On Thursday, August 6, 2020, the Belgian Parliament set up a special parliamentary commission to look into the country’s colonial past. Some posit that this initiative follows the George Floyd protests and the global Black Lives Matter movement. Laure Uwase, a young Rwandan-Belgian lawyer, affiliated to the Brussels’ Bar, features among the nominated members of the commission. Her nomination immediately led to a multitude of inflammatory attacks of defamatory and intimidation nature on her person; from the RPF propaganda machinery including the Rwandan parliament. Her attackers allege that she advocates genocidal ideology and is a negationist. These are unclear but extremely damaging accusations that the RPF regime has always used against anyone, Rwandan or foreign, critical of its policies and actions.
It is important to highlight that Laure Uwase was a toddler of only two years old in 1994. Carried by her family at the time, she didn’t for sure know what was happening around her, let alone the fact that a genocide was being perpetrated. With some divine help, she survived while millions of other Rwandans died. One would wonder if she was destined for a particular purpose. She found in Belgium a community which nurtured and helped her overcome the multitude of experienced traumas, and ultimately rose as an accomplished expert of the Great Lakes region. This piece tries to analyse the motivations behind these current attacks that target her, attacks which are, at the same time, calling the Belgian Parliament to reconsider the present set membership of the said commission.
- Laure Uwase is critical of the RPF regime
In the row caused by her nomination, Laure Uwase appears to be a victim of her compassion for Rwandans. She only adds her voice to that of others like her who presently educate the world about the plight of her compatriots. Judi Rever in her book ‘In praise of blood: the crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front’ writes that “…the RPF has never stopped the violence. Kagame killed before the genocide. He killed during the genocide. And he killed after the genocide (for 26 years and still counting). The West’s unbridled support only fed the regime’s sense of impunity.” The advocacy work of Uwase which covers the lives of the survivors of these crimes either inside or outside Rwanda harnesses her expertise.
The above-described context is the only framework that enables to understand the RPF’s rumblings around Uwase case. Unequivocably, Uwase being a highly educated Hutu woman, and fervent critical of the RPF regime, this was expected to attract her the storms from Rwanda, once selected for the mentioned commission. The entire picture falls into what Rwandans have always known as a discriminatory policy towards Hutus but rarely perceived as such by foreigners not well versed into the Rwandan politics.
For her advocacy work, Uwase evolves in the Jambo asbl, an association consisting mainly of young Belgians of Rwandan origin. The leadership and the majority of its members arrived in Belgium at a very young age. They grew up becoming more and more concerned by the situation of serious abuses of human rights in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. They decided to take their destinies by both their hands and started expressing their views publicly. These views shed a new light to the truth deliberately buried by RPF’s sponsors. And the content shakes up the very existence of the RPF’s foundations, which are significantly built on lies.
- The RPF policy of making impossible the life of Hutus inside and in exile
General James Kabarebe and other prominent RPF personalities, such as Jean Leonard Dukuzumuremyi and Dr Jean Damascene Bizimana from the association IBUKA for the Tutsi survivors and the (Commission Nationale de Lutte contre le Genocide) CNLG respectively, have for years publicly warned Tutsis about preserving their gains. As a strategy to achieve that, they instructed them to harass, intimidate, chase Hutus in every possible way and make their lives difficult as much inside and even outside Rwanda where they found refuge.
Further to such criminal policies led from the top targeting Hutus everywhere, the number of unrecorded and unreported victims will be hard to know. Over the years, in different parts of the world where Hutus managed to settle as refugees, be it in countries like Malawi, Zambia, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere, cases of Hutu refugees who were killed or whose properties were destroyed, and careers irremediably interrupted by Rwandan agents are numerous.
The case of Dr Munyakazi Apollinaire who was a lecturer at a US university illustrates one of such stories of the harassment of Hutus living in exile. Though they had managed to overcome adversity, they end up again victims of the RPF’s regime. With the assistance of the US authorities, Munyakazi was ultimately and forcibly returned to Rwanda, tortured and imprisoned in 2016. In 2018 he was sentenced to nine years of imprisonment for revisionism. For years, the elite Hutu which survived 1994 and its aftermath has unfortunately lived in a permanent fear engineered by the RPF’s regime as a strategy to remain in power forever. Today it is Laure Uwase, yesterday it was the young Belgians of Rwandan origin candidates to local political positions, tomorrow it will be another similar case.
