Editorial 

By William Church

 

 

It has been about a year since I first sat in the living room of Paul Rusesabagina’s house outside of Brussels. Prior to that meeting, I had interviewed Terry George, the director of Hotel Rwanda, Linda Melvern, the well-known genocide researcher, Rwandans who had been at Hotel Milles des Collines, and I had also read a pre-released copy of his book, An Ordinary Man.

 

For a year, I have not written about that meeting or even commented on Rusesabagina, even though I am the director of a well-known think tank that covers the Great Lakes region. Honestly, I felt there were other more important topics. However, that was my opinion before last week’s article by Reuters: “Hotel Rwanda hero fears new Hutu-Tutsi killings.”

 

After reading the article, I believe it is time to comment because the United States Freedom Medal winner Paul Rusesabagina’s comments may be promoting hate in Rwanda that will hinder the development of the country and take it backwards more than a decade. It is now my personal opinion that Paul Rusesabagina is not a harmless or even misguided publicity seeker involved in self-promotion to earn speaking fees or sell books.  Today, Rusesabagina has gained celebrity status, and now even a well respected news organization like Reuters feels free to quote him without supporting evidence and checking his facts.

 

The recent Reuters article quoted Rusesabagina as saying:

 

“Since 1994, Tutsis have been killing Hutus, and even now there are many who are being killed, or who simply disappear,” he said. “Everything has been taken over by the Tutsi. The Hutu who are 85 percent of the population are intimidated.”
 

A year ago, in his autobiography, he tested the public opinion waters when he said that Rwanda was controlled by a Tutsi elite and any Hutu who cooperated with the Tutsi was “an empty suit”. At the time, I found this statement highly offensive and insulting to all Rwandans who are trying to rebuild their country. I asked many people one question: “What would you think if someone was touring Germany 12 years after the holocaust and said that Jews once again run Germany and that any good German who cooperates is not worth anything.”
 

Is there any difference between that last statement and what is being said by Paul Rusesabagina? Last year I asked Rusesabagina about the 1994 genocide and he said that it was the fault of the army led by President Paul Kagame. In his view, the genocide was a direct result of President Kagame’s forces — initially led by Fred Rwigyema — entering Rwanda in 1990, and that those actions forced the Habyarimana government into killing Tutsis.
 

This statement, when added to his current comments, appears to be building the ground work to justify the actions of the Habyarimana regime and the death of over one million Rwandans over a thirty year period. Actually, Rusesabagina’s views sound alarmingly similar to comments some attribute to the extremists in the Habyarimana regime.
 

My need to respond at this stage is not only driven by Rusesabagina but also by the actions of Reuters which published these easily contradicted statements of implied government killings in Rwanda.  This comes back to Rusesabagina’s position as a celebrity. Reuters may have the right to quote a celebrity and claim it is news but considering the previous role of the media in stirring up hate and fear in Rwanda, perhaps a higher standard should exist.  I believe Reuters had an obligation to check the facts and not become a possible accomplice in spreading this hate message.
 

In terms of journalistic ethics, this may be a gray area, but there is ample evidence to contradict these claims. Rusesabagina’s claims of continued government killings have been refuted by three different Rwandan human rights organizations: National Human Rights Commission (NRC), League for Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LIPRODHOR), and the Federation of Leagues and Associations for the Defense of Human Rights in Rwanda (CLADHO).

 

The Reuters article negates the reality in Rwanda.  The diplomatic community and numerous national and international human rights organizations monitor the human rights situation in Rwanda. The United States recently awarded Rwanda Millennium Challenge Account Threshold status, which requires a country to meet human rights and political freedom standards. The United States ambassador recently commented on the positive human rights and political freedom trend in Rwanda.

 

These positive views of Rwanda come from people and organizations that live and work in Rwanda. This contrasts Rusesabagina, who has been in self-imposed exile for a decade and rarely visits Rwanda. His information comes to him from the diaspora political parties, many of them based in Brussels and some of them linked to extremist elements dedicated to the violent overthrow of the Rwandan government.

 

Rusesabagina’s views on the Gacaca process are equally slanted. The facts are that the Gacaca process is supported by the international community.  Once again, Rusesabagina’s approach is an insult to the many NGOs, and Gacaca workers, both Rwandans and non-Africans, who are dedicated to facilitate reconciliation.

 

The Gacaca process has been methodically tested and lessons-learned have been applied. These changes include the replacement of judges and the provision of additional training to ensure that the Gacaca Courts meet the highest standards possible.

 

Rusesabagina’s comments exploit the non-African view that all African leaders are dictators. The facts are that the Rwandan government is decentralizing its power structure to the province and district level. This includes budget and revenue collect and it is an internationally community supported transition.  Obviously, Rusesabagina’s view of one group of Rwandans, who have been described as being in the minority, as controlling all the various district and cell positions, as well as the elected Parliament, is mathematically impossible and exploits colonial-inspired hatred.

 

Finally, Rusesabagina’s views take Rwanda back to the Habyarimana policy of ethnic identification.  Rusesabagina’s self-described family history makes this point clear. One of his parents is Hutu and the other Tutsi and this is common among Rwandans. How does he know he is a Hutu?

 

The Habyarimana government, following the colonial example, forced an identity on him, and he wishes to perpetuate identity politics, even though most experts agree that a cause of conflict is identity politics. Rusesabagina’s views take Rwanda back to the colonial period if not the genocide-promoting policies of the Habyarimana government.

 

I have broken my silence on this subject because silence is an accomplice of genocide. As a researcher and member of the international community I have taken other stands against false reporting and refused to be an accomplice to hate and deceit. It is time for self-examination in the international community and ask ourselves if our silence has encouraged Rusesabagina. Today is not 1994, but if it were would we remain silent again?

 

It is time we ask an important question: Have we crossed that boundary that separates freedom of the press and individual freedom of speech and the promotion of hate that could divide a country? I have broken my silence because I have answered that question.

 

 

William Church welcomes comments and can be reached at wchurch@glcss.org. William Church is director of the Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies; however, the opinions expressed in this article represent his personal views.

 

 

Be Sociable, Share!