Mr. President, does it not bother you, that for someone who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, your apparent double standards makes even the most ardent of your supporters feel rather uneasy? Africa will judge you on the basis of the company that you keep and your contributions to advancing peace and stability on the continent. If your Administration has difficulties to call time on the slaughtering of innocent men, women and children being engineered by a tiny African country, how could anyone take your ability to make peace in any other part of the world serious?
Dear Mr. President,
It is not every day that one gets to write a letter to a president – much less to the president of the only world super power. Yet, when there are burning issues of great concern that need to be directed at the president, an open letter is perhaps as good as it gets.
When you were sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America, many people lauded what they hoped was going to be the beginning of a fresh, honest and active engagement of the United States of America in world affairs and politics. The euphoria that greeted your arrival was such that even the normally drab and conservative Nobel Committee got carried away and awarded you their highest honour. Awarding the coveted Nobel Peace Prize on the basis of promises of (hope and change that we can believe in,) made in eloquent speeches, was something new to the Committee. But they took the risk.
On the African continent, seeing an African-American sworn in as the US President was not only a source of pride, it gave the people all over the continent hope, that one of theirs, in such position of power would make a change for the better. It is against this background that I am raising this particular issue that has become of such importance to Africa.
Mr. President, to a casual observer, post-genocide Rwanda has been an African success story. The econmy is booming. New roads, factories and skyscrapers are springing up. There is peace in the country and elections were held without violent incidents. The affairs of state are running smoothly. The elected president – once a war-lord, has a long history of association with various American Administrations. He enjoys a special place in yours. Thus, one might be forgiving in concluding that all is well with Rwanda. But, Mr. President, that conclusion would be misleading.
The report of a joint mission investigation carried out for the Human Rights Office of the United Nations in years following the Rwanda genocide detailed how tens of thousands of Hutu civilians including pregnant women and children were systematically slaughtered with knives, bludgeoned with hammers and burnt alive by the Rwandan army and the Allied Democratic Liberation Forces in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The investigation revealed that “the majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who posed no threat to the attacking forces.” The UN report stated in part: “There is no denying that ethnic massacres were committed and that the victims were mostly Hutus.” It went on to say: “The joint mission’s preliminary opinion is that some of these alleged massacres could constitute acts of genocide.”
Mr. President, these alleged acts of genocide were committed on the watch of the current Rwanda president – Paul Kagame. It is a fact that these initial murderous acts were committed during the period when you were not in charge of the US Administration. Does it not disturb you to know that, more than ten years since that investigation was carried out, Rwanda, under Paul Kagame (with the tacit support of your Administration) has continued to commit acts of genocide and war crimes in a war of aggression aimed at destabilising the DRC?
In the past months, several groups operating on the ground – aid organisations, human rights bodies, independent observers and the United Nations itself – have produced damning reports of human right abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity being carried out by Rwanda forces under Paul Kagami in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Under your Administration, disturbing reports keep appearing under such headings as “U.S. Supporting Rwanda’s terror in Africa” and “Obama’s Administration aiding Rwanda to Destabilizes the Congo — again”. Human Rights Watch reported a few weeks ago the fact that Rwandan army officials have provided weapons, ammunition, and soldiers to support Ntaganda’s mutiny in eastern Congo. These are weapons that no doubt would have come from the USA with the support of your Administration.
One influential Africa watcher Maurice Carney was stating the obvious when he declared that “the Rwandan government has acted as a major destabilizing force in the east of DRC since 1996. However, as a staunch ally of the United States and the United Kingdom, Kagame has benefited tremendously from the diplomatic cover and protection that accompanies his relationship with such powerful nations”.
Emira Woods, the co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, lamented just recently that “Rwanda’s role in destabilizing the Congo has contributed to the millions who have perished as result of the conflict since 1996 and the 100,000 displaced persons since March of this year (i.e.2012). It is time that the United States, which provides significant funding to the Rwandan government, uses its leverage to hold Rwanda accountable for its destructive actions in the Congo.”
Mr. President, the only difference between what is happening in Dafur and what is happening in the Great Lake Region of Africa is that the atrocities in one are being committed by a head of state that has been indicted while the others are being committed by a head of state that is highly courted by the same people who indicted the other head of state. In both cases, ethnic cleansing is systematically being carried out. In both cases innocent men, women and children are being massacred daily.
In the case of Liberia and Sierra Leone, one head of state sponsored atrocities in the neighbouring country. He did not cross over in person into the neighbouring country to fight or to kill anyone. He did not send his own forces across the border to kill. All he did was to support and arm the opposition killing innocent people. Today, he is a convicted criminal of the International Criminal Court.
In the case of Rwanda and the DRC, one head of state is ordering, supervising and sponsoring genocide in the neighbouring country. What is most troubling is that today, this same head of state is a darling of your Administration. To most Africa watchers, especially those who wish the continent well, the sheer level of hypocrisy of your Administration is not just shocking, it is mind-boggling. It leads many people asking where is the hope that you promised and where are the changes that we could believe in?
