“If you go back to the birth of nations, if you come down to our own day, if you examine peoples in all possible conditions from the state of barbarism to the most advanced civilisation, you always find war. From this primary cause … the effusion of blood has never ceased in this world.”
Joseph de Maistre (1797)
Civilisation is measured by its roads; uneven development is revealed by its potholes. The Romans ruled the extent of their imperium along their via; the Victorians penetrated with protractors and railroads; lately, the BBC has devoted an entire chauvinistic TV series (‘Top Gear’) to ridiculing the absence of ‘proper’ roads outside the Western comfort zone.
Rwanda’s roads could never be straight, for every inch of this African emerald is set across a vertiginous mountain range. But its winding roads are perfect. Too perfect. They are fastidiously-tarmacked, governed, regulated spaces with delineated sidewalks, freshly-painted lines, rationalised roundabouts, 12-hour street lighting, advance-warning filter systems, traffic lights which work – and which are obeyed. This is not only in the capital, Kigali: all the way south in the border town of Gisenyi, one can gaze smugly from its smooth Paradise into the shambolic warzone of eastern Congo; at the other end of the country, a European visitor to the northern town of Nyagatare could be forgiven for thinking they were in Liechtenstein.
To make matters even more disconcertingly ‘un-African’, Rwandan drivers always follow traffic regulations, even when no-one is looking.
My first visit to Rwanda is in 2008. It’s only 10pm and Kigali is already dead. I’m with Karlsson, a foul-mouthed Swedish academic, and we are looking for somewhere to have another beer. He’s researching the controversial topic of media freedom and I am keen to hear of his findings. We’ve had the uneasy feeling all day that people have been eavesdropping on us. To anyone listening in, our conversation must sound bizarre. You cannot meaningfully discuss Rwandan politics without mentioning their ethnic factions, the Hutu and the Tutsi, yet the regime has literally outlawed the use of the terms ‘Hutu’ and ‘Tutsi’, unless you use them in a close approximation of the following phrase: “… the Hutu genocide against the Tutsi.” So in the spirit of naughty schoolboys we spend the whole day talking politics by substituting the ethnicities with the terms ‘Hookers’ and ‘Trannies’ (as in transvestites). “Some claim there were actually more Hookers killed by the Trannies in reprisals…” or “the Trannies are simply burying the issue and the Hookers are going to boil over one day soon, you’ll see…” 1
In this prematurely deceased night we sit down and relax in the absence of flitting eyes. We are probably being paranoid to think we were shadowed the whole day, but we’d be well-advised in that attitude. Karlsson would simply be the latest foreign researcher or journalist to have his visa revoked. The Rwandan authorities are justified in their vigilance. Only 5 years earlier Rwanda had been one of the most feared protagonists in the Second Congo War (9 combatant nations and nearly 6 million deaths) and only 14 years earlier Hutu Power had conducted a genocide in Rwanda itself (800,000 deaths).
Karlsson staggers off in search of a demarcated urination spot and I enter a kiosk bar, the only place open as far as the eye can see. There is a middle-aged man drinking at the counter. He stares fixedly at me as I try and order beer and cigarettes. The kiosk is brightly-lit by ghastly neon. High up on the wall is the ubiquitous framed image of President Paul Kagame, sitting up straight, his narrow neck-tied frame topped by bespectacled, beady eyes. “Hey you! Do you know who that man is?” the sodden customer addresses me breezily. “Yes”, I smirk, attempting some levity, “he’s the main man, the numero uno – the big cheese!” There is a brief silence as the drinker contemplates me; his lips are now snarled with contempt. “This man” he hisses, grabbing my sleeve and jabbing his finger towards the icon, “is our saviour. He is a God to us.” The barman abruptly finishes the transaction and President Kagame watches from the wall as I leave his kiosk.
A car shoots confidently off the brand-new roundabout, 2 men in front, the driver gripping the wheel as their battered vehicle sails downhill. I walk on upwards, towards the gleaming towers of the Union Trade Centre, with sloth born of experience. Moving too fast can be murder in the Land of a Thousand Hills.
Kagame’s portrait is up there on the wall of Trattoria, a classy joint whose menu includes the Pizza Africana – topped with plantain, cheese and bacon. The portrait has changed since 2008, when I first visited Rwanda. Then, he sat up straight and looked stiff and nervous, as if ironed and starched into power. The new, official 2014 portrait, which hangs on at least one wall in every public building in Rwanda, has changed. He leans forward, almost out of the frame, with the confidence of age. He peers quizzically at the viewer, as if to ask: “Who are you? Did I really hear you say that? Are you questioning me?”
Fig 1: Official portrait, President Kagame 2008
Fig 2: Official portrait, President Kagame 2014
“To get anywhere here, in business, you need to be in government or know someone.” Harold, a Ugandan journalist, leans back into his chair and smiles his lupine, ironic smile. With his gleaming leather jacket and sharp features, set against the plush, softly-lit interior of Trattoria, he looks like a man in the know. “All of these types” – his eyes sweep around the crowded pizza restaurant – “they are the children of the political class: people in government or RPF business.” The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) is President Kagame’s party, which has governed the country since its army took power after the genocide of 1994.
The men in Trattoria are dressed with restraint and the women with tasteful indecency. The atmosphere is oddly muted: conversation happens in low tones; music throbs gently in the background; nothing shrieks nor blares. It is not just in this refined restaurant that peace reigns; outside in the streets one can hear the echo of solitary footsteps on the cobbles. For someone used to the chaos of Kampala or the bustle of Nairobi, this is an uncannily quiet city. It’s 8 years since my first visit to Rwanda, but I still occasionally have the thought: “Am I really in Africa?”
The car suddenly re-emerges into my vision. The driver had taken the wrong exit from the roundabout. He is now reversing rapidly back uphill, the man at the wheel smiling through gritted teeth, suddenly and shamefully aware that he is out of place, that he does not understand this new road system, but trying to make good his error.
It is not only the Rwandan capital that can seem ‘un-African’. The French used to plant pine trees in the countryside of many of their colonies – a way of recreating their ‘petit France’ through foliage. This lends the mountainous town of Nyagatare an Alpine quality. Sunlight dapples my needle-strewn path, flanked in perfect symmetry by the towering evergreens. A factory lurks darkly in the forest, just beyond view. Through diamond-patterned wire fencing I glimpse white-bibbed, masked workers with rubber gloves, shifting industrial detritus into piles – to be burned, to be reclaimed, to be buried. A logo on a crumpled carton reads ‘Inyange’, the juice and dairy giant: nutritious, overpriced, delicious, inevitable.
