Tuesday, February 17, 2015




In a letter published shortly after he was brutally murdered, Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge said he was always ready to be killed for standing up for those too feeble to stand up for themselves. If there is any Ugandan journalist who claims to be similarly determined to die for freedom, it is Andrew Mujuni Mwenda.

But unlike his assassinated Sri Lankan counterpart, Mr. Mwenda has utterly failed to walk the talk. Mwenda has adulterated his journalism profession and degraded himself by choosing to speak for one of Africa’s bloodthirsty tyrants, a brutal tyrant whose government – like that of Mahinda Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka – has killed on a massive scale, murdered journalists, assassinated opposition politicians, incarcerated dissenters and applied every apparatus of repression to keep him, and his Tutsi oligarchy, in power.

Indeed, the military victory of Paul Kagame’s all-Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) 16 years ago turned Rwanda into one of the most dangerous places on earth. Some commentators hurriedly credited the RPF for ending the 1994 genocide that largely targeted ethnic Tutsis, ignoring and continuously ignoring an equally horrible genocide committed against ethnic Hutus by the new government. While the triumph of Kagame’s rebels ushered in relief for many Tutsis, it brought with it grave and continuing suffering for the majority Hutu population.

Kagame’s ‘counter-genocide’ force embarked on a slaughtering campaign, indiscriminately killing Hutu citizens and forcing millions into exile. About 1000 Hutu refugees were entering Burundi alone everyday for a period of months after Kagame seized power, according to Robert Krueger, the then US ambassador in Bujumbura. Approximately one million fled to Congo.
The RPF’s slaughtering campaign later extended to Congo where Hutu refugees – mostly children, women, the sick and elderly – were “bound and their throats were cut or they were killed by hammer blows to the head,” according to a recent UN Report.

After being heartlessly massacred by the RPF, the report continues, “Their bodies were then thrown into pits or doused with petrol and burned. The operation was carried out in a methodical manner and lasted at least one month.”

And yet, for killing tens of thousands of Hutus, the RPF – in the eyes of Andrew Mwenda – exercised unprecedented restraint! “What Kagame and RPF did in restraining themselves and their followers in the face of genocide in 1994 is a feat without precedent in human history,” wrote Andrew Mwenda in one of his articles that worship President Kagame.

Where is the restraint after slaughtering tens of thousands of Hutu civilians? Not only did they kill massively after their victory, the RPF played a significant role in bringing about the genocide that happened before their victory – the genocide against their Tutsi tribesmen. With the support of Washington which sought to establish a puppet regime in Kigali, Kagame’s RPA rebels waged a preventable war in the first place and then undermined every peace effort that would have ended fighting and avert genocide. Mahmood Mamdani puts it clear in The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency:

…the US did intervene in Rwanda, through a proxy. That proxy was the RPF, backed up by entire units from the Uganda Army. The green light was given to the RPF, whose commanding officer, Paul Kagame, had recently returned from training in the US, just as it was lately given to the Ethiopian army in Somalia. Instead of using its resources and influence to bring about a political solution to the civil war, and then strengthen it, the US signalled to one of the parties (RPF) that it could pursue victory with impunity. This unilateralism was part of what led to the disaster (genocide), and that is the real lesson of Rwanda.

To praise the RPF for ending a genocide that it partly caused is a contradiction. To honour Kagame’s forces for exercising “unprecedented restraint” after slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Hutus is a shameless distortion of history. Asked by ambassador Krueger to share his knowledge of Kagame, a Scandinavian missionary who lived in Rwanda and Burundi for 30 years said, "Paul Kagame is one of the greatest murderers on the continent of Africa. There is blood all over his hands."

The agony of the Hutus did not end with the massacres they suffered at the hands of the RPF. 2000 Hutus, in the past three years, have been prosecuted for espousing “genocide ideology”, a ‘crime’ punishable by up to 25 years in prison.

Most of them, like leading opposition politician Victoire Ingabire, are harassed for simply stating that Hutus, not just Tutsis, were killed during the genocide and never officially remembered. The death of tens of thousands of Hutus at the hands of the RPF is not an opinion to be debated; it is a fact to be faced. But the RPF government wants it removed completely from history to escape prosecution and to cast Hutus as diabolical criminals who have never been victims.

