Monday, 1 November 2010

Standing up to a saviour

Very few have watched Hotel Rwanda and not been moved by its graphic depiction of the 1994 genocide or by the selfless heroism of the protagonist, Paul Rusesabagina. Despite the inevitable ‘Hollywoodisation’, the story was largely accurate and Mr. Rusesabagina can rightly be credited with saving the lives of some 1200 Tutsis and moderate Hutus whilst the international community stood by and watched one of the worst crimes against humanity since the holocaust. It is a strange state of affairs then – that he is now being branded an “enemy of the state” by Rwanda’s post-genocide government; led by the very men who brought the slaughter to an end.

The move has resulted from Mr. Rusesabagina’s criticism of Rwandan President Paul Kagame – criticism that was both brave and justified. Since leading the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) to victory against the genocidal Hutu-led dictatorship in 1994 Kagame has, like so many African leaders before him, turned into exact kind of tyrant he professed to stand against. The media is ruthlessly suppressed, extrajudicial killings of opponents have become commonplace and democratic freedoms have been crushed to an extent that the Economist -without exaggeration- noted to be worse than Zimbabwe. More disturbingly still –a recent UN report highlighted how during the 1990s Kagame’s forces were been involved in systematic massacres of Hutu civilians over the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that may have amounted to genocide. It is becoming clearer by the day that the man once viewed as a liberator and savior from genocide is in fact a genocidal dictator himself.

It is against this background that Mr. Rusesabagina recently described Rwanda as “a big open prison where Kagame is the chief warden.” The comments led to his home being ransacked before he was outrageously denounced in the Rwandan media as a supporter Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) – a Hutu Power group derived from those who perpetrated the 1994 genocide and which continues to stage armed attacks in the DRC. Of course, the accusation that Mr. Rusesabagina is supporting the very group he risked his life and his family to save people from, is utterly nonsensical – but it was also expected. It has long been a tactic of Kagame’s regime to accuse any outspoken opponents of being participants, supporters or revisionists of the genocide.

Unfortunately, because of obvious sensitivities surrounding this, the international community has so far been slow to criticise the man who brought the genocide to an end, so aid and political support (including from form Prime Minister Tony Blair as an advisor to Kagame) continue to poor in. However, the attacks on a humanitarian hero -who is well known to Westerners through Hotel Rwanda and has received such award as the Presidential Freedom Medal – may prove a bridge too far. And if it does bring about change in the way states deal with the RPF authorities it certainly won’t be before time. Kagame saved Rwanda from genocide- but now the world must save Rwanda from him.

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