When the colonials, sweaty from the fetid jungles of Congo and parched from the arid Sahara, first arrived in Ruanda-Urundi (now the separate nation-states of Rwanda and Burundi), they stumbled upon these well-tended, supremely-ordered mountain kingdoms, as if having chanced upon the African El Dorado. Cattle abounded and provided the fattened bonds of feudal economy; anything could be grown and each family fastidiously maintained their own garden; and, most importantly, everyone knew their place – from the king to the courtier, to the landlord, to the small-holder, to the serf. The two main ethnic groups in the country also were stratified by class, although more roughly: the minority Tutsi, who dominated most of the top positions, and the majority Hutu.
In the 1970s, after the Hutu revolution, it became common knowledge – relayed in churches, newspapers and schools – that the minority Tutsi had once upon a time invaded the country from the north. The Tutsi were described as the invading overlords, with the indigenous Hutu majority forced into generations of servitude. This state-sponsored narrative may, arguably, have reflected a pre-colonial reality. However, rather than being levelled by the European invaders, this inequality was exploited and exacerbated by imperialist favouritism; an ethnic ‘divide-and-rule’. The Christian priests and colonial administrators consolidated European control through the allocation of the best education, jobs and resources to the minority Tutsi, who were thus enrolled as imperial proxies. So the Hutu revolution sought to overturn this historic injustice and there followed two decades of rule by Juvenal Habyarimana’s Hutu-dominated party, the MRND. From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, the minority Rwandan Tutsi then suffered marginalisation and occasional massacres. Fleeing the persecution, they took refuge abroad, especially in neighbouring Uganda.
The lush, Liechtensteinian cattle town of Nyagatare (in whose Alpine landscape I found myself strolling) is not only the centre of production of Inyange, the juice and dairy giant. It was also a Tutsi-dominated area which bordered Uganda and was therefore, logically, one of the bases for the Rwandan Patriotic Army’s entry into the country in the early ‘90s. The Rwanda Patriotic Army/Front (RPA/F) was a Tutsi-led movement, which had waited impatiently for years to overturn the Hutu Revolution. The RPA waged a bitter three-year guerrilla war, which climaxed in 1994 with the genocide. The massacres of Tutsi and moderate Hutu civilians were carried out by extremist elements of an increasingly desperate Hutu regime, as they failed to contain the incursions of the determined RPA. The genocide succeeded in wiping out 800,000 people, but failed to win the war. The victorious RPF took political power and now controls, with unrivalled supremacy, Nyagatare, all of Rwanda and especially the Inyange juice and dairy company – whose products are, as earlier noted, nutritious, overpriced, delicious and inevitable 2.
The passenger of the car is looking more overtly flustered than the driver; he is not even in control of where this rapidly-reversing vehicle is going. Both he and the driver are extremely nervous lest they be seen by the cops to be performing this illegal manoeuvre. Obedience and adherence to norms are fundamental to Rwandan culture – it always has been so, even in pre-colonial times. The driver’s eyes flick over as he draws level with me and his rear bumper approaches the roundabout. I smile sympathetically back at him. So much has changed here – the streets, the signs, the landmarks, the protocol – no-one could be blamed for feeling a little lost in this new Rwanda.
Back to business. The subject of state monopolies and RPF control of the economy has come up again in conversation. Natolya, a svelte, black San Fran lesbian, wants to set up a Belgian micro-brewery in Kigali and I have introduced her to the circle of Jan, a Dutch middle-man in the gold trade (of such rich hybridity is our Brave New Africa composed). In his few years here Jan has lost $200,000 in mistaken ventures, which he refers to as his ‘school fees’. He insists, and our Rwandan friends at the table agree, that you need to ‘know someone’ to set up any business and that means ‘someone’ in government. It is a necessity, a fact of life; you simply cannot run a business in Rwanda without it. Natolya objects that she would not be treading on anyone’s toes; her business is so tiny she’d barely have anything to tax. No matter, the others reply, if you don’t ‘know someone’ even the tiniest nano-brewery will be still-born.
We’re sitting in Jan’s bar, a modest front for his gold spectrum-analysis services. At the next table are 4 thick-set Rwandan guys, talking heatedly in French. Jan’s a few beers down the line and in anecdotal mood. It’s a clear measure of how much things have changed in 6 years that people now talk so freely in public.
I’d raised the topic of ‘obedience’, the extraordinary (‘Un-African’?) adherence to rules by the general population of Rwanda. Jan, in libertarian Dutch style, sees this obedience as absurd and self-defeating. “We were urgently trying to catch a plane out of Congo and the only Rwanda Air flight to Kigali was under-booked, so we were told that it would not take off that day. We were 12 people, enough to make up numbers and justify the flight costs for Rwanda Air. They seemed very happy on the phone, because there’s nothing they hate more than changing their schedule. This is Congo we’re talking about, so after battling thru the potholes and roadblocks we were lucky to reach Goma airport 40 minutes before take-off. I paid cash, got the tickets and we sprinted towards the plane on the runway, with the Congo border guys waving us through. Suddenly this Rwanda Air official appears and insists that we have to fill out the exit visa forms before we get on the plane. I told the motherfucker that Congo Immigration had let us through – what the fuck was the problem? But this idiot was there, saying “rules are rules”, and he made us go back to the office and fill out the forms. As he’s cross-checking the exit forms with our passports and visas, we watch the plane take off. Fucking morons. They obey the rules no matter what.” I venture that this was just a way of making more money off him, but Jan shakes his head. “No. They refunded us everything and we got on a Rwanda Air flight the next day. They wasted everyone’s time, but they kept to their fucking rules and schedule.”
