This article consist of two parts. Part 1 is an overview of the current state of affairs between Rwanda and its first world aid donors, with an emphasis on Canada. Part 2 is an interview with exiled Rwandan activist Freddy Usabuwera that elaborates on Part 1. The interview is almost four years old, and the change hoped for then has not come to pass, so the message may appear to be outdated. Nonetheless, it is still relevant and bears repeating, so I have translated it here for what it adds as background to recent events.
In the interview in Part 2, Mr. Usabuwera speaks of the need for the government of Canada, his adopted homeland, to change its policy toward Rwanda. Unfortunately, this has not happened, in spite of the nation’s leading media outlets reporting on the dreadful conditions that lie beneath Rwanda’s gleaming image as the developmental miracle of Africa.
In February 2020, Yves Engler wrote an excellent account [i] of the glaring hypocrisy in Canada’s friendly meetings with Paul Kagame at recent international summits, citing the reports in Canadian mainstream media in recent years that explain Kagame’s record of crimes and the state of fear in Rwanda. It is no longer just the alleged fringe media or alleged “useful idiots for genocide deniers” who are reporting on the dirty truths of Rwandan history and the government that has been in power since 1994.
Yves Engler covers how the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail have reported on how Kagame held a snap referendum on amending the constitution, intimidated the populace into voting yes on it, then won the next election in 2017 by 98.63%. The constitutional amendment allows him to be president for life, assuming that as usual nothing will stop him from rigging elections. The Toronto Star reported on the assassinations that Rwanda has carried out outside its borders and the Canadians who have been threatened. Geoffrey York in the Globe and Mail described village informers, re-education camps, networks of spies on the streets, routine surveillance of the entire population and the destruction of independent media and political opposition.
Geoffrey York also reported on Rwandan dissidents who had to flee Belgium for their safety while the Toronto Star revealed five individuals in Canada who were fearful of the regime’s killers.
Defense minister Harjit Sajjan met his Rwandan counterpart General James Kabarebe who was arrested in London under a Spanish indictment for war crimes committed between 1990 and 2002 in Rwanda. There was also an arrest warrant for Kabarebe, issued by a French judge, for his role in shooting down President Juvénal Habyarimana’s plane, which provoked the massive attacks against Tutsi civilians in 1994 that lasted for the next one hundred days. A 2012 UN report claimed Kabarebe organized and armed deadly M23 rebels in eastern Congo. About a dissident murdered in South Africa in 2014, Kabarebe said, “When you choose to be a dog, you die like a dog, and the cleaners will wipe away the trash.”
Yet Justin Trudeau doesn’t seem to read the nation’s leading news media, or he doesn’t care that this information is known by the electorate whose support he wants. It just doesn’t seem to matter.
According to the Canadian government fact sheet on Rwanda…
Canada and Rwanda collaborate on a wide range of issues, including environmental protection, peacekeeping, trade and investment promotion, judicial matters and cooperation within multilateral organizations, such as La Francophonie and the Commonwealth… Our ongoing interests in Rwanda relate to promoting the importance of a pluralist society, respect for human rights, and seeking concrete solutions to challenges in the region related to peace and security. In 2017-18, Canada provided $28.36M in international assistance to Rwanda, channeled mostly through long-term institutional support to multilateral organizations with activities in Rwanda, and Canadian civil society organizations working, in partnership with local organizations… In 2018, two-way merchandise trade amounted to $6.9 million, consisting of $4.3 million in exports from Canada, and $2.5 million in imports from Rwanda. [emphasis added].[ii]
A few things are notable in this brief fact sheet. Firstly, after promoting English and demoting the French after 1994 as a way to disempower citizens and officials of the former regime, in 2008 Rwanda made English the foreign language to be used in education. After that, Rwanda was somehow able to refurbish its past status as a francophone nation, and in 2018 the Organisation Internationale de La Francophonie (OIF) named Rwanda’s Louise Mushikiwabo as its new chief.
