There’s an African country run like North Korea.
It’s not Zimbabwe with its tropical version of Jim Jong-il: Robert Mugabe, the old geezer who refuses to die; a convenient boogey man to showcase what’s wrong with Africa. Robert Mugabe, a ready-made “replacement killer” for Idi Amin.
Well, here’s a headline: Zim is on the right path, with the ever-resilient Morgan Tsvangirai who is fighting toe-to-toe with Mugabe, slowly but surely reversing the economic demise of a once wealthy country. Until the final demise of the walking-dead who is masquerading for the moment as the unbreakable “iron man.”
The African North Korea I’m referring to is Rwanda. In point of fact, and just due north to it, there’s another tropical North Korea: Uganda…
Rwanda and Uganda were once hailed as countries of the “African Renaissance.” Renaissance. Rebirth...
And, Rwanda in particular, is literally being reborn.
The analogy is false, the real North Korea stands out as Mao Zedong’s paper tiger—Rwandans aren’t starving for example. And Kagame—God be with him!—may pass on today but the Rwandan regime will prove to be sustainable and will live on.
There are precedents of stifling dictatorships in Africa. One could argue that Yoweri Museveni is midway on his path to rejoin the lineage of other African strongmen who have lasted or are still lasting a lifetime in power—to name a few, Congo’s Mobutu Sese-Seko (32 years), Gabon’s Omar Bongo (42 years) and Cameroon’s Paul Biya (28 years with the meter running)… Museveni has been the president of Uganda since 1986 (24 years) and shows no sign of relinquishing power.
But these Big Men didn’t have the un je ne sais quoi real stuff. Like the managerial, engineering skills and motivation to devise a biopolitical machine built to last. I should stop right there before I get ensnared into an extended metaphor...
The events unfolding in Kigali prior and after the return of a woman who could have been an Obama for both Rwanda and Congo are mesmerizing. Frightening.
There won’t be an Obama this year in Rwanda called Victoire Ingabire. And tough luck for the Congolese. A breath of fresh air, though, to hear out of the blue a Rwandan politician say the following in a radio interview:
“military expansionism: you know perfectly well that General Kagame’s military had attacked the Congo. Because of that war, Congo's death toll rose to more than 5 million of human lives.”
Moving on... Kagame has been in power since 1994, that is, 16 years. Some could claim he was only vice-president during the 6 years when Pasteur Bizimungu was the president of the country. But any serious observer knows that Bizimungu was a figurehead who was thrown in jail at the first inkling of insubordination. My estimate of the time span Kagame has been in power does stand indeed.
Truth be told: Museveni is but a child compared to Kagame.
We could easily overlook the dictatorial drifts as venial sins and point to economic miracles and good governance. We could likewise turn a blind eye to what F. Reyntjens calls the “privatization and criminalization of public space” in both countries. To put things bluntly, the governments in these two countries operate as criminal enterprises run by the military. They share those attributes with other countries in the region, including the DRC next door.
We could even laud today in hindsight the Pinochet regime as having been a good “free-market fascism” that had positive lasting impact on Chilean economy…
As a semblance of democracy is the “universal” acceptable norm today by donor countries, Rwanda and Uganda subject themselves to the travesty of the cycles of democratic elections.
You could look at Museveni and Kagame as clever players. They’ve both devised backstopping mechanisms to prevent the democratic sham from sliding out of bounds…
Kagame is not Museveni.
Museveni at times devises superficial backstops.
Breaking with the mold, Kagame is taking a stand and drawing a line in the sand. He sneezes and France catches a cold. He gets into the Commonwealth of Nations right under the nose of Nicholas Sarkozy in Trinidad, sending Bernard Kouchner begging for a handshake in Kigali. He could also quit any time he wants to.
In Uganda, credible opposition candidates are just arrested and charged with, say, rape—based on accusations made by government-paid rape victims—and, for good measure, charge them with “terrorism” too. This is what happened to retired Colonel and medical doctor Warren Kizza Besigye Kifefe of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) before the 2006 elections. While the opposition candidate is entangled in unending court proceedings, the irremovable Museveni sails to electoral triumph.
In Rwanda, Kagame has 5 more sophisticated backstops. In fact, they are not even backstops. They are something more permanent, the biopolitics of a social formation.
First, ban all reference to tribe and ethnicity while “barely concealed by the ban on ethnic labels, ethnic discrimination has since emerged as the hallmark of the Kagame regime, to an extent unprecedented in the history of Rwanda” (René Lemarchand).
Second, cripple all dissent preemptively with the threat of “revisionism” or “genocide denial.”