- The continuation of the false narrative of the Rwandan contemporary history
The main features of the official narrative of the Rwandan recent history are that only Tutsis died as victims of the 1994 genocide and that Hutus who died during that period were either moderate who sympathized with the Tutsi victims or were either war’s collaterals. It is worth noting that since 2018, with the support of its external lobbies, Rwanda transformed the designation of that tragedy into only the genocide against the Tutsis, whereas it was initially called the Rwandan genocide when the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was set up.
Surprisingly, in April 2020, US, UK and Japan, countries which normally aligned themselves with the official narrative at least publicly, contested the RPF’s regime intention to ignore or erase Hutu victims from the country’s most deadly tragedy in its entire history. The US Ambassador to the UN, Kelly Craft, said that “the United States is concerned that changes made to the text – starting in 2018 and extended today – narrow the focus of the resolution to the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda and fail to fully capture the magnitude of the violence that was committed against other groups. Many Hutu and others were also killed during the genocide, including those murdered for their opposition to the atrocities that were being committed. Failing to honour and remember these victims presents an incomplete picture of this dark part of history.”
For the RPF to insist that only Tutsis died during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, this is a critical policy with serious and damaging political consequences for the majority Hutu whose victims have been ignored so far. The discriminatory practices they have been suffering from since result from that position of the Tutsi ruling elite in Rwanda. And the Uwase case falls in the line of such orientations of excluding Hutu wherever possible in the life of the country.
- The presumption of ignorance attributed to the Belgian parliament
In 2019, the Belgian parliament voted a law against genocide denial extending its competence internationally on all the crimes against humanity. According to Lydie Ujeneza writing on her Facebook pages, the Rwandan parliament by acting the way it proceeded and attacking Uwase as an alleged genocide denial presumes the Belgian parliament’s incompetence in assessing the character and CV of one among its members of the special commission.
If that presumption of ignorance on the part of the Belgian parliament is not in itself an alleged insult to the competence of that institution, the way forward, particularly concerning the official response to the allegation, will determine how it defends its prerogatives and public obligations towards its constituency, the Belgian nation.
- The importance of other national issues in comparison
Since the inception of the Covid-19 pandemic, back in early March of this year, the Rwandan parliament has been completely silent on many important national issues, to the point that people started wondering if it hadn’t been dissolved and the general public kept in the dark on its lack of activity. It was not because there was not enough critical problems that jeopardized the lives of Rwandans.
Among the issues that remained undealt with during the pandemic period are 1) demolition of the houses of poor people in Kigali, 2) police forces’ extrajudicial executions, 3) RDF soldiers’ rape of 13 women of Bannyahe and public beating of a woman of Musanze by officials, 4) imprisonment of journalists including Cyuma Hassan Niyonsenga, 5) prolonged and unsafe detention of Covid19 related offenders, 6) population’s hunger as a consequence of the confinement, 7) disappearances and imprisonment of politicians from the opposition, 8) closure of the country’s borders, and 9) ban of Kinyarwanda from the primary school curriculum.
The unelected but RPF designated parliament found insignificant all these problems. But it judged critical to make a strong stand on the nomination of Laure Uwase instead, though apparently, reliable sources confirm that the Rwandan members of parliament weren’t called to debate and neither make a decision on the issue. This means that some other structure in Rwanda acted on its behalf. The entire saga orchestrated in the name of the Rwandan parliament shows ultimately the nature of the Kagame’s dictatorship when it wants to preserve the status quo of its power.
In conclusion, the complexity of issues about the public dissatisfaction of the RPF caused by the nomination of Laure Uwase as a member of the special Belgian parliament commission is evident. By reading under the lines, one understands the motivations that pushed all the channels of the RPF regime to become nervous and oppose such nomination. Accepting it without public outrage from Kigali would’ve appeared illogical, given the discriminatory policies Kagame has been imposing on Rwandans from the outset. Kigali’s attitude shows consistency with the official line of its policies. Any different option would’ve been a detrimental direction.
Instead of seeing Laure Uwase as the best thing that could come out of a human tragedy of the scale of the Rwandan genocide, the Rwandan parliament opted to go along with the extremists of the RPF regime and tarnish the brilliance of one of the Rwandan daughters, who, because of her competence and experience, was selected to be part of the special Belgian parliament on the colonial past of that country.
The ball is presently in the Belgian parliament’s camp. Will it reconsider the nomination of Laure Uwase to its special commission, that the Speaker Patrick Dewael considers as a variation of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission following South Africa’s fall of apartheid? Doing that and responding positively to the Rwandan parliament’s request will only question and jeopardize its independence of judgement and its sovereign character.