A Senegalese political analyst, Babacar Justin Ndiaye, was quoted in France 24 as being quite skeptical about the justification for this decision:
Rwanda “is a problem,” he said, saying the country had “turned its back” on La Francophonie in the past, and its record on human rights was at odds with the organization’s commitment to democracy. “France has been maneuvering to satisfy Rwanda, to win it over” … The choice of Mushikiwabo “has been rushed through. Politics have taken precedence over language, democracy, demography,” he said. “Many factors have been sacrificed on the altar of diplomacy.”[iii]
Secondly, Rwanda’s admission into the British Commonwealth is illogical and a contradiction of its status in the global francophone community. It was never a British colony, and it became an English-speaking nation only recently because it was conquered by an English-speaking army from Uganda, with British and American support. No serious study has been done to see if Rwanda’s poorly funded public education system has achieved any laudable results in producing citizens who are competent in both their native language and English. One might ask whether the erasure of French and the imposition of English are actions that further traumatize and confuse the population, uprooting the people from their native language, their former second language, and their 20th century history that was written in French.
However, admission into the Commonwealth does say one thing loud and clear. It may be just a way of stating that Rwanda has played a loyal role in the reconstituted Anglo-American empire. That $28 million in foreign aid, for a trade relationship that involves only $6.9 million, must involve other concerns.[iv] Even if the aid is actually used as intended for laudable humanitarian goals, it allows the government to spend other funds on its military and tools of oppression. The foreign aid and the acceptance into the Commonwealth might have something to do with Rwanda’s services as a proxy continental army that has protected Anglo-American interests in African resources. This explains why Canada gives uncritical support to Kagame but supports the overthrow of governments in Venezuela and Bolivia—governments that had had some successes in managing their resources for the benefit of their people rather than foreign mining and oil companies. Canada and its NATO allies choose very carefully who they designate as thugs and dictators.
In the interview that follows in Part 2, Freddy Usabuwera stated that his campaign was hoping to stop Paul Kagame from setting himself up as president for life. They were not successful in this campaign, but that was no reason to give up. The situation in Rwanda seemed hopeless, but change may come in unexpected ways.
The popular Rwandan musician Kizito Mihigo, known for his critical political views, died in custody in February 2020 after being arrested for trying to leave the country. In one of his songs (Igisobanuro Cy’urupfu) his seemingly tame sentiment about the equal value of all lives was, for Rwandans, clearly a dangerous reference to the revenge attacks on Hutus living in refugee camps after the fall of the former government. He sang:
There is no such thing as ‘good death’ be it by genocide or war. Even though genocide orphaned me, let it not make me lose empathy for others. Their lives, too, were brutally taken. But that did not qualify as genocide.[v]
As Mr. Mihigo would agree, his life was of equal value to all others like him who died such deaths, but this loss of a treasured cultural icon has created a martyr with the power to unleash a force that the Kagame regime may be unable to stop.
| Smuggled recording of Kizito Mihigo, from prison:
Rwanda is an open-air prison. Each time you bring up the subject of other victims, people who were killed by the RPF, you’re labeled a genocide denier. [In 2014] I wasn’t just arrested. I was abducted and detained for a long time. I was told that I had to plead guilty. They said if I didn’t plead guilty, they would kill me. My imprisonment had two reasons. There’s a real, hidden reason. And that’s the song I released in March 2014. The song was about reconciliation. I got to a point where I felt compassion for all victims, not just victims of the genocide against the Tutsi, of which I am one, but also victims of other violence committed by the ruling RPF–even war crimes and crimes against humanity. There are many Rwandans who experienced so much violence, and it’s not yet recognized as genocide. All suffering must be recognized.
If you had the choice to do it again, knowing the risks, would you? Would you write the song again?
Yes, yes I would. I couldn’t help writing that song. I knew the government would disapprove of it, but I couldn’t help myself. I believe that sooner or later, that situation can recur. The message is sometimes more important than the messenger.
Rwanda: “The Green Revolution is on the March.” Interview with Freddy Usabuwera
Jambonews, June 6, 2016
A translation of
Translated by Dennis Riches
The “AmahoroIwacu2017” campaign was launched in the summer of 2015 by Rwandan citizens and human rights activists abroad. At a Montreal conference in May 2016, the campaign got an extra boost. “Amahoro Iwacu” means in Kinyarwanda “Peace at Home,” a name that perfectly represents the will and purpose of this campaign. They are focused on 2017, the year of Rwanda’s next presidential election. While the latest amendment to Rwanda’s constitution aims to maintain the status quo at the head of the country, AmahoroIwacu2017 denounces the dictatorial rule of the Kagame regime, in power since 1994 in Kigali, and calls for unequivocal change in 2017. The objectives of the campaign, the big demonstration in May 2017 in Montreal and the actions to come, are the issues that Jambo News wanted to discuss during this interview with the spokesman of the Amahoroiwacu2017 campaign, Mr. Freddy Usabuwera.