Third, line up the opposition with stooges with ridiculous political platform like “full employment, regional security, and progressive taxation”—complete with choreographed pre- and post-electoral accusations by said stooges of attempts by the incumbent to “silence [their] views.” During the 2003 presidential elections, there were two such candidates opposing Kagame that allowed him to get—without any rigging—95.1% of the votes.
And Fourth—and this is Kagame’s masterstroke—let anyone form their political parties but—hold and behold!—according to Ann Garrison, in order to “register and get a ballot line in Rwanda, a party must first convene, and the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda has now tried to convene five times, only to be met with bureaucratic obfuscation and on October 30 , violence.”
The violence meted out against the members of the Democratic Green Party described by Ann Garrison with photographs taken with cellphones was reminiscent of the technique uncovered by Gérard Prunier in his book Africa’s World War:
“songamana: From the [Swahili] verb kusonga, to ‘press together’ [I’d instead translate the verb as to ‘knead’]. A form of crowd control using humiliation practiced by the RPA [Rwandan Patriotic Army] where many people are made to squat tightly together on the ground while being hectored by an officer.”
Nowadays the “hectoring” is preceded by police agents provocateurs masquerading as disgruntled party members resorting to blows to get their points across—prompting the police, lurking by as if by miracle, to suddenly materialize, beat everyone to submission... then “kneading” and “hectoring” them.
No glitches in the perfect setup. Glitches happen on the other side of the border, in the DRC. Not on this side of the border. We are dealing with professionals here.
Kagame’s first 7-year term comes to an end this year. There are presidential elections in August. And the RPF machine suddenly realized that this electoral cycle there are young, determined passionate and iconoclastic opposition candidates who won’t be bullied to play the 2003 script.
So another script has to be written. The script called the final act of the “outing” from the closet. No more playing the clown for “two constituencies” (domestic and foreign). Time to unify the constituencies. To lay these things in the open. To scare Victoire Ingabire into submission while throwing into the dustbin the narrative of “universality” and telling the producers of this discredited narrative—that is, so-called Western “experts” and NGOs—that things have changed once and for all. We're tired of playing the fools. Go ask leaders on the other side of the border, in the DRC, to continue playing this silly game!
And Kagame isn't some mercurial statesman like Museveni who, like a good Congolese politician, at times says things he doesn’t mean. In fact, Kagame has a keen sense of verbal economy. He’s a strategist. He’s got plenty of big guns around: technocrats and intellectuals to do the talking and the doing. And these guys happen to be academic heavy weights.
Way before Victoire Ingabire’s return, the RPF brought out the heavy artillery. In the person of the crafty litterateur, professor, writer, contentious pamphleteer, communication director and spokesperson Servilien M. Sebasoni.
The man was born a wordsmith extraordinaire. A prolific analyst.
He tagged Victoire Ingabire as the “présidente virtuelle du Rwanda” [Rwanda’s virtual president]—a scornful moniker that instantly went viral on Rwandan blogosphere.
By late November, Sebasoni didn’t even think Ingabire would dare to show up at Kigali International Airport.
In the concluding paragraph of the scathing statement he unleashed in Kigali on November 26 with all the flourish of his trademark high-brow French style, Sebasoni scoffs at the pretentions of Ingabire while painting a chilling scenario of the aftermath of elections fraught with controversies:
“the Rwandan presidential election might take place in 2010, if the virtual president, who never ends coming home, decided not to come in Rwanda. On the one end, she has sufficiently prepared her constituents for this eventuality, by tapping into the anthology that her diaspora has made up against Kagame; on the other hand, the alternative that her partisans imagine in the event isn’t enticing for a candidate who is loath to violence. Who would have a stake, in effect, in seeing the upcoming elections lead into a “Kenya” or a “Zimbabwe,” if the results were to be contested by the opposition?”
The pamphlet is even more portentous as it strips the electoral process of any previous pretenses by the regime to appear playing by the rule of a universal canon of democracy—a despicable “IMITATION” (capital in the original) of western standards.
There’s a need to invent the African future of political play, Sebasoni asserts (triggering by association in my mind Mobutu’s maxims of Authenticity: “The African authentic political system isn’t a system of opposition but a system of cohesive juxtaposition”):
“This incapacity to think by oneself, to say something else instead of systematically plundering all the clichés and commonplaces and other acknowledged ‘experts,’ this psittacism is frightening for a generation forced to invent a future, at the moment when Western universalism is leaking at the seams and starts to be contested and put into question as well in Asia as in Africa, even right down on its own turf, in Europe and America in the wake of resounding fiascos. There is in fact a big chunk of books that are coming out to denounce the claims of the Western model to universality. Just read. Jean Ziegler, Hatred of the West (2008); Amin Maalouf, A World Adrift (2009); Immanuel Wallerstein, European Universalism (2008); George Corm, L’Europe et le Mythe de l’Occident [Europe and the Western Myth] (2009). And several more other books. You will discover that the famous ‘international standards’ about which they go on and on are only Western standards to boot. It will soon be permitted to be an honest person without being a Westerner. To take advantage, however, of the insufficiencies of the new Rwanda and to go along with its detractors could be a strategy chosen wisely. The fact remains nonetheless that a political project that would discard individual creativity of the nation is by no means meant to last, even though it is true that the poor have to account to two ‘constituencies,’ the aid donors and the people. Such an anomaly could only be transitory and couldn’t serve as a lasting pact between the politician and the people.”
