Diane Rwigara has been lionised by sections of the Western media and its cheerleaders in our region. She is the lady who announced her intention to run against President Paul Kagame in the August presidential election. Unfortunately for Rwanda but certainly fortunately for Rwigara, she failed to raise the necessary signatures to become a presidential candidate and instead decided to forge them.
In spite of that, sections of the Western press begun to claim that she was the strongest candidate against Kagame. They even suggested that the electoral outcome would have been different if she had been allowed to run.
It is very hard to avoid extreme frustration with most reporting on Rwanda, especially when you have been close to that nation’s society and politics. The combination of extreme ignorance and overt prejudice that informs media reports, academic studies and international (read Western) human rights reports in blinding. How can this small and poor country attract this attention far in excess of her geopolitical weight and value? We can speculate later.
Sometimes I suspect it is because Western world cannot accept an African success story that is not made and defined in Paris, Brussels, Washington and London. Rwanda has defined herself. At every twist and turn, it has kept a tight control over her destiny. When it faced genocide, it ended it by itself. When it faced a collapsed state and economy, it pulled itself up by its own bootstraps. It seems some feel this example should not be allowed to hold.
It is in this context that we need to understand the obsession with Ms Rwigara. She is a daughter of Assinapole Rwigara, a Tutsi businessman who made a fortune under the Hutu extremist government of President Juvenal Habyarimana. This is a government that practiced apartheid against the Tutsi, whom it later tried to exterminate in the swiftest genocide in history. Apparently, Habyarimana enriched a few Tutsis businessmen, knowing that being a marginalised and demonised minority, they could not threaten his power. Rwigara was one of the beneficiaries.
Consequently, many Tutsis inside the country and in exile suffering under the yoke of this cruel government looked at Rwigara as a traitor who had sold himself to their tormentor for a fortune. To many Hutus, he was an opportunist who should not have been allowed to prosper. Thus, when the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) launched its armed struggle in 1990, Hutu extremists sought to settle scores with him. Realising that his position was untenable, Rwigara fled the country and now began to support the RPF.
To many Tutsis who knew him, he was an opportunist who had profited from an oppressive government; and only ran away when his honeymoon with their tormentors ended. To many Hutus, he was a traitor who ran away and was using his fortune to finance a revolution that sought to overthrow a system that had enriched him. It is in these circumstances that the genocide was incubated and took place.
Inside Rwanda, every Tutsi (and many Hutus) suffered extreme person loss. Tutsis watched their parents, siblings, cousins, uncles, aunties, grand parents, – every member of their immediate and extended family – being slaughtered. Some witnessed their mothers, daughters, aunties and sisters raped in front of them. It is impossible to find a single Tutsi family without the scars of this genocide, gruesome memories they have to live with forever.
Yet since RPF ended the genocide and took over government, it has been promoting forgiveness as the foundation of community integration, social accommodation and political reconciliation.
Every Tutsi family is asked to live in the same villages and neighborhoods with those whom they witnessed kill their family.
Everyday, Rwandans are called upon to forgive the past and put the memories of the death of their loved ones aside in order to build a peaceful future. The idea is that people should place the interests of national reconciliation above their personal grief. Most Rwandans are complying with this call, hence the peaceful Rwanda we see.
Now, because Rwigara was a very rich man, his immediate family did not suffer the way everyone else in Rwanda did. He had sent his children to the United States to study in the best schools. So when the genocide broke out, his immediate family – his wife, sons and daughters – were far away from harm’s way.
When RPF captured power, Rwigara returned and reclaimed his fortune. The RPF deliberately decided to ignore his past complicity with an apartheid system in the same spirit of national accommodation.
When Rwigara died in a car accident his family claimed it is government that killed him. They specifically accused Kagame of being the mastermind arguing that the accident was stage-managed. So they began a campaign on social media – Facebook and You Tube – called “Justice for Rwigara.”
Diane herself launched her presidential bid on this platform of family loss, thereby turning personal grief into a platform for a national political campaign. Anyone outside of Rwanda reading this may see nothing wrong. However, to many Rwandans this makes them cringe.
Here is a privileged family that wants to use the loss of their dad in an accident to begin a political movement and even tarnish the name of the person who saved the country from catastrophe.
There is no evidence that their father’s accident was planned by the state, leave alone by anyone. And all this in a context where the government is asking so many people to forgive those who killed their families in broad daylight as they witnessed. But the call is not just to forgive them. It also asks them to live with those who killed their family in same villages, work with them in the same offices, attend the same schools and trade in the same markets. Hence so many people asked: what is special about the Rwigaras?
To many Rwandans who have to forgive, a family that profited during both the pre and post genocide era, which did not suffer immediate loss because they were living in luxury in America and now seeks to turn one death into a national campaign is beyond comprehension. Of course this overt exhibition of self-indulgence may be terrible for many families who have had to put up with loss of so many of their family members. But it is intolerable to those in charge of the state, especially when Ms Rwigara colludes with some hostile neighbors to undermine Rwanda.