Whereas Kagame’s brutality has been severest against Hutus, it has not spared his fellow Tutsis who disagree with him. Kagame’s top generals – with whom he murdered Hutus – are increasingly finding themselves in jail or in exile for simply disagreeing with him. Kayumba Nyamwasa, one such general who fled the country earlier this year, was pursued in his hideout in South Africa and shot in the stomach.

The aftermath the failed assassination revealed more of Kagame’s bloodlust. Jean Leonard Rugambage, a local journalist who blamed the shooting on Kagame’s government, was murdered at his home in Kigali. The newspaper Mr. Rugambage worked for, Umuvugizi, had earlier been closed for simply stating that two army officers, whom Kagame later sacked and incarcerated, had had a misunderstanding with the president.

Rugambage’s assassination was followed by the brutal murder of a leading opposition politician. The body of Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, the vice-president of another party that was prevented from registering and participating in the August elections, was found with his head nearly severed from his body. This is nothing short of a reign of terror.

Rwanda under Kagame is going through a reign of terror that may culminate in a disaster worse than the 1994 genocide. The relative economic growth that Kagame has achieved for the country cannot be enjoyed when the population lives in perpetual fear and journalists and politicians walk in the shadow of death.

The difference between Rwanda and other repressive states of North Korea and Burma rests only in their relations with the United States. While Korean and Burmese governments despise neocolonialism and thus face Western sanctions and hostile propaganda, Rwanda’s regime humbly licks the boots of the West and consequently secures the license to slaughter and torture its people with impunity. Gen. Kagame, like military dictators in Burma, wins presidential races in which he is practically the only runner.

If there is completely no basis to refute Kagame’s brutality, as we have seen, why then does Andrew Mwenda – previously known for his boldness in denouncing dictators – try to concoct an illusively beautiful image of the tyrant? The cause of Mwenda’s u-turn is not different from what impelled Tamale Mirundi to turnaround.

The only difference is that Mr. Mirundi, unlike Mr. Mwenda, honestly tells why he moved the goal posts. Mirundi publicly admits he changed from condemning to commending Museveni because he was given a fatty job of presidential press secretary. Mirundi has often challenged those who rebuke him for changing positions to feed his children before he resumes criticising Museveni. The same explanation applies to Mwenda’s disgraceful change of direction.

Mwenda gained nationwide fame for attacking Museveni’s nepotism and despotism. His criticism of foreign aid earned him international reverence and his arrests portrayed him as a freedom fighter. Indeed, Mwenda resigned from the Daily Monitor in 2007 because, in his own words, the newspaper had “betrayed the cause of liberty and freedom”.

“As for me, I can never betray the cause of liberty,” Mwenda vowed in his resignation letter. “Liberty is an ideal for which I am willing to live for, work for to see strengthened and if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Time, however, has exposed the dishonesty that surrounded Mwenda’s oath. Mwenda – largely through his newsmagazine – has become a significant anti-liberty, anti-freedom force in Rwanda by justifying Kagame’s oppression. In return, his magazine has been rewarded with huge advertisement revenue by the murderous regime. It is this advertisement revenue that has reduced The Independent to Rwanda’s government newsletter and seriously undermined the credibility of Uganda’s once celebrated journalist.

The fact that advertisement revenue bribes journalists and undermines journalistic objectivity is well known in the practice of journalism. A profit-minded newspaper cannot attack or offend its advertisers but rather gives them the power to determine what to write and what to hide, a situation that media scholar Robert McChesney describes as “a hyper-commercial frenzy with little trace of public service”.

It is this hyper-commercial passion that has humbled Mwenda’s heart and soul to Kagame and reduced his journalistic mission to trivial pursuits of bread and butter. That is the lowest and the most contemptible state journalists can reach – those journalists who give up their intelligence and discerning faculties.

But Mwenda still has room to reform and relive a life of real meaning and noble purpose. He still has chance to learn from Mr. Wickrematunge – the journalist quoted in the intro – whom the murderous Sri Lankan government decided to shoot in the head last year after he had rejected its bribes and inducements to stop criticising it.

In his final letter Wickrematunge explained why he rejected such inducements and, instead, continued exposing the regime’s bloodlust even though he knew he would be eliminated for that. “Others, including political leaders on both sides, have at various times sought to induce me to take to politics, going so far as to offer me ministries of my choice,” he testified.

“But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre (money) and security. It is the call of conscience.”

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