The Rwandan government deals with criticism in only one way – character assassination of the critic, whether friendly or foe. In other words: kill the messenger. This will not do. Case in point, is the following thorough and thoughtful writing, that should have the Rwandan authorities pause for thought.
Rwanda’s Presidential Advisor and Army Spokesperson are Amiss on Government Critics
Charles KM KAMBANDA, PhD
Rwanda’s presidential advisor, Professor Nshuti Manasseh, and the army spokesperson, Col. Jill Rutaremeara, are on crusade in Rwanda’s New Times newspaper to respond to Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa and other critics. Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, Dr. Rudasingwa, Col. Karegeya and Dr. Gahima are former army chief, chief of staff, intelligence chief and Attorney General, respectively. These former senior government officials are among the founders of a new opposition political party. Rwanda National Congress (RNC). The four former close associates of President Paul Kagame, in their Rwanda Briefing accuse President Kagame’s government of, inter alia, corruption, failure to set up an objective power sharing framework among the three ethnic groups of Rwanda, lack of political space, gross abuse of human rights, terrorizing Rwandans and destabilizing Congo (DRC) for the President’s personal interest. The government of Rwanda has a right and a duty to respond to such serious allegations. Like other Rwandans, Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa and his colleagues have a right to critique the government.
Professor Nshuti Manasseh, by virtue of being a presidential advisor, is a public servant. The army spokesperson, Col. Jill Rutaremara is a serving military senior officer. Whatever Professor Nshuti Manasseh and Col Rutaremara say, do or omit over an issue of public concern becomes public policy. The two government officials have a right to speak on behalf of the government. However, each is barred from partisan politics. The ideal response from the presidential advisor and army spokesperson may not reflect personal sentiments and mustn’t attack individuals that decide to claim their constitutional rights. Ordinary people like Gen. Kayumba and other critics of Rwandan government, in the exercise of their constitutional rights, are allowed even to make serious good faith mistakes in their analysis of issues of national concern. Whereas Rwandan Briefing, a document by private citizens asserting their constitutional rights, is at liberty even to be erroneous, no slight recklessness, negligence or inaccuracy are permitted in the presidential advisor and army spokesperson’s response to the same because the latter represent the super-institution, the government.
The government of Rwanda’s response to allegations in Rwanda Briefing is also contained in a series of letters published by a Rwandan newspaper, the New Times. The authors of these letters, Professor Nshuti Manasseh and Col. Jill Rutaremara, have so far concentrate on explaining the childhood experiences and private life of the authors of Rwanda Briefing, the relationship between the authors of Rwanda Briefing with Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and United Democratic Front (FDU). The substantive accusations against the government flaunted in Rwanda Briefing have not been addressed yet.
Authors of Rwanda Briefing allege specific examples of what they perceive of as corruption in Rwandan government. First, they argue that the President flies on expensive jets that were bought from public funds but now owned by the President’s own political party, Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). That President Kagame, his family and/or some friends’ trip costs on the jets are charged on Rwandan tax payers’ money exorbitantly. The jets are allegedly fixed with anti missile gargets. It is alleged that the jets are registered in South Africa under a private company owned by Rwandan senior public servants and RPF politicians. Secondly, Rwanda Briefing alleges that RPF business companies are involved in, in-house dealing and public coffer siphoning. Rwandans have a right to know the truth of this accusation. The government is obligated to present a systematic answer indicating whether or not the jets exist. If the jets exist, the government of Rwanda should demonstrate whether or not the President uses those jets. If the president, his family or friends use the jets, the government has a duty to explain the process by which a private company was hired to provide such a service to their president. Rwandans deserve to know why the government chose to hire presidential jet(s) than purchasing the same. Rwandans should be informed of who purchased the jets. The source of funds for the purchase of these jets cannot be concealed from Rwandans. It would do good for RPF to inform Rwandans about all RPF business companies and associates that do business with the government. How many government tenders do RPF business companies and associates win every year? What is the momentary value of those tenders? Are there other business companies out side RPF wining government tenders? Which ones are they? If RPF has business companies doing business with government, how does President Kagame government deal with this apparently in-house dealing? These are legitimate questions to which Rwandans must get precise and concise answers. The childhood experiences, private life, or social-political relationship, of a person who raises such issues of national concern, whether Rwandan or not, is immaterial.
