By Andrew M. Mwenda
A man who can admit to being a liar should not make claims and they are taken seriously
Former director of cabinet in Rwanda, Theogene Rudasingwa, was a major item on BBC World Service. He claimed that President Paul Kagame boasted to him that it was he (Kagame) who had ordered the shooting down of the plane carrying former President Juvenal Habyarimana in 1994. Rudasingwa further added that the shooting “caused” the genocide – never mind the genocide had been planned by Habyarimana long before he died.
On January 15, 1994, Gen. Romeo Dallaire sent a cable to the UN in New York giving a detailed account of these plans. Yet Rudasingwa claims that Kagame is liable for the crime of genocide.
Given his position, Rudasingwa’s allegations enjoyed some credibility especially among the uninformed. He said that he had spent many years telling lies on behalf of Kagame and apologised for it. BBC spent an entire day reporting this story and calling in “experts” (largely its own poorly informed editors) to give opinions. Not once did they question the credibility of a man who admitted to being a liar.
Africa has a parochial political class in both government and opposition. Like its counterparts all over the world, Africa’s elite class desires power not so much to serve the people but to access the privileges of public office. “The People” – even under seemingly democratic systems – are used as pawns in this life and death struggle for power. This perversion is even more dangerous compared to developed nations because the majority of “The People” in Africa are poverty stricken, illiterate and hungry peasants. Therefore, they are easy to manipulate and use as cannon fodder.
For example, the elite classes of America can be as crass, opportunistic and as manipulative of “the people” as the ones in Uganda. However, most voters there are fairly well educated and middle class with access to mass media. As Americans grow, they are inducted into the political process through a system of socialisation that imparts on them particular values and myths about their country. This allows America to define a national interest and hold some values within which political discourse takes place.
Consequently, there is a national consensus on Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Israel etc. Consequently, Barack Obama and George Bush can disagree bitterly and even hate each other intensely. But their disagreement will not be on the definition of the problem but rather on how to approach it. They know going against a defined national interest will attract public opposition. This societal restraint explains the stability of the systems there; its absence in our nations explains the instability of our systems.
Worse still, Africa’s knowledge production and global media coverage is done largely by absentee experts sitting in London, New York and Paris, showing up occasionally for one week to do field reporting when there is a disaster like famine, war or Ebola. Indeed, most reporting on critical issues affecting Africa is done by young and inexperienced journalists fresh from college. They may be smart in the sense that they passed their exams well, but their knowledge of Africa is based on textbook theories written by their kin who do not speak an African language. Many of their lecturers are very smart but miss the nuances of our politics and have particular biases and prejudices about Africans that inform their understanding of our politics.
It is in this context that African elites like Rudasingwa find public platforms and fertile audiences to make outlandish claims and get away with it because their claims are not rigorously examined. This is made worse in Africa because a typical local journalist is himself/herself a victim of these slants – for his/her source of knowledge about his/her reality is drawn from the same textbooks and mass media outlets. That is why a man can admit to being a liar and still make claims that are taken seriously.
But let us even assume BBC was being Christian and was therefore recognising that Rudasingwa is now repenting. Rudasingwa is making these claims after he was arrested for corruption in Rwanda, prosecuted in courts of law and kicked out of government. He did not resign from government out of a sense of moral guilt to clear his conscience. Instead he seems a desperate man trying to use anything to get back at Kagame – for firing him.
But let us assume Rudasingwa told the truth: The BBC journalist could not even ask him what kind of person he is; to have known that his political party and its leader had caused the genocide in his country and yet he went on to serve as secretary general of the party, ambassador to the US and director of cabinet for more than a decade. It takes a dangerously callous and inhuman mind to be convinced of the culpability of your party and its leader in such a tragedy as the Rwanda genocide and then spend decades serving both in top positions, coming out to denounce the crime only after losing power and its associated privileges.
Clearly Rudasingwa has no moral sense. On the other hand, although Kagame has denied ever ordering the shooting down of Habyarimana’s plane, he has stated before that he does not regret the former president’s death. In fact he said once on BBC’s Hard Talk that if he had a chance he would have killed Habyarimana, just like the former president would have done if he too had a chance. The two men were involved in a life and death civil war. It is simple common sense that each one of them must have wished or even plotted the other’s death.
Kagame had a stronger moral imperative to kill Habyarimana (just like Barack Obama had in killing Osama Bin Laden) because the former president was organising genocide of Kagame’s kin. Habyarimana’s fingerprints on the genocide are everywhere. The interahamwe militia that carried out the killings was a youth wing of his political party, the MNRD; he was the largest single shareholder in Radio Mille Collin that propagated genocide; his presidential guard actively aided the killings. What is morally shocking is not that someone killed Habyarimana. Rather what is shocking is that Rudasingwa now believes, like interahamwe and their allies across the world, that the death of this mass murderer was a bad thing for Rwanda.