JAMBO NEWS: Hello, Freddy Usabuwera. Thank you for giving us your time for this interview. Can you tell us what the “Amahoriwacu2017” campaign is?
FREDDY USABUWERA: Hello. Let me also thank you for your invitation, another opportunity for me to talk about our campaign for change in Rwanda in 2017.
I would also like to take this moment to greet all Rwandans wherever they are, and also all the friends of Rwanda who are campaigning for change in Rwanda in 2017. There is only way for lasting peace and true reconciliation of the Rwandan people, a reconciliation between Rwandans, but also with the peoples of the Great Lakes region.
Amahoriwacu2017 is a campaign for change in Rwanda that began in London in the summer of 2015. We are not a political party, and our campaign is aiming for a specific timetable, that of 2017, the year in which President Kagame’s last presidential term ends. Our message and objectives are clear:
- There must be a change in Rwanda in 2017, and this change must come from Rwandans themselves by taking back control of their rights as citizens to democratically choose leaders. This is the first step for them to contribute to the management of their country.
- The world must stop thinking that in Rwanda one man is capable of deciding the future of a country and its people.
- The Rwandan people can no longer accept living under the fear that has lasted so long.
- The Rwandan people can no longer accept living under an oppressive system that undermines their most basic rights, including that of life and property (a right acquired at the advent of the republic).
- The Rwandan people can no longer live under a system built on a state lie. President Kagame and his RPF party must understand that after 2017, they will have no right to continue to rule Rwanda as if they were running a private company, Rwanda Inc., as they themselves have defined it.
Rwanda is a country, and it belongs to its entire people, Twa, Tutsi and Hutu, and not to a group of individuals and their families, their friends and those who work in their interests.
JAMBO NEWS: How did this initiative come about?
FREDDY USABUWERA: This movement is an initiative of some young Rwandans who love peace and human rights and have at heart the importance of social well-being and lasting peace in the Great Lakes region of Africa. After seeing and analyzing the situation in which Rwandans live, but especially after seeing the maneuvers by President Kagame, his RPF party and his government plan to force the hand of the Rwandan people. The plan is to change the constitution and allow Kagame to become president for life after he has already had twenty-two years of authoritarian and dictatorial rule. So these young people decided to start a campaign against these anti-democratic maneuvers and to tell Rwandans and the world that the time has come for Rwanda to begin a new page in its history.
One thing is certain: change in Rwanda means change in the region. For the twenty-two years of Kagame and RPF rule in Rwanda, Rwandans and the peoples of neighboring countries have been living in agony. Rwandans have died in large numbers and continue to die under bullets and torture by the power that is supposed to protect them. They have no right to criticize bad practices or policies put in place by the government. They are not entitled to assembly and cannot express themselves freely. In neighboring Congo, millions of Congolese have died from Rwandan army bullets and their wealth is being plundered constantly by armed groups and other bandits working for the interests of Kagame and his acolytes. Meanwhile, in Burundi acts of terrorism and destabilization are committed by groups supported and trained militarily by Rwanda. Kagame himself dares to interfere publicly in Burundian and even Tanzanian internal affairs. All this results in tension and insecurity for the entire region.
JAMBO NEWS: What are you doing compared to other Rwandan civil society organizations?
FREDDY USABUWERA: Rwandan civil society has done a great deal over the past twenty-two years to sound the alarm about the abuses of Rwandan power and to bring change, and we welcome their work. Our movement is coming at a critical and important moment in our country’s history, and we are joining them in helping to take this fight for a better future for our people. We need everyone’s support to succeed in our campaign. We sincerely believe that to achieve this we must rally all the living forces behind the same goal, and carry the same message for change. That is why we have started from the beginning of our initiative to rally others in the region who are concerned—Congolese, Burundians and even the Ugandans—to this cause for the change long awaited by our peoples. The reason is that what unites us as peoples is much greater and more important.
We also want to mobilize young people, not only Rwandans, but also the whole world who are aware of the importance of social well-being and defending human rights. Rwanda receives 40% of its annual budget from Western countries. We find it very important to say loud and clear to the tax payers of donor countries that their own money is given on a silver platter to a power that oppresses its people. We want to tell them that their money is not being used to develop the country, eradicate famine or for human development, but rather for investment in armaments, in programs and systems of control and oppression of Rwandans by the regime. It is also being used in assassination and intimidation of opponents of the government both inside and outside the country. We want to show them the true face of the Rwandan regime and President Kagame who is totally and truly the opposite of what his powerful friends convey in most Western media.
