepreneurship to grow and maintain the well-being of all citizens across the lifespan.

What shall we eat? Where shall we live? What modes of transportation will be the most convenient and climate friendly? How can we prevent disease and provide equal access to quality health care? What do we teach, and how, to our children and work force? How do we add value to our tradeable goods? What is our contribution to a secure and peaceful region and the world? How do we create more viable political and economic arrangements?

These are some of the questions that the intellectuals should be concerned with.

PROPOSITION SIX: The Rwandan intellectual could be somebody who increases the stock of human knowledge in any field irrespective of its practical use, now or in the future

PROPOSITION SEVEN: The Rwandan intellectual must appreciate the managerial and leadership challenge of the present moment. He or she must relentlessly expose tyranny in all its forms, especially the cult of self-proclaimed saviors. He/She should promote the right balance between the requirements of individuals and communities, and always be on the look out to embrace what is good from foreigners, while rejecting what is bad.

In closing, let me take a few moments to share the words of other non-Rwandan intellectuals, and relate it to Patrick Karegeya.

Rosa Luxemburg, a Polish German revolutionary (1871-1919) in On Russia, had this to say:

Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of ‘justice’ but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when ‘freedom’ becomes a special privilege.

Ernest Renan, the French historian, in his famous lecture at the Sorbonne, Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?

L’essence d’une nation est que tous les individus aient beaucoup de choses en commun, et aussi que tous aient oublie bien des choses

And finally, Daniel Chirot, in Modern Tyrants:

A tyrant who is not an intellectual or ceases to identify himself as one, and who rejects the influence of ideological intelligentsia, will be corrupt because that will become the only basis of his power. He will feel threatened by intellectuals and persecute them because they have more coherent ideological programs that threaten his rule.

In his life, Patrick Karegeya was a fiercely independent thinker and evidently a man who certainly was not an armchair revolutionary. He worked for governments and parties and yet rejected their attempt to convert him into some unthinking machine. He equally rejected the idea, as Rosa Luxemburg writes, that freedom could be an exclusive privilege of government and party officials. He was a free man who thought differently as a human right, fought hard, and for long, so that all could be free.

Ultimately, he paid the highest price there is: his life.

President Paul Kagame, the ruthless tyrant of Rwanda whose soul Karegeya’s blood permanently haunts is a tyrant who is neither an intellectual nor one who can be influenced by ideological intelligentsia. In Karegeya, President Kagame failed to find a blind slave, a sycophant, or shameless propagandist. Karegeya had some vast internal reservoir of richness that somebody as spiritually impoverished as President Kagame could not grasp or reach.

To President Kagame: Your evil deed cannot, and will never be, allowed to be the last word on Karegeya.

The last word is that Patrick Karegeya was a liberated intellectual who embraced the totality of Rwanda’s history with all its beauty and stains. He was a cultural competent intellectual who was at ease with all Rwandans and foreigners. He was a forceful intellectual who found it normal that one should have skepticism and doubt about intentions of an overbearing state. He was a manager and leader who sought the transformation of Uganda, and Rwanda.

Another post-humous salute for you, Patrick.

Aluta Continua.