How attempts to tarnish the name and record of Paul Kagame soils the reputation of a British journalist
THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | Finally, I have finished reading Michela Wrong’s 516 memoir of Patrick Karegyeya; a former Rwandan intelligence chief who was killed on or about New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day 2013/2014 in a hotel suite in Johannesburg, South Africa. Wrong is a compelling writer.
‘Do Not Disturb’ (that is the title of the book) is a captivating read, riveting with scintillating details. One can easily think it is well researched – that is if they are ignorant of the realities of post genocide Rwanda. It is a one-sided account that lacks context. Rarely in the history of our profession has a journalist thrown away all pretense to fairness and balance
Wrong opens the book with a classic prejudice that all Rwandans are liars. In fact, she argues quoting contemporary Rwanda politicians she interviewed, lying for Rwandans in “an art form,” a “part of their culture.” Then she quotes a 19th Century European traveler saying that “Of all the liars in African, I believe the people of Ruanda are the most thorough.” And she agrees. Just imagine in a continent of thousands of cultures, how could this European have studied all of them to arrive at such a conclusion. If you are a Rwandan, it would require incredible tenacity to proceed.
But this is where the contradiction in Wrong’s convictions comes out. If she accepts that lying is an art form in Rwanda, she does so only when someone speaks in defense of President Paul Kagame and/or his government. But when it comes to claims, allegations, accusations and assertions by Kagame’s enemies against the president, the Rwandans she interviewed cease to be liars – their every allegation is treated as gospel truth. Wrong made no effort to do basic journalistic work i.e. listen to Kagame’s side (fairness). In her court (where she acts as the investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury) Kagame is not entitled to a defense at all.
There is one great lesson I got from Wrong’s book, and that is my own culpability in her distorted Rwanda narrative: we African journalists do not write books about our countries. We leave it to Western academics and journalists seeking to purvey their prejudices about us, our leaders and our governments. In fact, when we have written books, we too have not provided the needed context. Instead we have regurgitated their prejudices. I am one of the best-informed journalists on Rwanda, having been close to most of the important players in that country. And I haven’t published a book on post genocide Rwanda yet. I admit I have failed Rwanda – and Africa.
Interestingly I got to know Wrong through Karegyeya. Once having coffee in Kigali in 2002, Karegyeya told me: Andrew, you should read a book titled `In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz’ by a journalist called Michela Wrong.”
Back in Kampala, I bought a copy and devoured it. Something struck me: everyone had been led to believe former Congolese president, Mobutu Sese Seko, “looted” $8 billions of his country’s money. Wrong went looking for that fortune and found only two or three properties in Europe and $20 million on a Swiss bank account. She concluded that for Mobutu, money was not an end but a means to an end, the end being power. Mobutu had taken a lot of money from the Congolese treasury, Wrong agreed. But it was not to accumulate a private fortune. It was to pay for his political survival. She transformed me.
While in London in 2005, Charles Onyango-Obbo introduced me to Wrong at a dinner at Lancester House. “Andrew”, Charles called me, “do you know Michela Wrong?” I walked to her with a beaming smile and without greeting her, held her in both arms around the waist and lifted her off the ground in hero worship. “I read your book on Congo and it transformed my thinking about Mobutu specifically and corruption among politicians in Africa generally,” I said as I put her back on her feet and she adjusted herself to the shock of a stranger carrying her midair. “I wish all my readers could be like you,” she said. We became “friends” in the lose way we Africans use that word. Acquaintances would be better used.
But when she came to write about Kagame and Karegyeya, Wrong lost herself – that cool, detached assessment of issues. She transformed into a partisan hack, doing a hatchet job on Kagame and his government. She got convinced that Karegyeya was killed on Kagame’s orders and proceeded to conduct an “investigation” to prove her hypothesis. Even when her findings cast suspicion on the South African government, she is blind to it. Her mind was closed and hence she made no effort to explore any other hypothesis.
For instance, why did the South African government drag its feet and ultimately fail to prosecute the case six years later? Wrong claims it was intimidated by the Rwandan government. Really? President Jacob Zuma was not a friend of Kagame. He and former South African Intelligence Chief, Bill Masetera, were very close to Karegyeya. Couldn’t they have pushed for prosecution?
When Karegyeya was murdered, I said on television that the government of Rwanda was the number one suspect, but not the only one. He had stepped on many people’s toes as head of intelligence in Rwanda, and they could have sought revenge. A Burundian musician had been killed in a hotel in Johannesburg and his family blamed Karegyeya for it. They claimed he had been sleeping with his girlfriend. Didn’t they have motive? And I knew Karegyeya had been involved in arms dealings for RNC, his party. Did he double cross anyone in this risky business? All these leads are important.
Then later, I got a tip that Rwandan intelligence had skillfully leaked information to South African intelligence that Karegyeya was, through Paul Gafaranga, reconciling with Kagame and was poised to return to Kigali. The South African and Tanzanian armies were in Eastern DRC to “fight subversive forces.” But instead they had only beaten M23, a rebel group allied to Kigali.
Instead, using Karegyeya’s contacts among Hutu extremists, the Tanzanians and South Africans were trading in minerals. Zuma’s nephew was a big player. And quite importantly, President Jakaya Kikwete and Zuma were both close friends to Karegyeya.
Could the South Africans have feared that if Karegyeya returned to Rwanda he would expose their mineral secrets and their work with Hutu extremists whom they were meant to fight?
