Rusesabagina and his lawyer Gatera Gashabana in courtThe caricatures of Rwanda, emanating from the country’s detractors can be so extreme, stretching credulity to such a degree, it is tempting to wonder, if their purveyors really do believe their own creations. Then comes moments like the recent hysterical howls against one academic’s challenge of the absurd claims, to demonstrate that the falsehoods are not only deliberate, they are carefully calibrated to cause harm to Rwanda.
There are it seems, agreed, if unspoken rules, among Rwanda’s Western detractors, on any kind of commentary about the country, and woe betide any one, who strays from observance of these rules.
As with the emperor’s new clothes, first and most important of these rules, is to never, ever point out how ludicrous these claims are, and certainly not that they are often based on distortions of the truth.
But, as the saying goes, there is always one, in this case, almost literally, for few will raise a voice against the prevailing narrative, however far it strays from the reality.
The stray academic, on this occasion, was Professor Phil Clark, of London University’s School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS). Clark is Professor of International Politics, focusing on Central Africa, Conflict and Aftermath. He has researched extensively on Rwanda.
His book, Gacaca Courts, Justice Without Lawyers, was one of the first academic work on Rwanda’s profoundly important Gacaca courts. There is probably not a year, during the last two decades, when he has not travelled to Rwanda, for research.
Many in Rwanda will disagree with some of Professor Clark’s analysis about the country, in the media, but few, if any, will dispute the objectivity of his scholarship, a rare distinction among Western academics with opinions on Rwanda.
It came as no surprise therefore, that when the Lantos Foundation, in support of the Rusesabagina campaign, called on the UK government to sanction some Rwandan officials, whom it accused of involvement in “kidnap” and “torture,” among Western academics, it would be Clark, who scoffed at the preposterous claims.
The Rusesabagina campaign may have managed to convince some British Parliamentarians, whose knowledge of Rwanda, is limited to what they were told by the country’s accusers and detractors, but he understood better.
In a tweet which suggested someone heartily fed up with inane utterances, about a subject he knows well, he responded to the Lantos Foundation claims, in typically robust, authoritative manner.
“He [Rusesabagina] wasn’t kidnapped. He was lured onto the aircraft by a trusted associate. Even his defence team stopped making this claim once the details of the flight came out in the trial. Why do all of these Rusesabagina hangers-on keep repeating these falsehoods?”
This was too much for the “hangers-on” including, some among his colleagues, who did not so much crawl out of the woodwork, as burst out of it. He had broken rank.
What if, horror of horrors, people get it into their heads to start asking pertinent questions about all of these claims? Questions like, what was Rusesabagina up to in Dubai?
Or, why is that it is only the “hangers-on” who keep alleging “torture?” Why is it that anyone who was at the Hotel des Milles Collines, from the UN, to the genocide survivors themselves, ridicules the anointing of Rusesabagina as some kind of “humanitarian hero?” Why in other words, can Clark not just follow the rules on commentary about Rwanda?
Professor Clark will be quite aware that repeating falsehoods about Rwanda, has become the norm, and challenges to them, something of a rarity. The falsehoods are reiterated on the Goebbels principle, that if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.
From the moment Rusesabagina landed on Rwandan soil, as though prepared, lurid tales of medieval tortures, allegedly meted out on him, filled Western media outlets.
Despite his own oft repeated self incrimination, all on film, the line adopted was, “Rwanda accuses him of supporting and financing terrorism.” News organs like the New York Times, used unprecedented access, not to tell the story, but to perpetuate already manufactured narratives.
But for a bit of colour to freshen up the stale stereotypes on Rwanda, the paper may as well have saved themselves the no doubt considerable expense, of travelling to the country.
Nor can the individuals behind the Lantos Foundation’s anti Rwanda campaign, believe for one moment, that Rusesabagina was tortured.
If Rwanda has questions to answer about his treatment, it is why he was accorded VIP treatment. From private jet, to special rooms, and a choice of meals from a restaurant menu, Rwanda bent over backwards to ease his eventual entry into the general prison population.
For Rusesabagina’s supporters, the special treatment, a private room, was an opportunity to complain that their “hero” was put in some kind of solitary confinement.
When Human Rights Watch alleges that Rusesabagina, was “forcibly disappeared,” they are forced to admit that, he was “technically” “forcibly disappeared,” because, there were a few hours when his family did not know of his whereabouts.
By that reasoning, any time, anyone’s loved ones are unable to pinpoint their exact whereabouts, you are forcibly disappeared. An impromptu decision to meet colleagues for a drink and a chat? Forcibly disappeared. An unannounced few hours of Christmas shopping for surprise presents? Forcibly disappeared.
Any fact it seems, is liable to be twisted to serve the existing narrative, even if it means supposed human rights organisations, grotesquely trivialising what would be serious abuses of an individual’s rights.
We are sucked down a rabbit hole, into an upside down universe, where a man who calls and finances the murder of innocent men, women and children, is hailed as a “real life hero” by a human rights organisation, while those who arrest, and guarantee him due process, are to be sanctioned.
Rwanda has been here before, of course. The country is no stranger to having its officials harassed, and detained, on spurious charges, in the name of international justice.
Wisely, governments have largely ignored the hysteria around the arrest and trial of Rusesabagina, even though some could not resist issuing empty platitudes about “concerns” about the fairness of the trial.
And luckily, Rwanda’s regard for universal values of justice, and respect for human rights, is predicated on the country’s sovereign respect for these values, rather than the notion that “pressure” has to be brought to bear upon it, to guarantee the observance of these values.
But for that, the self appointed guardians of these values, would find themselves in the ridiculous position, of sanctimoniously, at once calling on Rwanda to regard the universal values it always did, while abusing them themselves, by subjecting Rwanda to undue, unwarranted harassment.
Not even in the universe through the rabbit hole, would such a position be sustainable.