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Paging Rick Sanchez and Gregg Easterbrook!
By TIMOTHY P. LONGMAN
WHEN Paul Kagame led Rwandan rebel forces to victory in 1994, he was praised not only for halting a genocide that had killed half a million people, but also for advocating reconciliation rather than revenge. After he became president in 2000, he was acclaimed as a democratic visionary. ...
Kagame, a Tutsi, also indirectly caused the genocide by invading Rwanda with his army of Tutsis in exile, with the assistance of Uganda. The genocide was rather like guillotine terror in Revolutionary Paris in 1793 as France was invaded by monarchical powers: Hutu hysteria caused by the imminence of Kagame's conquest of Rwanda. Kagame also successfully opposed foreign intervention to stop the genocide because he feared it would lead to the West putting a moderate member of the Hutu majority in power. After all, the point of all those years of war was not democracy but to put the Tutsi aristocrats back in their rightful place on top of the Hutu masses in Rwanda, just as they've always been in neighboring Burundi.
But a shadow hangs over Mr. Kagame’s Rwanda, in the form of persistent concern about intimidation of the political opposition....
This week, a court in the capital, Kigali, postponed — for the third time — a verdict in the trial of the opposition leader Victoire Ingabire. ...
Ms. Ingabire, who had lived outside the country since before the genocide and is a member of the Hutu majority, stirred immediate controversy when she returned in 2010 and spoke openly about ethnic politics — a taboo subject since the genocide. She was blocked from running for president. Several weeks after the election, which Mr. Kagame won with 93 percent of the vote, she was arrested for violating a 2008 law that prohibits “genocide ideology.” Ms. Ingabire had suggested that innocent majority Hutus who died during the genocide deserved to be mourned alongside the minority Tutsis who were massacred by Hutu militias. She has said her goal was reconciliation, not historical revisionism. ...
Mr. Kagame’s resounding victory did not lessen his government’s distaste for criticism. Early last year, two journalists were sentenced to prison for insulting the president and violating the law against “genocide ideology.” ...
Many outsiders find it hard to understand why Mr. Kagame would allow such human rights abuses, when Rwanda needs international support to meet the challenges of overpopulation and a paucity of natural resources. Mr. Kagame has advocated high-tech investment and promoted education in English instead of French. International investment has risen, and transparency has improved. Visitors to Kigali are invariably impressed by the government officials and businessmen they encounter. Most of these Rwandans, like Mr. Kagame, are repatriated refugees from the ethnic Tutsi minority who returned after the genocide.
Some outsiders, mindful of the intense trauma Rwandans suffered 18 years ago, are willing to tolerate the crackdown on dissent as long as economic growth and the appearance of social calm continue.
Well, yeah, it's only been 18 years. After all, the Tutsi exiles from Rwanda in Uganda plotted their return to power for a third of a century, and they succeeded. President Kagame went into exile as a two year old in 1960 when Rwanda decolonized, and he started his invasion of his homeland in 1990.
But that is a mistake. It is time to worry instead that Mr. Kagame is rebuilding the country with authoritarian practices that could ultimately undermine Rwanda’s economic achievements.
His intolerance of dissent stifles the debate and free thought Rwanda needs if it is to become a modern, technologically advanced economy. The coercive nature of his government’s national unity program could someday drag it back into ethnic conflict.
The government says it wants to create a new identity in which all would see themselves as Rwandans, neither Hutu nor Tutsi. But this strikes many Rwandans as an effort to impose a false unity on them while cynically using the threat of renewed violence to strengthen the government’s position.
An inability to speak openly about ethnic feelings allows ethnic resentments to fester as whispers. Many Hutus privately complain not only that Tutsis monopolize the government but that Tutsis are the sole beneficiaries of Rwanda’s growth.
In contrast, in the U.S., where to-encourage-the-others events like the firing of ESPN football pundit Gregg Easterbrook and CNN anchor Rick Sanchez for saying that Jews are not an oppressed minority in the media business, are carried out without any need for law, nor even any public controversy. Ultimately, this censorship and stifling are justified on the grounds of a genocide not 18 years ago, but 67 years ago, and one not in the U.S. at all, but in a country the U.S. was attempting to bomb flat. So, you've got to say, at least relative to what happens in the U.S., that Kagame has a case.