This hypothesis may not be true but it is worth exploring. I shared it with Wrong in London and I feel it deserved a follow-up or at least a mention in the book. I also shared it with Samantha Power, Obama’s UN ambassador, and British intelligence. Wrong was not interested. She just wanted to present Kagame, a leader loved by the vast majority of his citizens and admired across Africa and the world as a violent psychopath.
But let us accept, just for argument’s sake, that the Rwandan state actually killed Karegyeya. Would this be because Kagame is a violent psychopath? Karegyeya himself gave the answer.
“You have to understand,” Wrong quotes Karegyeya speaking to someone in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, “we are a small and densely populated country. We have a higher population density than any other country in Africa. So we have no space for another war. We just don’t have the strategic geographical depth. Because of that, every threat will be dealt with preemptively and extra territorially, because we do not have room for it to take place on our sovereign territory. So what you call murder is not a crime but an act of war by other means and if it took place in any other circumstances, we would be congratulated and praised for it. We have chosen to externalise the battlefield and preempt the threat. Externalising the war zone is part of that policy and so is buffering.”
There is nothing novel in what Karegyeya was saying. Many countries have always acted extra-territorially depending on their judgement of the nature of the threats they faced.
During the cold war, the Americans, French, British, and Russians intervened in other countries using coups, civil wars, and targeted assassinations.
The Americans attempted to assassinate Castro 76 times yet he never sought to attack the USA, just to be independent of it. After 9/11, the America government adopted a policy of preemptive war to any threat anywhere. The American state has carried out coups, assassinations or sponsored civil wars and terrorist activities in Iraq, Syria, El Salvador, Guatemala, Cambodia, Angola, Mozambique Afghanistan, Pakistan, Grenada, Vietnam, Libya etc. Would Wrong accuse any U.S. president of being a violent psychopath because of this?
This is the problem I have with many Western scholars, journalists and diplomats. When something is done by their countries, they focus on the national policy that informs the decision, not the personality of the leader who made it. They can criticise the policy but rarely do they attribute it to some mental or psychological pathology of the leader.
When the same thing is done by an African leader, they ignore the circumstances that informed such a decision and accuse the individual leader of madness or psychopathy. I hate to use the word racism. But if this is not racism, what is it? Wrong quotes Keregyeya’s well-articulated explanation for Rwanda’s extraterritorial operations. Yet she ignores that explanation and presents such policy as the product of a Kagame’s psychopathy.
Wrong goes a notch higher. She claims Rwanda’s growth figures are distorted and that IMF does not respect them. All she needed to do is visit the IMF website or contact its Africa department. When highly respected world political leaders like Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, George Bush etc. religious leaders like Pastor Rick Warren or business leaders like Bill Gates and Howard Buffet or world renown academics like Michael Potter and Paul Farmer hail Kagame, Wrong claims it is because of guilt about the genocide or ignorance of basic facts about Rwanda.
Yet across the globe, celebrities from Hollywood, leaders of China and India, leaders of other African nations, the world’s leading sports stars, authors, prelates and intellectuals all marvel at the achievements of Rwanda under Kagame’s leadership. Many Africans I take to Rwanda are awed by its transformation. To Wrong all these people are stupid to buy Kagame’s propaganda, ignorant or guilty. Jesus! Only one person in the world, with a small army of human rights Taliban, and whose source of information are enemies of Kagame, knows the truths about that country – and that is Michela Wrong.
By abandoning journalistic principles of truths and accuracy, fairness and balance, Wrong relied on Karegyeya, Kayumba Nyamwasa and many other enemies of Kagame to tell the Rwandan story. In the process, she denied her readers basic facts about Kagame and post genocide Rwanda.
On so many issues – from how Karegyeya and Kayumba fell out with Kagame, their claims that they asked for retirement, on the issue of the exploitation of Congolese resources, on the issue of Karegyeya’s daughter’s visit to Kampala and getting a Ugandan passport, on how Kayumba went to study in the UK in 2001, on the killing of Seth Sendashonga, on the election of Kagame as chairman of RPF, Wrong reproduces fabrications, distortions and outright lies.
Wrong even claims that it is Karegyeya who advised Kagame to “sponsor” my newspaper, The Independent, when the facts were in front of her. Karegyeya fell out with Kagame in 2004 when I was employed by Daily Monitor with no plans of establishing my own newspaper. I left Monitor in 2006 to go to Stanford University and returned in 2007. I resigned from Monitor in August of that year and The Independent was born in December 2007, after Karegyeya had escaped from Rwanda to exile.
Space does not allow a detailed demonstration of the lies and distortions she indulges in. I reserve that for another article. In all, Wrong’s `Do Not Disturb’ is not a work of journalism but a propaganda hatchet job no Western publisher would have entertained about a Western country. She did it because she knew she was writing about Africa where Western publishers do not care about the factual veracity of the work.
This is not to say that Wrong is wrong in every claim she makes against Kagame or that the Rwandan president is without weaknesses. Rather, anyone who knows Kagame and Rwanda would agree that his many weaknesses pale into insignificance when set side by side with his contribution to Rwanda’s reconstruction of genocide to sustained growth.
At the funeral of Africa’s political and intellectual giant, Kwame Nkrumah, one of our continent’s greatest revolutionaries, the great Amilcar Cabral, reminded us of two African proverbs which Rwandans should note. First is that no man’s hand, however big, can be used to cover the sky. No number of books by anyone can be used to hide the gigantic achievements of post genocide Rwanda under Kagame’s leadership. Second, that those who try to spit at the sky end up spitting in their own faces. In trying to tarnish the name of Kagame, Wrong has soiled her own reputation.