I’m trying to square this adherence to rules and ‘obedience’ with the previously-discussed corruption – the necessity of having to ‘know someone’ – when we are rudely interrupted by an angry man from the neighbouring table. “Defence de fumer!” he is shouting [“Smoking is forbidden!”] I look at Jan, expecting him to flex his bar-owner muscles. But Jan stubs his cigarette out, apologising to them and then to us, explaining that he can’t get into rows in his own bar. I, also a few beers down the road, am less diplomatic. In French, I point out that we are outside on a terrace, that no-one else is objecting and that if they had asked more politely, they might have received a more compliant response. Natolya, the spiky American, adds: “Tell ‘em to go fuck ‘emselves.” One of the Rwandans at our table tries to pacify our newfound enemies: “Our guest [Natolya] is American and wishes to set up a business here. This man [me] is English and loves Rwanda very much. We apologise for any bother caused.” This infuriates our righteous neighbour even more. He spits contempt: “English? American? What do we need these people for?” He turns and rants on to his mates in French and Kinyarwanda and we return to our own conversation. It is only later that I sense the import behind his words and feel a sinister reminder of the past. In 1994, the Hutu extremists were inadvertently supported by the French, who saw the RPF as agents of Anglo-American interests in francophone Africa. Clearly, for some people in the region these tensions are still very much alive. 3
The ongoing fall-out from the 1994 genocide and civil war points to another possible reason why Jan’s band of merry mineral scavengers were scrutinised so carefully by the Rwandan national airline, when trying to leave Congo. In 1997, the Rwandan army invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo, ostensibly to stamp out the surviving Hutu genocidaires who continued to launch attacks against the new regime from the ungoverned jungle across the border. In the process of occupying and securing north-eastern DRC, the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, took personal responsibility for extracting the mineral resources of that region – chiefly gold, diamonds, uranium and coltan. This justified military expedition thus became economic annexation, which infuriated the Congolese and their equally-venal allies, rapidly turning Congo into a massive conflict zone that some refer to as the African World War. It sucked in 9 African states, all the international powers who had a historic or economic interest in the region (including the US, UK and France) and the UN (in their most expensive and demonstrably unsuccessful expedition to date), and created countless proxies and rebel groups who continue to run amok in the region today.
For its part, the Rwandan government has skilfully dodged all responsibility for the war. It now maintains a less direct presence in DRC’s mineral market, providing logistical support and a safe base for prospectors, as well as an informal clearing house for the minerals themselves. It is therefore very much in Rwanda’s interest to know who is coming in and out of the country on their national airline. Modern Rwanda – the ‘un-African’ infrastructure, the unrivalled army, the sleek bureaucracy, the Ministers’ villas, the very airline itself – is built on a foundation of these violently-extracted Congolese minerals. In the minds of some resentful opponents of the current status quo, this represents nothing less than the rape of the region by ‘anglophone’ powers, acting through and enriching their ‘men on the ground’ – the RPF elite.4
The car starts to reverse back onto the roundabout. It is an old saloon car, a little battered, certainly not a car owned by RPF or a businessman. A massive, shiny 4×4 suddenly whips round the roundabout, nearly colliding with the confused saloon. Rwandans are normally too polite to honk their horns, so the driver of the 4×4 simply glares. In any case, the poor saloon car driver is obviously not someone ‘in the know’, more someone to be pitied.
Elitism is as much a social phenomenon as an economic structure. Despite its impressive GDP growth rates and inclusive veneer, Rwanda remains deeply unequal on nearly every level. This is hardly a unique issue and, frankly, who cares? But every now and then… it can really get to you.
We are enveloped in the sickening whiteness of Kayzen, one of Kigali’s most prestigious, lascivious nightclubs. It’s perfectly pale, dimly-lit interior is structured like an Arab house, with the dance floor overlooked on all sides by an observation balcony, along which are lined the wealthy patrons observing the action below. Saccharine, sleazy Nigerian pop pumps from the pristine speakers, as fevered teenagers and the odd drunken tourist grind shamelessly together on the chequered dance floor, all watched over by the casual gaze of the plush throng on the balcony.
Selina takes a break from her lewd moves to chat and sip some wine. She needs to flirt for her liquid supper, as the imported grape juice from South Africa comes at an extortionate $30 a bottle – half her monthly waitress’ salary. She’s not selling her body, just a savvy hustler at the street-hardened age of 19. (She looks more like 23, but like so many Rwandan orphans, she was given an arbitrary age so she could have something to put on her ID card.) Her hustling portfolio is mixed and largely innocent: the overpriced wine comes from an aging, AIDS-ridden admirer impotently observing her from the corner of the club; she plays the orphan card to coax her school fees from kindly American expats (she’s retaking Senior 2 for the third time); she got the part-time waitressing job from an alarmingly pervy boss; and she finds nicotine, pocket money and a friendly ear in us decadent Europeans, who judge that Selina knows more about Africa than the most learned academics.
She tells me that Club Kayzen is owned by the son of President Kagame, who publicly frowns on all the debauchery, but must be secretly proud of the success of his progeny. We’re sitting near one of her old school friends, a smooth, quiet individual in his early twenties. He pulls out a smart-phone in a faux-gold case. Selina leans forward admiringly. “Is that i-Phone 6? Eh! These are the kids!” I raise my eyebrow quizzically. “All these guys” she explains, echoing the Ugandan journalist Harold’s comments earlier in Trattoria, “are the sons of government people. And all those gals there…” nodding at a chorus line of boob-tubed gyrators, “they dance in music videos for free, so they can be noticed.” So, as well as the ‘kids’, there are also the aspirants, the gold-diggers, the social-climbers; those who drink today with Kagame’s children may find themselves eating at the presidential table tomorrow. And, looking at the beleaguered waiting staff, bossed around arrogantly by this elite, I am reminded of all those who can never come in here, the thousands and millions who give the lie to Rwanda’s shiny, developmental success story, who can’t afford milk powder, let alone a bottle of imported wine.
A few drinks onwards and I find myself awkwardly flailing on the chequered dance-floor of doom, no longer caring that we are now specimens in the gossip laboratory of Club Kayzen, with the social scientists conducting their minute, scathing analysis of our every move from the superior vantage point in the viewing gallery. Selina’s bottom winds towards my arrythmically wiggling crotch and I shrink back in British embarrassment, moving chastely out of range. Now that I am gone, a ring of salivating Rwandan men immediately encircles the eroticised orphan school-girl as she weaves her hips lower and lower to the floor, with the robotic voice on the PA grunting relentlessly “bend over bend over bend over…” Hands shoot forward from every direction to try and pull her in for a grind, their golden rings and watches sparkling in the lurid disco lights. Nauseous, outraged, I stagger into this ring of violation and begin to slap away the groping hands, to raise my fists at the leering faces. Hoots of hilarity ripple around the bemused, pampered mob – “Why is this white boy making such a fuss? He is drunk! Is that tart his girlfriend?”
I stumble away impotently from the spinning dance-floor and the cavorting children of the perfect new state, leaving them to snake their privileged waists blithely towards a festering, fateful future.