Allegation of RPF failure to share power
Gen. Kayumba and other authors of Rwanda Briefing allege that the Hutu and Twa are systematically excluded from the power and authority mantle of Rwanda. An allegation of this nature appears serious especially because all the authors are former government senior policy makers. Secondly, all the authors of Rwanda Briefing are Tutsi. The government is duty bound to explain the status quo of Rwandan government power sharing framework. For example, the government ought to show an unambiguous representation of the Tutsi, Hutu and Twa in the top military ranks. The government should exhibit, with statistics, the Tutsi, Hutu and Twa representation in cabinet and ministerial high offices, parliament, judiciary, foreign envoys, police ranks, national commissions, governors and mayors. The government of Rwanda cannot be allowed to argue that ethnic groups do not exist in Rwanda. In previous weeks, the government sanctioned a list of Hutu that saved Tutsi during the genocide. Compilation of a nation-wide list of the Hutu who are said to have saved the Tutsi during the genocide is acknowledgement that the Hutu as an ethnic group exist and are identifiable. Since the Hutu as an ethnic group (who saved or did not save the Tutsi) exists, it follows that the Tutsi ethnic group (who were saved by the Hutu) also exist and are ascertainable. Needless to mention, the Twa exist as a group. If the government can sanction a list of the Hutu who saved the Tutsi, how much easier is it for the government to present Rwandans with statistics on ethnic representation at all levels of public administration?
The allegation that President Kagame’s government has sealed off any meaningful political opposition in the country and that Rwandan government is involved in gross human rights violation and terrorism against the people it is meant to protect are not light accusations. The government as a custodian of democratic values ought to address the issue substantively.
Is it Inaccuracy, recklessness, negligence or deceitfulness?
In its issue number 14564 article 39148, the Rwandan New Times newspaper published Professor Nshuti Manasseh’s letter. He argued that General Kayumba and other authors of Rwanda Briefing are FDLR and FDU allies. The Professor’s reasoning is that FDLR is a listed terrorist organization by both United States of America (US) and United Nations (UN). That leader of FDU (Victoire Ingabire) is in court on terrorism charges. Any person or group that has any relationship with either FDU or FDLR is a terrorist by extension. This analysis is legally and contextually flawed. First, there is no crime by analogy. Second, US list of terrorist organizations is a public document. The list is accessible for all purposes at http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm. This list does not include FDLR. Third, United Nations (UN) has never compiled a list of terrorist organizations. A document becomes UN policy when it is adopted by any UN organ. The Professor apparently argues that a UN panel of experts report accused FDLR of various international crimes. However, UN panel of experts report does not represent UN official position until it is adopted by one of the UN organs. Panels of experts are mere consultants whose findings are only legitimized by adoption. No UN organ has legitimized such a report against FDLR. Third, FDU leader’s contested trial in Rwanda for any crime is not conviction. A government senior officer, like Professor Nshuti Manasseh, may not deprive anybody of their constitutional innocence. Shouldn’t Professor Nshuti Manasseh have been a little anxious to get these facts right prior to writing as a Presidential advisor and a professor? Isn’t the presidential advisor prying into the job of Judges?
The presidential advisor and army spokesperson of Rwanda refer to the four former top government officials who opted out of RPF as renegades. Renegades are traitors and/or betrayers. Citizens pay allegiance to the country not to individuals. It is unconstitutional for the government to name-call citizens who are exercising their constitutional rights and freedoms. The four former senior government officials joined RPF and/or RPA as free agents. Isn’t logical, legal and ethical that exit from RPF/RPA should be left to their free will? The four former officials’ choice to opt out of RPF/RPA and associate with other organizations should be accorded the constitutional merit it deserves. Renegade is a humiliating and incriminating term that expresses lack of tolerance and violation of people’s fundamental rights. Government, as a custodian of public values and virtue, is not allowed to debase citizens. Name-calling is a socialization tool for infants. Adults who lack intellectual equipment to identify and discuss issues often resort to name-calling. However, this childhood tool is not available for public officials acting in their official capacity.
The way forward
The standard for analysis of what public officials say over issues of public concern is objective and higher for ordinary persons who seek to assert their constitutional rights against the government. Attacking the person who asserts his rights is an improper approach for public officials even when the right is asserted in an unconventional way. Democratic values like tolerance, accountability, equity require of public officials to desist personalizing official issues. Future Rwandan leaders deserve a legacy of political civility. Going personal on national issues is a manifestation of a culture of political incivility.
Done on this 23rd day of March 2011
Charles KM KAMBANDA, Dip.Phil., BA., LLB., MA.ETPM., MBA., MA.HRTs., .LLM, PhD
St. Johnâ€™s University Law School
New York, US