Monday, October 14, 2013

Revelations and Confessions about Rwanda

My review of Healing a Nation - A Testimony by Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa,  Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, North Charleston, SC, 2013.

This is a difficult book to characterize.  It is in part a memoir of Rudasingwa’s life, but it also contains meditations on scripture, political and economic treatises, a scathing critique of Rwandan President Paul Kagame and  exposés of Rwandan Patriotic Front lies and fallacies.  The author, born again both religiously and politically, concludes with a program for action designed as the sub-title states for “Waging and Winning a Peaceful Revolution to Unite and Heal a Broken Rwanda”.

Rudasingwa begins by recounting his childhood and youth as a Tutsi refugee in Uganda.  His family headed by his widowed mother Coletta Bamususire, to whom the book is dedicated, was poor and barely scraped by, but Mama insisted on cleanliness, order and education.  Her kids went to school no matter what and at least two of them, Theogene and his brother Gerald, ended up with university educations.  Life for rural refugees was hard not just because of poverty, but also because being refugees they had little acceptance in Uganda at large.  They were always outsiders.

Some Rwandan Tutsi refugees, including current president Kagame, joined Ugandan firebrand Yoweri Museveni  in his struggle for power in Uganda in the mid-eighties.  However, even as they were helping Museveni succeed, Rwandan Tutsi were also organizing their own return to Rwanda.  Emboldened and empowered by their role in Uganda’s National Resistance Army, Rwandan refugees under the leadership of Fred Rwigyema deserted from Uganda and invaded Rwanda in 1990.

Rudasingwa was not yet part of that movement.  He was pursuing a medical degree at Makarere University in Kampala, but became enamored of revolutionary thinking.  He became an atheist and a self described Marxist.   His medical studies lapsed as he studied and meditated on how Africa should free itself from external bondage.  Finally, he had to choose - join the action with the Rwandan Patriotic Front or mold away as an eccentric critic.  He opted to join and became a foot soldier and a medic on the front lines.

From there he was tapped by Major General Kagame, who assumed command after General Rwigyema was killed, to undertake a series of diplomatic missions.  (Given some of the revelations later in the book I was disappointed that Rudasingwa offered no opinions on how Rwigyema, Bayingana, or Bunyenyezi died).   For Rudasingwa one thing led to another as he became more entrenched in the RPF/RPA quest, culminating as a member of the RPF team in Arusha that negotiated the peace accords. 

The most startling revelation in the book is Rudasingwa’s discussion of the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s plane by the RPA, the incident that sparked the genocide.  Rudasingwa acknowledges that he was part of the RPF conspiracy regarding this event that overtly blamed the genocidaires for the action.  The discussion of this comes late in the book when Rudasingwa is reciting the bill of particulars against Kagame.  I was disappointed that Rudasingwa offered no discussion of what Kagame expected as a result of this action, or if Kagame expressed any regret at the scale of violence that ensued. 

Chronologically, Rudasingwa describes his activities as the Secretary General of the RPF in post-genocide Rwanda, then his tour as ambassador to the United States.   In both capacities he was still a believer in the revolutionary cause of empowering the Tutsi and ending the philosophy of genocide.  As ambassador from Rwanda he found the intricacies of maneuvering in Washington to be complex. He said he shamelessly played the guilt card that blamed America for non-action while a million Rwandans died.  This had some effect in generating sympathy and support.

Returning to Rwanda in 1999 Dr. Rudasingwa resumed duties as Secretary General of the RPF and later was assigned as director general of the president’s office.   Throughout the latter phases of his career Rudasingwa admitted to growing scruples about  RPF power  and how Kagame wielded it - concerns about his predilection for violence,  real or character assassination of opponents,  sly backstabbing of anyone who differed from his narrowly defined pathway.   Rudasingwa devotes a full chapter to a description of how the Kagame government operated and maintained control through fear and intimidation. Rudasingwa reported his objections to the political path that vested all power in the RPF at the expense of opening the system to all citizens, Hutu included.  He got particularly upset with the intrigue that characterized Kagame’s style. This became more acute as his stock was falling and he tried to extricate himself from the vortex.

Finally, Rudasingwa did leave Rwanda and establish himself in the U.S.  As he acknowledges that in itself represented a complete turnabout from the Marxist convictions of his youth that equated America with evil imperialism.  He also found God.  Ultimately Rudasingwa wrote this book, both to relate what happened to him and to Rwanda, but also to put forward a program of action designed to change Rwanda.  Rudasingwa’s vision is a nation ruled by law - not fear - where all citizens are equal - not just the chosen few.  He hopes this can be achieved peacefully because he acknowledges that all government transitions in Rwanda to date have been violent. It is time to change and to change the process of change.  To this end, Rudasingwa and others have created a multi-ethnic coalition of like minded exiles called the Rwanda National Congress. The struggle continues.

Nairobi Heat

A review of Nairobi Heat by Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Melville House, Brooklyn, NY 2011. 

This book is a quick read crime/detective story along the lines of books by Dashiel Hammett. It is, however, for the most part ,set in Kenya.  The hero is a black Chicago cop who traces the perpetrators of a murder to Nairobi.  There he is befriended by a Kenyan cop and the two of them proceed to get shot at by legions of assailants as the plot unravels.  Of course, they shoot back. Bodies are lying about everywhere with apparently no consequences for shooters on either side.  The main plot is cleverly orchestrated involving Rwandan refugees, ruthless NGO personnel and conniving businessmen.  In some respects the plot is quite feasible. Additionally, there is a boy meets girl subplot. Throughout the story the Chicago cop mulls over his personal identity. How American or how African is he? (This theme probably reflects the author’s own quest as he, the author, is Kenyan, but raised in Chicago).

Although the author Mukoma Wa Ngugi, son of the famous Ngugi wa Thiongo, should know better, he manipulated climate and geography in order to suit the story.  Fiction writers can do that. In order to double entendre the title, he had the protagonist arrive at Nairobi’s airport in the early morning amidst sweltering heat.  Cognoscenti know that in the hours before dawn, Nairobi is anything but hot.  Later in the story, the cop team flees to western Kenya driving non-stop for eleven hours to a village near Busia, on the Ugandan border.  Even a country bus can make that trip in eleven hours, in a car it’s no more than six. 

The joy of this story is in the reading of it. It is fast paced and reality rarely intrudes.  The Kenyan setting is an added bonus.