The saloon car circles the roundabout once more. The driver and his passenger clearly have no idea where to turn off to reach the bottom of the hill. They pause at the mouth of the turning they had taken before. I can almost hear their panicked conversation. “It’s that way to the Route de Poids Lourds!” … “That’s a one-way, fool!” … “It’s the only way, you idiot!” They keep going and circle on once more around the alien roundabout. The rules have changed faster than they can keep up with and now they are utterly confused. Finally, they fly off another turning and I am left alone on the pristine pavement. I keep staring at the retreating, battered saloon, my sympathetic smile fading into a sarcastic death-mask.
Silence. The nightclub is empty; no longer Club Kayzen, but its poorer ancestor, the decrepit, abandoned discotheque of Viewpoint Hotel, whose heyday has long since passed.
Dust motes float across the dance-floor, turning around one another lazily in a beam of afternoon sunlight. The ceiling displays fading representations of all the colourful flags of Africa, boasting of Rwanda’s position at the heart of the continent. The walls are decorated with flaking, antiquated murals depicting bar girls and good-time guys dancing to the forgotten funk of the heady ‘70s. Augustine, the grizzled owner, shakes his head mournfully. “They came and closed us down just before New Year – when I was supposed to be making all my money. These new ‘environmental health’ laws … We are looking for investors to help us ‘isolate’ our place, but it’s damn expensive and I’m tempted just to close.”
From one day to the next, Rwanda’s government suddenly decided that the country was too noisy. With virtually no warning, they ruthlessly closed down every single establishment that played music after 10pm, but lacked sound-proofing – clubs, bars, even churches. The latter target surprised everyone, since Eastern Africa is nothing if not devoutly religious. This secular equality before the law showed that these reforms aspired to European standards of legislation.5
Many visitors to Rwanda remark, from the moment they disembark into the pristine airport, that the country is most ‘un-African’. Where are the piles of burning rubbish? Where are the unlicensed street hawkers? Why is everyone stopping at traffic lights? Why is it so quiet?
Kagame is often described as the most efficient, determined leader in Africa – someone who gets things done. He is in the process of creating the most perfect African state and you can’t make that modern omelette without breaking a few traditional eggs. To create this tropical Switzerland, everything that Africans are famous for, and many do truly enjoy, is being erased: loud music, freestyle driving, pride in your tribe, raucous church services, everyday corruption, everyday liberty, informal economy, informal marriages, seasonal work, seasoned financial reports…
What is celebrated elsewhere in Africa – the freedom to find one’s own solutions, the ‘getting-by-despite-everything’, the improvised ingenuity, the DIY modernity, the beauty of imperfection – is now being ruthlessly smoothed over by rigid laws, by tight control, by health & safety, by absolute unity, by social engineering…
Silence. I am alone on the roundabout now. There is no-one around. What has happened to the city? We’re not far from the centre, but the streets are absolutely deserted.
“The word Umuganda can be translated as ‘coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome’. In traditional Rwandan culture, members of the community would call upon their family, friends and neighbours to help them complete a difficult task.
As part of efforts to reconstruct Rwanda and nurture a shared national identity, the Government of Rwanda drew on aspects of Rwandan culture and traditional practices to enrich and adapt its development programs to the country’s needs and context. The result is a set of Home Grown Solutions — culturally owned practices translated into sustainable development programs. One of these Home Grown Solutions is Umuganda.
Modern day Umuganda can be described as community work. On the last Saturday of each month, communities come together to do a variety of public works. This often includes infrastructure development and environmental protection. Rwandans between 18 and 65 are obliged to participate in Umuganda. The value of Umuganda to the country’s development since 2007 has been estimated at more than US $60 million. See more HERE
‘Umuganda’ is normally described in glowing terms by developmental observers from Europe and with impressed incredulity by other Africans. My Rwandan friends talk about it as a tiresome chore to be avoided, but these friends tend not to be full-blooded subscribers to President Kagame’s vision. They do anything they can to avoid it, not because they don’t want to help their neighbours, but because they don’t want to be coerced into digging ditches for the state. They already work; they already pay taxes; why should they fix a rictus grin to their face and join in this humiliating waste of time? In most countries, this kind of forced labour is associated with punishment for petty crimes. So where is the crime that justifies this ‘community work’? Could it be the collective guilt of 1994, the ‘never again’…?
President Paul Kagame himself has made much of getting mucky with his people in ‘Umuganda’, but it is a badly-kept secret that most big men of Kigali do not. In practice, only the masses get a knock on the door from the local councillors on ‘Umuganda’ day. Shirkers face a fine or incarceration. The last Saturday of every month sees Kigali transformed from an unusually quiet African city into a ghost town.
The contemporary Tutsi regime’s stylisation of ‘modern Umuganda’ as a development of a traditional practice has a sinister echo, for it is not the first time this community practice has been twisted to political ends. The Hutu racists claimed that ‘weeding out’ Tutsi in 1994 was also a form of traditional collective work – the genocide in rural Rwanda was literally referred to as ‘Umuganda’.
These are political claims that bend and reshape local communities to the will of elitist, modernist projects. ‘Traditional Umuganda’ was a reciprocal, voluntary community practice, exercised on a village level. ‘Modern Umuganda’ is a coercive instrument of the RPF regime to show that “we are all working together equally”. It is also a bloody pain in the arse when you have a hangover from Friday night.
But this is not exactly forced labour. It is something more like ‘forced community-building’. It combines the laudable goal of making a big man do the same job as the poorest member of society with the quasi-totalitarian power of the state to make everyone do the same thing at the same time, whether they like it or not. In this way it is not so far from those absurd, synchronised stadium displays we see in North Korea.
Fig 3: Choreographed massacres at the 20th Anniversary of the Genocide
This comparison is not simply rhetorical. In 2014, the RPF organised volunteers and awarded lucrative contracts to the elite to stage the largest spectacle in Rwanda’s history to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide. Genocide Memorial Day, observed every 7th April, sees the entire social life of the country grind to a mournful halt for the whole month. Rather like Ramadan, it is seen as utterly distasteful to be organising a party or having any kind of fun in April in Rwanda. Unlike Ramadan, there is normally no celebration at the end of the miserable month. The twentieth anniversary was different; it was huge and splendid. Amahoro Stadium was packed with international celebrities and diplomats, who were treated to processions of weeping schoolchildren, colourful choreography, speeches from survivors, etc. – all to remind the world of what happened in 1994. This enactment of Rwanda’s victimhood before the global press was a dramatic reconstruction of the West’s culpability in the genocide. Lest we forget, Tony Blair and other tearful hypocrites stood up to remind us of how we all ignored the cries for help from the innocent Tutsi, as they were slaughtered by the murderous Hutu, hell-bent on primitive, tribal domination. ‘Never again’ they said to the world’s cameras, for the twentieth time. Kagame presided over this colourful resurrection of the ghosts of ‘94, the grim-faced saviour of the nation. “Remember what you did to us; look how far we have come despite you; never tell us you know best again.”
