Why she chose to base book on interviews with Kagame’s enemies but not give his side
THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | The fundamental error of Michela Wrong’s book was to listen to one side in the Rwandan story. Consequently, she ended up sanctifying Patrick Karegyeya and other opposition individuals and groups and demonising President Paul Kagame and his government. For instance,
when RPF took over power in 1994, the state had totally collapsed, the economy had been completely destroyed and the society had been systematically torn asunder. Yet anyone who visits Rwanda today would be profoundly impressed by the speed, scale and scope of its state reconfiguration, economic reconstruction and social reconstitution.
How did this happen? Is it not obvious that it is the decisions and actions Kagame and those around him took that have made this possible?
No one in 1994 thought it was possible to reconfigure the state in Rwanda, reconstruct its economy and to reconstitute that society so that both Hutu and Tutsi can live peacefully. If Wrong was not a partisan doing a hatchet job on Kagame, she would have wondered: could the high-handed measures employed by the post genocide government been the ones responsible for this dramatic and indeed miraculous transformation?
One of her main accusations against RPF was that it too indulged in massacres – of ethnic Hutu. No one in RPF denies that there were revenge killings in Rwanda between 1994 and 1998. In the heat of the genocide, the RPF did execute many of its own soldiers who killed civilians. Yet it is possible many killings of civilians could have taken place between 1994 and 2,000 by errant individual soldiers (revenge killings) or even on the orders of RPF officers (isolated but systematic) which may have not been punished. But that is the complexity of the post genocide Rwandan story: vast numbers of Hutus who actively committed genocide were forgiven in the name of reconciliation and healing. Does it not follow that not every killing by the Tutsis could not go unpunished? Is Wrong saying that Hutu killers could be forgiven but not Tutsi ones? Is that fair?
In fighting Adolf Hitler, the Western allies made mistakes, like the bombing of Dresden. Six million innocent German civilians lost their lives. But would Wrong write a book on the post-World War Two that creates some moral equivalence between the crimes of Hitler and his NAZIs and the allies? This is the critical issue in her book as it tries to present “evidence” that RPF was not different from the genocidal regime it defeated. She presents actions of errant individuals as organised and officially sanctioned killings i.e. counter genocide. I and many Rwandan friends, Tutsi as well as Hutu, found it profoundly repulsive.
Let us return to Karegyeya, the hero of her book. I knew him very well. We were good friends. It is actually he that introduced me to Kagame in 2001. When he was fired, I remained his friend. I used to visit him and his wife at their home when many Rwandans were avoiding them. On many occasions I warned him of the dangers of a former chief of intelligence speaking loosely in bars, continuing to meet his assets, both domestic and international, without seeking permission from the system. But I realised that Karegyeya found it hard to adjust to private life, to be an ordinary citizen. This led him to develop a hostile attitude towards the government. His words and actions came to border on subversion.
Wrong inadvertently reveals the petty but equally dangerous aspects of Karegyeya. She tells of how he walked into the British High Commission offices in Kampala and casually told some low-level official that he was the main player in the shooting down of the plane of former President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart. Even if this were true, what kind of former intelligence chief is this? States do many dirty things and their intelligence officials hold many secrets. Imagine a former director of the CIA or Mossad or MI6 walking into the embassy of Russia and revealing their operations! What do intelligence agencies do to such agents who turn rogue? Wrong knows.
For me the behavior of Karegyeya, Kayumba Nyamwasa, Theogene Rudasingwa, David Himbara and others only demonstrates the crisis of political elite in Africa. When they fall out of favour, they do not distinguish between state interests and their own grievances.
In seeking to settle scores with incumbents who may even have unfairly treated them, they retreat to subversion. It is this behavior that should help us understand the unique circumstances leaders in Africa have to operate in when making decisions. No American British leader goes to bed worried what a fired head of intelligence will go around telling enemies and even allies abroad state secrets.
Wrong claims that when Kagame fires people from government he follows them with threats and intimidation until they run to exile. Any Rwandan would laugh at this claim. It is true many military officers and politicians who have fallen out with Kagame have ended up in exile. And this may have been the price for the stability, consolidation and reconstruction we see today. However, the vast majority of people who have been removed from influential positions have gone into private life, recognising that official jobs and titles are not personal or permanent. But some Rwandan officials have such huge egos they cannot afford being ordinary citizens.
Worse still, Wrong claims that Kagame is unforgiving. True there are cases when he has acted this way. And who forgives everyone, everything, every time? Not even God the almighty does that, that is why there is hell. But even if we ignore that under his leadership, the government of Rwanda has forgiven those who committed genocide, there are many examples where Kagame has mended fences with those who fell out with him. The current Inspector General of Police, Dan Munyuza, whom Wrong writes extensively about has twice been fired and even imprisoned on the orders of Kagame. Munyuza does not carry an exaggerated sense of entitlement – this feeling that he must always occupy an influential position of power and privilege and if it is removed then Rwanda should come to a halt.