This guy is brilliant and his prose dense with meaning, let alone this impressive library. I've to give it to him: no one reads anymore in the DRC... The part of "plunder," of "psittacism" ("parotting"): this is heavy stuff lifted from developmental and clinical psychology and applied to cultural theory: that is, "alienation" (again, I stumble upon Mobutu). This is a systematic and chilling exercise in deconstruction. Chilling because this guy might as well tear to pieces “Western standards” of DIPLOMACY and read the riot act to the bickering politicians in Kinshasa as follows: "Hey, guys, this is the 'new normal' in diplomacy in the Great Lakes; our way or the highway!"... Maybe they've done it already!
“Pact between the politician and the people.” Uncanny sentence…
Once again, I’m reminded of Mobutu who kept repeating: “Mobutuism is the complicity between the Guide and his people.” (The man had "bloated" himself to fill up a whole country!) But I know that Mobutu was a “virtual” moron—to borrow a qualifier dear to Sebasoni. Did Mobutu come up independently with all this stuff? I don't think so... And still, I see a a common thread linking Sebasoni and Mobutu as if they tapped into the same well. There’s a genealogy… I also remember the persistent rumor circulating in Zaire at the time that claimed that the ideas of Authenticity were implanted into Mobutu’s mind by Barthélémy Bisengamina Rwema, a Rwandan engineer and intellectual, who served for a long time as Mobutu’s Chief of Staff. And the rumor went on to say that Bisengimana got those ideas from the books authored by Rwandan polymath ALEXIS Kagame… speculation no doubt.
How are the donors going to react to this riot act of new non-Western democracy that doesn't care about "universal standards"? For despite the riot act, Rwanda still needs foreign dollars to bridge the electoral budget deficit:
“The mountainous country faces a huge hike in the cost of holding the election.
The 2010 vote will cost 11 million dollars (7.7 million euros) compared to some 4 million dollars in 2003, according to state radio, which quoted the country's electoral commission.
'The price of voting materials has gone up since 2003 and the number of voters has also risen,' the executive secretary of the electoral commission, Charles Munyaneza, told AFP.
The Rwandan government will bear more than half of the cost of the election, with the rest contributed by donors such as Britain, the European Union and the Netherlands, the radio said.”
We know that Rwandan leadership never backs down… August is just round the corner, let’s wait and see.
Saturday, Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza—“who piles up beautiful names (Victoire, Don, Consolation)” (dixit Sebasoni) — returned to New Rwanda after 16 years of absence and caused an uproar for what she said and angered the powers that be.
New Rwanda may not be the place for her. What a waste with such a beautiful campaign logo: Victore2010… And, BTW, we need brilliant women like her in the Congo.
Madame Victoire, Don:
Please, move to Kinshasa and get Congolese nationality. It’s easy, believe me. It will be your Consolation prize for returning to Africa… Time isn't ripe in New Rwanda for your kind of discourse...Maybe never!... To speak in tongue like Servilien Sebasoni, there's a massive semiotic fraud taking place in New Rwanda, just like under Mobutu's Authenticity in Zaire... It's a waste of time... You belong in the DRC, where no one would ever dare get us back to that sham... Even in the darkest moments when Kisangani was under the boot of Rwandan and Ugandan occupational forces... There's a direct flight from Kigali to Kinshasa, I believe or via Nairobi... Think about it... That’s where you stand the chance of fulfilling your destiny of another kind of Obama of the African Great Lakes region.
Africa Great Lakes Democracy Watch
Welcome to Africa Great Lakes Democracy Watch Blog. Our objective is to promote the institutions of democracy,social justice,Human Rights,Peace, Freedom of Expression, and Respect to humanity in Rwanda,Uganda,DR Congo, Burundi,Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya,Ethiopia, and Somalia. We strongly believe that Africa will develop if only our presidents stop being rulers of men and become leaders of citizens. We support Breaking the Silence Campaign for DR Congo since we believe the democracy in Rwanda means peace in DRC. Follow this link to learn more about the origin of the war in both Rwanda and DR Congo:http://www.rwandadocumentsproject.net/gsdl/cgi-bin/library