Sunday, April 14, 2013

Rwanda: Visit and screw human rights.

New Times ( Rwanda ) Sunday Times   

Come visit Rwanda, not just for the fun

Allen Brian Ssenyonga opines

                                                                  Allen Brian Ssenyonga

First of all, let me start by pointing out that I have not received a cheque from Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to promote tourism in Rwanda much as I would not refuse it if it came my way.
I think Allen would have a better claim for a cheque if the article had been run in The London Times, New York Times or even in Dunedin's Otago Daily Times rather than the Rwandan State controlled New Times.
But this actually gives me a chance to prove that RDB should not be the only government body in Rwanda charged with convincing foreigners to come and visit Rwanda. Yes, I know a lot of money has been spent trying to get people to think of the endangered mountain gorillas each time Rwanda is mentioned.
I have absolutely no idea how much the RDB has spent but I don't think of Rwanda as synonymous  with mountain gorillas. There would be many I suspect with an interest in the East African Gorilla population that are regularly hitting the Virunga National Park website and blog. That must surely count as an epic fail on the part of Rwanda and the RDB.

But you see, that branding came from the previous government where Rwanda was synonymous with the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. This being the 19th year since that gruesome episode in Rwanda’s history, a lot has since changed and anyone thinking of Rwanda only through the Genocide lens is nothing but ignorant. 
Ignorant we may be but I for one look at Rwanda not so much through a genocide lens but through the lens of a bloody dictatorship overlayed with a  thin veneer of legality designed to convince the world that country is not the dictatorship it so obviously is. 
These days when you step out of Rwanda you are most likely to be asked about many other things besides the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis. People now know about Rwanda’s massive steps in the field of ICT, good governance, functioning state institutions, zero tolerance to corruption, impressive road network and many other things. 

Yes. Many would like to ask about Rwandas on going bad behaviour in the the eastern DR Congo ? Why on earth the government of Rwanda continually lies about its involvement when the evidence against it is overwhelming and conclusive ? The simple truth is Kagame is one of Africa's more successful Crocodiles  and  as for good governance ask Victoire Ingabire about that. Zero tolerance to corruption, for fucks sake theft is corruption and Rwanda participates in theft on an international scale amongst many other things  . From Reuters. 
" Congo and Rwanda had been working closely on the issue before allegations of Rwandan complicity in the M23 rebellion brought about a breakdown in relations.

Rwanda has historically benefited from the exploitation of hundreds of millions of dollars of Congolese minerals.

A U.N. report in December last year said that Bosco Ntaganda, one of the leaders of the current M23 rebellion who is also wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, was continuing to smuggle minerals through Rwanda.

On Tuesday the advocacy group Global Witness said that its research indicated Rwanda was continuing to launder proceeds from minerals that may have benefited armed groups.

"Not only does Rwanda's predatory behaviour jeopardise its own reputation, ... it also risks undermining the credibility of initiatives being developed to tackle the conflict minerals trade," Global Witness spokeswoman Annie Dunnebacke said."

Rwanda’s impressive steps over the years have raised people’s curiosity about the country. And not only curiosity has been raised but also expectations. It is common to hear folks saying that Kigali is a beautiful city but with a lousy night life. Yes, that is very true but what is truer is that those amazed by Rwanda’s transformations have also set very high expectations for the same place.
Of course nothing happens in Kigali that can even be remotely acknowledged in the official mouth piece of the nation New Times. 
" Le Must, which is the smallest night club in Kigali, also costs 5.000Rwf a head. The atmosphere may be cozy but the decor and size can be suffocating to anyone who prefers space. There is a terrace outside that can cater to these needs although it won’t be of much use for anyone who has a problem with prostitutes."
Every year, a week is spent commemorating the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and during this week a plug is placed on the few fun options the country may have to offer. Because of this, many foreigners (and even Rwandans) leave the country and only return after April 14. 
The same group of ‘fun refugees’ will go on to inform anyone outside that they should not visit Rwanda during the memorial week because “it will be so boring”.
The problem is not that the genocide is remembered but that it is done so in such a political way. There is no reconciliation agenda. This is a week of official ethnic / racial hatred and as such fails everyone. Sorry it does not fail President Paul Kagame.  
Well, that too is true. The Memorial Ws boring. But if you see it that way then you are also very ignorant and probably disrespectful of what this week is all about.
Again I am ignorant and disrespectful not because I find Memorial week boring, I don't. I find Memorial week to be yet another Rwandan fraud and as such it is boring because at the state government level fraud is what Rwanda is all about.
The week is just one out of the 52 in a year set aside for reflection and learning. I must admit, too, that on many occasions I would also head for Kampala when the week came around. But this was also because the week always came when schools had broken off and as a teacher I was idle and thought it was a good time to go and check on my family. 
Eventually, I decided to stay and see for myself what the week was all about. Of course it was not fun but there was so much, particularly for a foreigner, to learn about what Rwandans went through, what they still go through and the challenges the country faces. 
The challenge Rwanda faces is that it is a dictatorship under the control of a Crocodile. Political dissent is not tolerated. For the Rwandan government history has finished and will not be allowed to restart any time soon.
So, yes, there is no fun during the memorial week but there is so much to learn and I find it encouraging when people decide to visit during this week to learn. The other day I was walking around Nyabugogo and I noticed a bus belonging to Kabale University arriving. 
I later saw on TV that actually a group of students from the same university were here to learn about the events of 1994. They visited Genocide memorial sites outside Kigali and even interacted with some of the survivors.
The image I have of this is sick. I see clean cut young Germans on a bus travelling through a Jewish neigbourhood in a world where the Axis powers won the Second World War. Am I wrong ? Rwanda participated in what many think of as the Third World War fought through proxies in the DR Congo... 6 million dead  and still climbing.
There is no doubt that these students are now much knowledgeable about Rwanda than those other ignorant people I see posting crazy stuff on social media. I was shocked when I saw some of the things people were posting in denial of the Genocide.  It is also encouraging that the memorial week is commemorated in different countries or cities around the world. 
Again I assume that I am one of the ignorant not that I deny the Genocide but presumably because I for one will not buy into the post Genocide bullshit that is spouted from Kigali and is echoed ( perhaps quite unintentionally ) in this article. 
I think it is time we encouraged those who are interested in learning about Rwanda to come and visit the country during this week and integrate them in some of the activities that happen during this period. Those charged with tourism have more work to do in this regard if we are ever to get more people to understand this country and its people.
Of course I suspect that if I was to visit Rwanda I would be gaoled  as a holocaust denier or more probably an ironically for Lèse-majesté, but that is because to some degree I do understand this country. I understand its President and his international goals. I understand Balkanisation.
There is so much one can learn from Wikipedia or Google searches. If we can have the whole of East Africa following Kenyan elections, why not market Rwanda’s lessons to the region. I hope I am not asking for too much here.
Sometimes it is better not to ask in case you get. Rwanda has many lessons for the region in what not to do. Despite Kagame's attempts to end history Allan Ssenyonga may well not be asking to much, but Kagame may well think otherwise.

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