Fig 4: Choreographed flower-arranging at the 20th Anniversary of the Genocide
To ensure ‘never again’ is realised in practice, President Kagame is now running for office again, for a third term, despite the two-term limits of the constitution he himself designed. However, he is not doing this in defiance of the will of the people, whose freedom the constitution was designed to protect. For this is no clumsy thug like Idi Amin, nor a scheming Machiavellian Mugabe, but an enlightened, modern ruler. Therefore, the people must be made to demand his ‘lux perpetua’.
My young friend Selina once told me: “Kagame is not a dictator. A dictator is someone who says: ‘Hey! You do this!’ [She scowls and jabs her finger at me.] But Kagame’s not like that. He watches you and keeps quiet. And then, if you don’t do what the RPF want, they take your business or put you in jail or they kill you.”
In May 2015, Selina reported to me that she and her classmates were told by their teachers to write, in their own words, petitions asking for President Kagame to run for a third term. Although this was theoretically voluntary, it was an ‘exercise’ in public patriotism and who was not. All the students were asked to write on open sheets of paper, appending their name and ID number, and then read them out to the class. Perhaps this is fair enough, to prove that the petitions were genuine, but in such a tightly-regulated society this process also acted as an official register of who supported the president and who did not. When Selina and some other ‘rebel’ classmates neglected to join in this voluntary exercise, some of their classmates noted this lack of patriotism disapprovingly. Hearing her story, I was aghast. “Go and write the fucking thing tomorrow!” I urged. Selina shrugged, equally dismissive of my attempts to force her.
All across the country, my journalist friend Harold told me, pre-written petitions were handed out, house-by-house, in suburbs and villages, by the local councillors. In rural areas, where there are higher levels of illiteracy, people must have had little idea of what they were signing. I paraphrase: “We, the undersigned, wish for the constitution of Rwanda to be changed to allow President Paul Kagame to run for a third term. We believe that he should be allowed to continue to lead the country to peace and prosperity and ensure that Rwanda never again experiences the horrors of 1994, the Tutsi genocide by the Hutu.”
Like the dramatic public recreation of the genocide and like ‘modern Umuganda’, these petitions are RPF-driven exercises in myth-making and nation-building: pressuring and obliging people to come together in support of the state-as-community and its infallible leader.6
Other Africans call Kigali ‘the quiet city’. Today, in the emptiness of Umuganda, the silence feels literally oppressive. I ascend, perspiring. A lone soldier with a large assault rifle watches me suspiciously. I look guiltily down at the symmetric concrete paving, aware of my equally-solitary presence, while the rest of the city is sacrificing its weekend to collective work. Perhaps even Kagame himself is there in the ditches, tirelessly carving new channels with the people he saved and continues to save.
Kagame is perhaps rightly seen as ‘the saviour of the nation’ and, in some ways, his trajectory has been Messianic. When the RPA first launched their assault from Uganda on the Hutu regime in 1990, they were swiftly defeated and their leaders killed. At their lowest moment, when they had retreated to the mountains and began literally freezing to death, a young Major Kagame stepped forward from nowhere, resurrecting the RPF and becoming the rebel group’s new, visionary leader. From the ashes of defeat and despair he heroically re-launched the struggle against impossible odds: a well-equipped national Hutu army; French secret agents and battle-hardened paratroopers; a hostile climate of tropical jungle and sub-zero mountains; a genocidal local population; etc. Victory for the RPF seemed improbable, but Kagame’s determination and tactical genius persevered. With the formal end of hostilities, Kagame assumed control of the country and sent a message of national unity to his nation and the world: there would be no more recriminations; local courts (the gacaca) would bring forgiveness and reconciliation; there would be no more Hutu/Tutsi, but one unified nation in which ethnic discrimination would be outlawed. He was hailed as a Mandela-like statesman, graciously forgiving his enemies after years of exile and racist bloodshed.
Since then, he has undoubtedly led Rwanda to unprecedented prosperity and this success story is frequently ascribed by domestic and international commentators to his personal qualities: tough but fair; determined but democratic; visionary but realistic; cautiously liberal; with the best interests of the nation at heart; and, like all great men, able to take a joke. I heard a comedian tease his ego-centricity, in a gently-mocking impersonation: “K-Club? Kayzen? Yes! Quite so! This is correct! All the best nightclubs in Kigali begin with a ‘K’! Everything good in my country should begin with a K! Where’s the Minister of Culture? Tell him to issue a statement at once!” Behind the laughter, I did not even detect the hollow ring of bitterness. Most people in Rwanda genuinely admire and even love their President, even if they do not approve of everything he does, even if they think that it may be time for him to go.
However, unless current trends change, he will remain in power for a good while longer. Like President Museveni in neighbouring Uganda, by effectively undermining any viable opposition he has created a political climate where there is no alternative to Him. However, the means of persuasion are more subtle and insidious than in Uganda, where the gloves come off more often and the debate about civil-military relations is heated and open. Conversely, in Rwanda, where you cannot openly criticise Kagame, the public atmosphere is more one of unquestioning, universal loyalty.
In private, one hears different stories. On my first trip back to Rwanda for six years, in late 2014, I was shocked when a tipsy young journalist whom I had never met before suddenly started snarling contemptuous criticism about the RPF and insisting that Kagame himself had ordered the assassination of the former Hutu president in 1994. I tried to change the subject, partly because I disagreed with him and partly because we were in a very public place, but he snapped back: “Who cares? Everyone knows this!” Alarmingly, he disappeared a few weeks later; I was told he had been put into rehab by his family. On another occasion, a gentle old taxi driver started making one or two insinuating comments about the RPF, once he understood I was curious about politics. It was after I had quit my job and he was driving me for the last time to Kigali airport. As I bade him farewell, he held my hand for a long time, saying bluntly: “Do not forget us. I hope to see you again, but who knows? This is a dictatorship. I am very worried about the future.”
On and on and up the endless hills. Above me loom the gleaming towers of Deloitte, the international accounting firm. Beyond another perfect roundabout lies my final destination, the Union Trade Centre, where I will sip an overpriced cappuccino and surf on hi-speed wi-fi, in the company of international NGO workers, gawky tourists and the fabled new African middle class.