Another example is David Himbara. Wrong quotes him extensively. He was Kagame’s Principle Private Secretary (PPS) but fell out with the president and left Rwanda in the late 1990s. In exile, he said many horrible personal things about Kagame, which I found objectionable and unforgivable. This is especially because of his close proximity Kagame had given him. You don’t abuse such trust. Yet in mid 2000s, Kagame, to my shock, brought back Himbara as head of the strategic unit in president’s office. I told Kagame the things I heard been told Himbara had said against him. The Rwandan president told me he was giving Himbara another chance adding that he had heard those things, had forgiven the man and hoped he had really changed. Later, Himbara was made PPS again. I felt Kagame was taking a big risk and I expressed my reservations to the president. I was not surprised when a few years later the true nature of Himbara was revealed. He ran to exile again and today he uses every opportunity to speak against Kagame at a very personal level.
In regard to Karegyeya, I pleaded with the Rwandan president to forgive him. I remember one time in 2011 at a lunch with Kagame, his wife and Emmanuel Ndahiro, I made a spirited case for Karegyeya to be forgiven. I had discussed and agreed with Karegyeya that being in exile hobnobbing with Hutu extremists and other enemies of Kigali was beneath contempt and dangerous for him. In the middle of lunch, Kagame got upset and pushed his plate. Trying to suppress his irritation he said: look here Mwenda (he calls me by my surname when he is angry with me) I know these people much better than you do. Karegyeya is not being genuine with you. I don’t want to waste my time agreeing to something he will neither appreciate nor honor. Do you understand?”
I struck back with the naivety of a neophyte. Please, I told Kagame, don’t act as president and commander in chief to a subordinate in this matter. Handle it as an issue between Paul and Patrick. He was your friend (Kagame had told me once that he went with Karegyeya on his first date with Jeannette, whom he later married). Trust me I will get Karegyeya to see sense. After a long pause, Kagame told me: Ok. I accept. But if Patrick is to return, I have two conditions. First, he should not join active politics. Two, he should stop speaking loosely in bars and other places. He held a very sensitive security position in this country and he knows what that means. I promised to ensure Karegyeya honours these conditions.
While driving out of state house, Ndahiro thanked me saying asking Kagame to act as a friend not as president had been “a great idea”. I informed Patrick of the discussions and for a while he seemed to see the sense. However, weeks later I saw him on BBC Tv threatening to bring government down and calling Kagame a nincompoop. It was as if I was struck by a nuclear weapon. This is a man I had staked everything for and here he was breaching our understanding with impunity. How was I to face Kagame who had severally warned me about Karegyeya’s intransigence – and I had refused to listen. When I went back to Kigali, and met Kagame, the president was calm and instead of reproaching me, he said he hoped I had learnt my lesson.
I had not. My next job was to plead for one Kalisa (whom I had never met or known and Wrong writes about). Approached by his family, I asked him to write an appeal to the president and I personally took it to Kagame. The Rwandan president was touched by the contents of the letter (which I never read) and he expressed deep moving concern. The next week he was released. A few months hence, a top intelligence official told me they had eavesdropped on communication between Kalisa and Ugandan intelligence and “it was not good.” It did not take long before he was caught at the border with Uganda trying to escape. Apparently, Ugandan security contingent was the other side waiting to pick him up.
I took on the matter of businessman Tribert Ruzujiro. I pleaded with Kagame to meet him. He was reluctant. So I pushed and pushed at almost every meeting I had with Kagame. Finally, he relented and generously gave an appointment to meet in Kigali on a specific day and time. On the appointment day, Ruzugiro called me saying he had decided not to come because he feared Jack Nziza would kill him at the airport. When I told Kagame, he got upset and asked me if Ruzugiro thought the president of Rwanda had no power over Nziza.
In spite of this betrayal, I pursued Ruzigiro’s case with fresh vigour. Rwandan intelligence officials had given me information about Ruzugiro’s funding of RNC activities, and how RNC was working with Hutu extremists and some neighboring governments in pursuit of regime change in Rwanda. I asked Ruzugiro to write a letter to Kagame explaining his innocence. The president accepted to receive Ruzigiro’s letter (imagine?) since the businessman had refused to return to Kigali in spite of the president’s personal guarantees. In effect, Kagame gave Ruzugiro license to mistrust him in spite of the president’s gestures of goodwill.
Ruzugiro drafted a letter which I found objectionable. We agreed I draft one for him, which would open communication between him and Kagame. Contrary to his later claims to New Vision, my draft did not admit guilt, it only explained his innocence. I sent him the draft and instead of signing and sending it to me to take to Kagame, Ruzigiro trashed it and sent his original version directly to Kagame. In it he had said many unsavory things. Kagame called and asked me to leave Ruzugiro alone. The UN was later to issue a report saying the same Ruzugiro was funding RNC which was also working with Hutu extremists in DRC.
There are other Rwandan officials I helped in these circumstances who were later released and/or reappointed to government. In all cases, I found Kagame always willing to give his colleagues a second chance. But in some cases, based on the information he had, he could be tough and unrelenting. Wrong picked only those cases and presented them as everything. Kagame can sometimes get angry and act high-handedly. Who doesn’t? But many times he has been kind and gentle to people around him, like Himbara.
If Wrong were really interested in telling the story of Rwanda, why didn’t she find it fitting to listen to Kagame’s side? The fact that she could write an entire book based on interviews with Kagame’s enemies as her only source tells us what her motive was. This was not an attempt to tell a story about Rwanda. `Do not Disturb’ was a hatchet job. And she did it well. But history will judge her harshly for failing to practice the most basic rule of journalism and natural justice – do not condemn anyone without hearing their side.