JAMBO NEWS: On May 21, you organized a demonstration and conference in Montreal. What was the outcome?
FREDDY USABUWERA: It had a positive result, as we have achieved our official goal of launching our campaign despite the intimidation of the “intore” (RPF supporters) that Kigali had mobilized to prevent our activity. We have stood up to them sincerely, and we are now seeing how much, since the launch of the campaign, many people are becoming more and more interested in our movement. Let us not forget that a few days before the event, they did everything to intimidate us and smear our reputation in social media and even in the media of Kigali, calling us genocide deniers. This is the same song they use against anyone who dares to openly criticize the power of Kigali. This also allows me to say that the holding of this activity has revealed once again how Rwandan power is consumed by fear—the fear of being denounced, the fear of losing control of the false message he has been conveying for twenty-two years. These intore militias, deployed in different countries and operating within certain organizations of the Rwandan diaspora and others, are paid to intimidate their Rwandan compatriots, without fear of authorities in other countries. That too must stop.
On May 21, we officially launched a revolution for change, which carries a green color, a color whose virtues are tolerance, patience, understanding and peace. The green revolution is underway.
JAMBO NEWS: What are the next steps in mobilizing?
FREDDY USABUWERA: The train for change is already on track. The boarding station was Montreal on May 21, and it now travels to other cities around the world starting with European cities, including Brussels, London, Amsterdam and others, the next stop being Brussels. I therefore call on all those who support this project of change for lasting peace and who are on the European continent to start preparing for the next event. The peace train is approaching and the date for Brussels will be communicated to them very soon.
JAMBO NEWS: How do you see 2017 in practical terms?
FREDDY USABUWERA: We envision that in 2017 our campaign will have an effect in Rwanda because that is where the change must take place. We know and are aware that this is not going to be easy, but it is doable.
JAMBO NEWS: Are you convinced that Rwandans in Rwanda will be able to take to the streets to demand an end to the RPF dictatorship?
FREDDY USABUWERA: Seeing how things are going now in Rwanda and even according to our contacts there, yes we are convinced that they will take to the streets in large numbers. You yourself have realized how many Rwandans on the ground have not been afraid to express their frustration in local or foreign media in recent times. This is a strong signal that they can no longer put up with oppression.
JAMBO NEWS: If so, how do you see events unfolding?
FREDDY USABUWERA: It’s never easy to take to the streets to fight an oppressive power. The government will do everything to suppress any activity of popular uprising. There will probably be loss of life and imprisonment. Of those who will go out on the streets, some will probably lose their jobs. Student will probably be kicked out of their schools and universities, and so on. But we must never forget that this is part of the risks of a liberation revolution in the face of a criminal and oppressive power. That is why we call on all our fellow Rwandans living abroad to support all the people, families and young people who find themselves in these difficult situations.
Only by joining forces against evil can we defeat it and build a country, a free and prosperous nation in lasting peace, and a state based on strong institutions, which protects and defends the interests of all without exception.
JAMBO NEWS: Where do you want to be in summer 2017?
FREDDY USABUWERA: As stated, we want our campaign movement to be in Rwanda at that time and operational throughout the country, because that is our ultimate goal.
I will end by asking all those who want to support our action to visit our website www.amahoriwacu.org,write to us in firstname.lastname@example.org and follow us on Twitter @amahoriwacu2017 and on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/peaceathome.
[i] Yves Engler, “Trudeau is Buddies with a Murderous African Dictator,” February 12, 2020.
[iii] “Choice of Rwandan Minister as Francophonie Chief Makes Waves in Africa,” France 24, October 12, 2018.
[iv] Ann Garrison, “Kagame’s Economic Mirage in Rwanda, an Interview with David Himbara,” Black Agenda Report, March 15, 2017. In this interview David Himbara notes that Rwanda receives $1 billion a year in foreign aid, which is half of its annual budget and not a sustainable model of success.
[v] Abu-Bakarr Jalloh, “Rwanda Gospel Singer Kizito Mihigo’s Death Likely a ‘Political Assassination.’” DW Akademie, February 21, 2020.