Mr. President, does it not bother you, that for someone who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, your apparent double standards make even the most ardent of your supporters feel rather uneasy? Does it not bother you, for example, that one of the reasons why you lack credibility in dealing with Syria is that your whole Middle-East policy (or a lack of one) does not show any real courage? Does it strike you that after nearly four years, it is hard to point to any African policy of your Administration? Have you reflected on the fact that under the Clinton and GW Bush Administrations, there was a sense of direction on African affairs which most people saw as being pragmatic and purpose-led – the policy which has now been totally blurred out under yours?
It disturbed a lot of people that loved to see true democracy flourish and yield fruits in Africa when your Secretary of State recently described Rwanda as an example of democracy at work in Africa. It is true that there were elections. It is also true that the current Rwanda president (who has led the country since after the genocide) was re-elected to power by “popular votes”. Paul Kagame got 95% of the votes in the presidential election.
Mr. President, with all due respect, I am of the humble opinion that you do not need a Law degree from an Ivy League university to smell that something is not real here. Understandably, you are only an African by name, and it is also obvious that you know very little about the continent, its history and its peoples. But, the only other person in Africa who got this level of “popular votes” was President Idi Amin Dada of Uganda. Of course outside Africa, you also had the democrat Kim Jong il who was the supreme leader of North Korea scoring 95% of votes in a “free and fair” election.
To obtain 95% of popular votes in a presidential election in the very heavily tribalised Africa, you must have succeeded in carrying out a very careful social engineering. What made Paul Kagame’s success at the polls even more memorable is the fact that he belongs to the minority tribe which accounts for less than 10% of the population. The estimated total population of 8.9 million is made up of 90% Hutus and 9% Tutsis (to which Paul Kagame belongs).
Following the Rwandan genocide, the country had needed two very crucial things. The first was justice – to punish the perpetrators. The second was a truth-and-reconciliation process – to bring the people back together. Sadly, Rwanda got neither of these. Justice in Rwanda had meant punishing those who carried out the killings during the genocide. Those who created the environment that led to the genocide itself (including shooting down the plane carrying two serving presidents) were left untouched. Reconciliation had meant revenge – locking up without trial elements from the majority tribe, intimidating those not locked up, silencing the press and liquidating political opponents wherever they might be. Even a political opponent that went on exile to South Africa had an assassination squad sent from Kigali to liquidate him.
Genocide is a heinous crime against humanity. There is no justification for it whatsoever. Those who are guilty of it deserve to be punished as heavily as possible so as to serve as deterent to others who might in future be contemplating it. There is no excuse for those who have been victims of genocide to embark on crimes against humanity themselves. Sadly, those who have been past victims seem to have succeeded in shaming and blackmailing the rest of the world into accepting that it is their legitimate rights to perpetrate heinous crimes against others. They are quick to remind the rest of the world of the attrocities they had suffered in the past which justify their lack of respect for human rights which they consider to be a luxury.
While this strategy might work in some other parts of the world, it is one that is sure to backfire very tragically in the African setting. While they sympathise with the victims, most Africans are getting sick and tired of being reminded of the Rwandan genocide while the president of the country who was one of the main causes of the tragedy in the first place treats 90% of the citizens of his country like criminals. There is a vicious cycle at work. Most non-Tutsi Rwandans are too scared to speak openly about the situation in their country. They bear their resentment behind closed doors while their “popular” president who makes Charles Taylor look like an angel in comparison, wins 95% of votes in a presidential election. It is a time-bomb that is ticking. It takes foresight to read the writing on the wall.
Mr. President, most observers of African affairs know that the question is not that of if, but of when there will be a new mass killing inside Rwanda. Those who think that building new roads, factories and skyscrapers is the answer to solving the problems of that etnically-divided country in which the tiny minority subjugates the vast majority to ridicule, obviously do not know Africa and the African people well enough.
Those who truly love Africa and care about the continent need to reflect on the future effects and implications of their actions (or inaction) of today. They should realise that being patronising and sweeping dirt under the carpet does not help Africa. Peace and stability of Africa or any of its regions is more important than the interest of just one person. The problems in Dafur were not created in one day. The genocide in Rwanda was the result of a long build-up of perceived injustice.
I would like to add that, thanks to the rapidly increasing number of its educated people, Africa has ceased to be the “dark continent”. The failure of your Administration to make any reasonable impact there, which is partly due to the very visible double standards and hypocrisy of your Administration, is setting you up as perhaps the least relevant of all US presidents to the continent in modern African history. Eight years of your Administration’s inaction and support for dubious regimes would have done little to help the continent. This coming just after the Administration of GW Bush which no one on the continent would have described as being spineless or cowardly. He reined in Charles Taylor and worked to get Omar el Bashir indicted.
Mr. President, Africa will judge you on the basis of the company that you keep and your contributions to advancing peace and stability on the continent. If your Administration has difficulties to call time on the slaughtering of innocent men, women and children being engineered by a tiny African country, how could anyone take your ability to make peace in any other part of the world serious? Sadly, Mr. President, so far, many are left wondering what your Nobel Peace Prize was awarded for- and perhaps if one day you might just consider returning it. Again, perhaps a new four-year term might produce the change that Africa can believe in. Yes, you can. The question is, will you?
The author of this article Edward Ojo is a member of the Editorial Board of Read-Online.Org and a socio-economic researcher. (Contact: Edward.Ojo@read-online.org)
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial views of Read-Online.Org
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