A few dissident voices aside, Rwanda has spun its own success story expertly to the outside world and the majority of its citizens seem to have internalised the narrative, becoming its carriers. After decades of political chaos and economic mismanagement, after the worst horror imaginable, with scarcely any exportable natural resources, this tiny land-locked African state has achieved in twenty years of peace what few others have in fifty: near-zero corruption, consistent growth in GDP far above the global average (7-9% per year), an efficient bureaucracy, a disciplined army, a perfect road system, a country-wide Internet superhighway, close to 100% primary school enrolment, a rehabilitative prison system, an absence of beggars and homeless people on the streets, and so on. One of the keys to Rwanda’s economic success has been its ‘correct’ use of international donor funding, which now accounts for half of its annual budget. With such low levels of corruption and canny technocrats in full control, aid, in Rwanda’s case, demonstrably works. The World Bank’s forecasts for Rwanda are breathlessly optimistic, with the country successfully meeting every challenge: global economic crises, gender disparity, HIV/AIDS/ebola, the collapse of tourism in other parts of East Africa, conflict in neighbouring countries, the tribulations of a new democratic system…7
However, on the ground, away from the statistics, things feel less perfect. With high levels of unemployment and an over-regulated economy, there is an air of desperation amongst the youth. Compared with other African countries, there seemed fewer opportunities for hustling or even just trying to set up your own business. While Rwanda’s official poverty levels may be relatively low for Africa (around 50%), most Rwandans don’t have a way to cheat the system as they do elsewhere. The novel absence of beggars in public is explained by the simple fact that they would be rounded up and sent to a correction house if they hung around on the streets for too long. Discussing my friends’ finances and their limited prospects, I was astonished at how anyone got by at all.
Rwanda’s bureaucracy is often praised for its efficiency in tax collection and public spending, but this may be part of the problem. The public sector is large and provides much employment, but taxes are consequently high – punitively so for entrepreneurs. This drives down private sector wages and pushes up prices. To make matters worse, Rwanda is land-locked and lacks its own natural resources, so imported goods often travel through the tax regimes of 2 other African countries. Rwanda itself has an astonishing import tax of 49% on manufactured goods. So, while domestic products are reasonably priced, almost anything from the outside feels absurdly expensive.
Furthermore, the reality of the much-touted Rwandan economic miracle is largely limited to the urban areas; rural Rwanda is still mired in poverty. This urban-rural divide may help explain why Rwanda’s reputation is so strong abroad – visitors are far more likely to spend time in the cities, or at least not in the more-impoverished villages which lie far from the polished thoroughfares. There are countless books, articles, blogs and essays that begin with glowing descriptions of arriving in Kigali’s immaculate airport and driving smoothly around its perfect streets – many of these written by envious Africans from other parts of the continent.
Despite the evident disparity between the hype and the reality, the independent media sector fully endorses Rwanda’s success story and may indeed have reason to be cheerful, for the media itself is enjoying a process of unprecedented liberalisation. Every month, new magazines appear on the newsstands with glowing titles: “Inspire”, “Hope”, “Chief Executive”. In 2013 there was only one TV station, the national broadcaster; now there are five new, independent channels. For the first time in two decades, stories occasionally appear in a newspaper that question the effectiveness of a government policy or report apparent transgressions of rights.
However, such critical stories are very much the minority. Across all radio and TV channels and all print media, the official narrative, with its unstinting praise of the ultimate chief executive, remains dominant. Even the publisher of the mildly-critical Rwanda Today (the East African) cannot feature any direct criticism of Kagame himself, and any story discussing him in person must appear on the front cover; to relegate the national saviour to the inside pages would be deeply disrespectful.8
The most tightly-controlled narrative is, unsurprisingly, about the genocide itself and the subject of ethnicity in Rwanda. As already noted, one can only discuss the genocide as being perpetrated by the Hutu against the Tutsi. This is despite reasonable claims that what happened was more like a massacre of Tutsi civilians and Hutu moderates by Hutu extremists under the cover of a civil war. It is incontrovertible that the overall conflict claimed hundreds of thousands of Hutu lives, many at the hands of Kagame’s rebel army, the RPF – it was a war, after all. However, any ambiguity is too much for the regime, to the point of absurd, pedantic paranoia. A senior editor of an independent magazine told me that when he published an article which discussed the “mayhem of 1994”, he was immediately forced to withdraw the entire publication from circulation and reissue the article with the correct phrasing: “the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi by the Hutu”.
In neighbouring Burundi, whose ethnic make-up and pre-1994 history is almost identical to Rwanda’s, ethnic power-sharing is written into the constitution and ethnic issues are debated openly across all media. Conversely, despite the widespread perception that Rwanda has long been governed by a Tutsi regime, which effectively controls the army, economy and parliament, any kind of discussion of ethnic tension or division of power is absolutely forbidden in Rwanda. The regime deliberately avoids the elephant in the room; discussing politics in Rwanda without mentioning ethnicity can be compared to discussing politics in Iraq or Ireland without mentioning religion. For many observers of Rwandan politics and, indeed, many citizens of Rwanda, this silence is frustrating and potentially very dangerous, not least for the regime’s future prospects of maintaining peace. If these perceptions are not addressed, resentments can fester and conspiracies form in the darkness. As the old saying goes: “Your friends criticise you, while your enemies keep silent.”
It is not only a problem of legally-enforced silence. The independent media and international NGOs also contribute to the absence of dialogue by failing to engage, even indirectly, with the elephant in the room. Leave alone ethnic tension, you very rarely hear any mention in the media about elitism or high taxation or imprisonment without trial – issues that trouble people greatly in private. I had a disturbing conversation with the European director of the most successful film school in Rwanda, which is independent and international in its outlook. It was disturbing because all of his focus was on professionalism and efficiency; content is irrelevant as long as the structure of the narrative obeys some formal rules of scriptwriting. I met no one working in film in Rwanda who was interested in exploring anything challenging through independent media, even indirectly or poetically. The result is all too apparent in the blunt, unimaginative content of the majority of Rwanda’s international films: coping with HIV or disability, female empowerment, coming to terms with the genocide – subjects all falling within the approved limits of state discourse, without even a hint of dissenting allegory. This self-censorship feels unpleasantly complicitous in such an oppressive climate.
In 2014, the BBC broadcast a documentary called ‘Rwanda: the Untold Story’. While the BBC’s neutrality is questionable, its reportage is normally characterised by a balanced approach. ‘Untold Story’ was unusual for its one-sided narrative, perhaps precisely to address the historic imbalance in the official ‘story’ of the country. The claims in the film were shocking to many young Rwandan viewers who had never known anything but the RPF version of the events. The BBC gave voice to dissenters, all of whom live and work abroad, like the ‘rebel’ General Nyamwasa, now resident in South Africa. The latter has survived several attempts on his life by shadowy agents and one of his closest colleagues, Patrick Karegeya, was murdered in Johannesburg in 2013. The film cuts between interviews with General Nyamwasa, describing Kagame as a paranoid ‘serial killer’, and the president himself giving a speech during a prayer meeting, in which he discussed Karegeya’s death and, instead of denying responsibility for the murder, issued a threat: “You can’t betray Rwanda and not get punished for it. Anyone, even those still alive, will reap the consequences. Anyone. It is a matter of time.”9
Most grievously, from the regime’s point of view, the documentary devotes much time to a conspiracy theory that Kagame kick-started the genocide by assassinating the former Hutu president in April 1994, then deliberately waited for the genocide to get underway, so that his subsequent takeover of the Rwandan state would be justified in the eyes of the international community. The documentary also features two American academics giving evidence that many more Hutus than Tutsi were killed in 1994, and that a large proportion of these deaths occurred after the former Hutu regime had capitulated and its army surrendered. Effectively, then, the documentary turned the official Rwandan narrative on its head: Kagame was not the saviour of the nation, but the mastermind of the genocide; the Tutsi were not the victims of the civil war, but in fact wiped out many more Hutus in a vengeful counter-genocide. Controversial stuff.
Leaving alone the dubious authenticity of many of these claims, the documentary was certainly taken very seriously by many people within Rwanda – both young people hearing these ideas articulated for the first time, and those in government desperate to keep Rwandans from hearing such ideas at all. But instead of engaging publicly with the BBC on the substance of the claims in the documentary, the Rwandan government fell back on its default ‘silencing’ option: it used the legal instrument of ‘genocide denial’ to ban the BBC from operating in Rwanda and permanently closed its kinyarwanda (local language) service. This response seemed panicky and defensive; almost an admission of guilt. If you disagree with what someone is saying about you in public, it is surely far more effective to discredit their ideas so that no one believes them, than to gag them and leave the impression that you are afraid of ‘the truth’. The telling of the ‘Untold Story’ was clumsy, but the Rwandan government reaction was clumsier. The perception that “the lady doth protest too much” was difficult to shake.
To my amusement, the battered old saloon car re-appears again from a side-road; to my alarm, it veers suddenly towards me. The perspiring driver leans out with an embarrassed smile. “Excusez-moi monsieur – but how do you get from here to la Route de Poids Lourds?” I point the way back up the hill from where they have just come, but he gesticulates with frustration down the hill. “Monsieur, please, la route is down there – I can see it down there!” I explain apologetically that to navigate this new roundabout system, you sometimes have to go backwards to go forwards; there may be no other way.
A new leader rises from the ashes of defeat and mercilessly crushes his fanatical enemies with the will of the righteous. The blood of the sacrificed mixes with the rich soil of Rwanda, heralding a new dawn for this once-mighty kingdom. This is now a nation that no longer knows ethnic division, tightly bound together to fulfil its common destiny. This is a nation beset on all sides by enemies, bloodied but unbowed, determined never to repeat its past. This is a nation that looks to the future, a future now in its own hands; for this is a modern African nation that has shed its colonial chains; a streamlined, efficient nation, the likes of which the continent has never seen before…
But to many, this near-perfect nation has become an iron cage of ethnically-cleansed bureaucracy.
Kagame’s Rwanda is a slick operation that presents a liberal, developmental face to the world while manipulating its own citizens into accepting and even demanding RPF domination. The celebrated efficiency, for which the donors love Rwanda so much, comes from the imposition of absolute unity: the abolition of ethnicity; the semantic impossibility of disunity; the straight-faced denial of social tension or inequality – this is the foundation of Rwanda’s newfound ‘peace’.
What is perhaps most worrying about this new Rwandan society is not so much its turbulent past, but the artificially smooth future which it projects. The precise functioning of the state, the unquestioning unity of the people and the absence of everyday corruption and chaos is what makes Rwanda feel ‘fascist’.
Fig 5: Arts & Crafts in Prison 1930
Justice is administered, regardless of innocence, in the ‘multipurpose hub’ of Prison 1930, home to Rwanda’s political prisoners and ‘dissidents’. There they make traditional African arts and crafts to be sold to tourists. Inside those red-bricked walls, as in all the schools around the country, the inmates are taught to hate their evil past and instead to embrace Paul Kagame as ‘the saviour of the nation’ – a veritable apotheosis. (“Do not mock him”, said the man in the kiosk, “he is a God to us”.)10
Outside Prison 1930, the new aristocracy (or old overlords), the RPF elite, control everything, including foreign perceptions of Rwanda, screening the confused present with bright bill-boards celebrating the achievement of ‘Millennium Development Goals’. Most of all, history is controlled; a dirty, bloody, all-too-human history, smoothed over and simplified, on pain of incarceration or death.
Which way would you have it? Is this not the development we all asked for? Are these perfect roads not the way to the future promised by Independence? There is always a sacrifice to be made. Go back to the beginning of all nations and what do you find? Do you find the warring tribes, the fierce kingdoms, the imperialist butchers and the diamond thieves all sitting down and saying: “Why can’t we all just get along?” No, you find Blood.
Ask the Mau Mau. Ask the Algerians. Ask Mugabe. Ask Julius Malema. Ask Gaddafi.
And after the blood, there will always be some kind of compromise; some action to be taken to prevent the loser rising up again. What compromise would you prefer? The compromise of being ever in the thrall of externally-imposed ‘liberal governance’, that hypocritical, paternalist pact so beloved of Africa’s self-interested leaders? Or the compromise of fooling those neo-colonialist powers, for the benefit of our people? (And so what if the people are also fooled? Let fools be fooled; perhaps they will become wiser in time.)
Freedom of speech. What did you do with that when it was given to you? You used it to kill our people, to orchestrate the downfall of this country, to turn us once again into recipients of western intervention and, worse, pity. What a shameful re-colonisation that would have been, had the RPF not taken control of the situation.
Freedom of speech… Should I remove the muzzle of a dog that has just bitten me? First, demonstrate your understanding of the situation; first, earn your right to speak without causing harm.
Do you even know what ‘democracy’ is?
I have given you a functioning parliament; I am establishing the prerequisite structure for your ‘multi-party’ confusion, which you can safely enjoy when I am gone. How can we now liberalise something so unformed, so potentially anarchic, before it is first established on a firm foundation? Would you let schoolchildren design the national syllabus or run the classroom? You would let them grow up and mature first. What anarchy are you demanding here?
So you say I have been in power too long. Have I overstayed my welcome? Fine. I bow to the will of you, my people. And anyway, I am tired. So, good people, show me the one who can take us forward. I am curious. Show me the one who deserves better the seat of presidency.
Oh? There is no-one? What? Do I hear you correctly? You have decided that you do not want to go back to war, that you perhaps prefer not to be slaughtered by genocidal maniacs again? That you actually prefer to live in peace and enjoy the best modern infrastructure Africa has ever seen? Oh how tiresome. I was so looking forward to playing golf with Obama.
Call me what you want – dictator, fascist, murderer. I will retire in peace when my work is complete. For now, I am satisfied that my people, those who know me and love me, are content to call me their saviour.11
1“[The Rwandan] law makes so-called “divisionism” illegal. The loose term means reporting about topics concerning ‘ethnic, regional, racial, religious, language or other divisive characteristics’ is out of line.” ‘Rwanda: Censorship or self-censorship?’ Katrin Matthaei, Deutsche Welle, 9th December 2014 http://www.dw.com/en/rwanda-censorship-or-self-censorship/a-18118956
2Probably the most coherent and lucid account of the Rwandan genocide – its pre-colonial roots, the post/colonial complicity, the Byzantine internal politics – is Gerard Prunier’s The Rwandan Crisis: History of a Genocide (Columbia UP 1997). Prunier’s rejection of conspiracy theories about Kagame being responsible for the assassination of Habyarimana led one Rwandan journalist friend of mine to dismiss the book as ‘Tutsi propaganda’; another example of just how contentious this history remains.
3Francophone-Hutu loathing for the Tutsi regime in Kigali, and its perceived Anglophone allies, is widely-articulated outside of Rwanda, e.g.: http://africanagenda.net/tutsi-hima-empire/ Note the way in which the economic incentives of Angola, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, etc. for invading Congo are recast in purely racial-sectarian terms (‘Bantus confronting the Tutsi-Hima empire’), rather than in terms of stopping Presidents Museveni and Kagame from taking over the mineral mines of Congo.
4Standard accounts of Africa’s ‘world war’ can be found here http://www.economist.com/node/1213296 and here http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/AD_Issues/amdipl_16/weiss/weiss_congo1.html.
On the mineral exploitation conducted there with Western governmental complicity, see The Congo: Plunder and Resistance, by David Renton, David Seddon, Leo Zeilig, (Zed 2006). From page 194: “First, the mineral exploiters from Rwanda and Uganda concentrated on pillaging gold and diamonds from eastern Congo. They increasingly turned their attention to coltan… Western companies then bought the minerals exported by these countries, presenting a cover for [Western] involvement in the war… While the World Bank funded and praised Rwanda and Uganda… their economic success was being built on the exploitation of Congolese minerals sold to Western companies.”
5‘Police are overzealous in noise crackdown, bar owners claim’ – Edmund Kagire, The East African, 17th October 2014
6Note also the institution of ‘itorero’, the national service for school-leavers. An excerpt from the Rwandan local government website article, ‘Itorero to transform local leaders into desired leaders’ (5th June 2015): “The Vice President of National Itorero Commission, Brig. Gen Emmanuel Bayingana emphasized on the mandate of the National Itorero Commission which is to transform Rwandan citizens into patriotic people by re-assimilating them to Rwanda’s traditional values and taboos… “We are not here to talk too much, but reveal the problems, diseases and challenges we face while on our duty. How do we deal with different programmes targeting to graduate the population? Gira inka, VUPÖ Do we implement it fairly? This is an example of some diseases we will treat through this Itorero, considered [as a] washing machine which will transform you into desired leaders.”
7‘’Rwanda’s growth belies its troubled past’ – William Gumede, Sunday Independent (South Africa) November 16 2014 http://www.iol.co.za/sundayindependent/rwanda-s-growth-belies-its-troubled-past-1.1780965#.VcRALPlUwnh. World Bank forecasts for Rwanda: http://data.worldbank.org/country/rwanda.
8The Kenya-based East African is a regional weekly newspaper owned by the munificent Aga Khan (spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims). It is the only paper sold in Rwanda which contains stories that come close to criticising Kagame and the RPF. The editors employ a careful balancing-strategy with any stories discussing the RPF and its leader. The most clear example of this came when they featured a critical piece about the RPF bid to change the constitution to give Kagame a 3rd term. The full-page commentary ‘Despite impressive progress, questions raised over Kagame leadership style’ was printed alongside a full-page rebuttal, entitled ‘The world should understand the uniqueness of Rwanda’. Editorial diplomacy at its finest…
9‘Rwanda’s Untold Story’ – Jane Corbin (producer), BBC2, 1st October 2014 – https://vimeo.com/107867605.
‘President Kagame Speaks out on Karegeya’s death’, Micha Christopher, Speechlog, 12 January 2014 –
http://speechlog.com/president-kagame-speaks-out-on-karegeyas-death/. ‘Patrick Karegeya: Mysterious death of a Rwandan exile’ – Gabriel Gatehouse, BBC website, 26 March 2014.
10‘Change of tune by convicts might result in genocide denial’, 4th April 2015, The East African
11The illiberal mode of governance that Kagame’s RPF has developed is not really fascist (in a literal or historic sense), nor wholly unjustified. However, if resentment against RPF domination were to fester and spread into a popular rebellion, then the very efficiency of the RPF state that is praised by the international community could become a lethally-oppressive instrument, employed to suppress the rebellion by increasingly desperate means. In that case, accusations of ‘fascism’ may become more than simply the rantings of frustrated Hutu extremists, like this one: ‘Fascism is ravaging Rwanda’ https://venantmgzn.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/fascism-is-ravaging-rwanda/comment-page-1/
- It’s a tale from another century – when most people who situated themselves on the radical left also felt they were part of a world civil war. It was a war between good and evil, the oppressed vs. the oppressors, the proletariat vs. the capitalists, the countries of the periphery…
- Psycho-historian Chris Millard has described the clinical invention of ‘self-harm’ as a category so narrow that most cases actually treated (eg. overdoses of non-’recreational’ drugs) don’t count.** The term ‘self-harm’ becomes shorthand for young white women damaging their skin, which they do for standardized personal reasons. Impersonal reasons and anomalous…