There are, give or take, forty or so, African heads of state, who responded to American President, Joe Biden’s invitation, to a United States of America (USA)-Africa Summit. Only one of these leaders, however, was featured in a Time Magazine article, which was endorsed on Twitter, by a human rights organisation, the Lantos Foundation. What are we to make of that?
Time magazine was founded almost a century ago, during which time, its subeditors have learned a thing or two, about writing headlines. So, when we read, “Biden’s Africa Summit Legitimizes Strongmen Like Kagame”, we know where the article is going to take us. For anyone familiar with the anti Rwanda narrative, this direction is immediately confirmed, by a glance at the name on the article’s byline, Jeffrey Smith.
Mr Smith is now a well established African whisperer. Perhaps a short explanation may be necessary, at this juncture.
You may have heard of horse whisperers. These are individuals, who have cultivated a special affinity with horses, have come to understand the meaning of the behaviour, even feelings, of these creatures, which are often misunderstood, because they are of course, incapable of speaking for themselves.
But why, you may ask, would Africans need whisperers? A good question to which the answer may hopefully become clear, or clearer, at any rate.
Since the first contact between Europeans and Africans, we have had African whisperers. From the outset, rather like horses, “the African” was regarded as a creature that could be understood, only by certain individuals, who possessed special abilities, sensibilities, to divine what might be going on in the African’s head. These individuals, would then explain the nature of the African, to the rest of the fascinated European society.
The African was of course, always believed to be instinctual, the more sophisticated, nuanced feelings of the European, beyond his limited, childlike inner development.
The African woman, will have to bear with us here. At the beginning of the phenomenon of these whisperers, gender discrimination was so deeply ingrained, it was regarded as the natural order of things, rather than discrimination. Hence, the African, was always a he.
The original African whisperers, were explorers, or missionaries. Later on, they would be selected from among “Africanists”, who may be journalists, members of non governmental organisations (NGOs), and of course academics.
As any school child will know, over time, Europeans fanned out to all corners of our planet, or as they would see it, their planet, a declared ownership the contestation of which would almost always, be drowned out by the insistent rat-a-tat of the Maxim gun.
Soon, we were talking about “the West”, rather than just Europe. But be it Europe, or the West, there would always be African whisperers.
And so, we get to Mr Jeffrey Smith, a most modern, African whisperer. This new evolution, has added extra strings to the whisperers’ bow. Where their predecessors, were quite sanguine about all kinds of tortures, visited upon the African, the new whisperers, now champion human rights, and above all Democracy, as they define it, of course.
Although he cannot seem to resist somewhat hackneyed terms, like “strongman”, our Mr Smith, is typical of the modern whisperer. He founded a special vehicle, to which he gave the catchy, thrusting name, of Vanguard Africa. One imagines him striding forcefully forward, calling on Africa to follow. Through this great organisation, Mr Smith goes about his work, of saving Africa, and Africans.
You probably want to know, why the African needs saving, and why it is the likes of Mr Smith, who must do the saving. Again, you put very good questions, but like such questions, the answers come slowly, emerging gently, like the rising sun, for all to become clear.
With others of like mind, Mr Smith weighs and measures African leaders, for their fitness to govern, or to use the preferred term, rule. If they are deemed sufficiently, “pro West”, they are rewarded with approval, in Western media, and citadels of power.
The system works smoothly, not least, because many Africans, have grown accustomed to measuring themselves, and Africa, by criteria determined by the saviours, and whisperers. These Africans, see Mr Smith, and others of his kind, as he instructs them to see him: a benign soul, without whose guidance, Africans would rush headlong to perdition. Such Africans are praised, for their acceptance of the proper “world order” also known as a “rules based order.”
But there are some African leaders, who, disappointingly, try to buck the system. We know the type. In the past, they were the likes of Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, Julius Nyerere, in Tanzania, Patrice Lumumba in Congo, to name but a few. These Africans have defied, and confounded the whisperers’ impressive knowledge of the African.
President Kagame too, shows a worrying tendency towards this characteristic. He insists on things like, “partnership of equals”, not as a way of perpetuating the world order, but actually expecting the words, to be realised as action. Or things like, “we have to make sure Rwandans live their lives the way they have chosen to, not being dictated to, by anyone…” Shockingly, he includes the West, in the “anyone.”
As an African whisperer, Mr Smith recognises the signs all too well, and dutifully, works tirelessly, to ensure that there are consequences for straying from the accepted line, not least to discourage others.
So, he insistently, some may say shrilly, raises the alarm, that President Kagame is a “strongman”, who we are told, for “decades”, has pursued and consolidated power. By now, you may have cottoned on to the fact that being a “strongman” is something to be frowned upon.
For Rwandans, as with anyone else, who has followed Paul Kagame’s service to his nation, the very notion of the man, pursuing power, will come as something of a surprise.
What they know of the man, who is now their head of state, is that yes, he has always been ever ready, to answer the call of duty, but has never sought personal advancement. Not ever.
Indeed, his reticence, was often frustrating to those around him, who were aware of his capabilities, but were initially unable to persuade him, to accept the position, for which they fully believed, he was eminently qualified.
But, in the words of another emerging African whisperer, journalist Michela wrong put it, “just because something is not factually correct, does not necessarily mean it is not true.” Whatever else you might make of that, it apparently means that the truth is not what can be verified as factually accurate, but what the whisperers say it is.
In Rwanda, to Rwandans, President Kagame may be a godsend, not just honoured, but assured a place in their hearts, but what of it, Mr Smith pronounces him a “strongman”, when he is not calling him a dictator.
Rwandans may have woken from the nightmare, into which they had been imprisoned, by the kind of Africans, of whom Mr Smith would heartily approve, to now dream of endless possibilities, for themselves, and all who come after them, but what of that, when the African whisperers say Rwanda is a “totalitarian state”?
Rwandans may consider themselves free to express themselves, as they do wish, but until such a time as Mr Smith, has saved them, and declared them free, they live in a frightful state, in a country “in which literally any measure, can and will be taken by state authorities to silence the calls for inclusivity and democratic reform – from intimidation, to collective punishment and from kidnappings to disappearances. Even state sanctioned murder, has become routine.”
We might point out, that what has certainly become routine, is for the likes of Smith, to dredge up whatever crime their fetid imaginations can conceive, and attach it to Rwanda.
For anyone in Rwanda, who may need a definition of “collective punishment”, consider your family, friends and even your community, at great risk of some kind of persecution, if you so much as utter the wrong word.
Contrary to what you believed, that, Mr Smith would have you know, is your country, your government, your leadership. To paraphrase Ms Wrong, that is your story, whether you like it or not.
Time and again, The Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) led leadership, may have emphasised to you, that crime, or indeed, any wrongdoing, is absolutely individual to the perpetrator, but what of that? Mr Smith declares otherwise, and your experience of your country, its leadership, your thoughts, feelings, in essence you, your cognizance, be damned, until he, tells you otherwise.
You may ask what evidence Mr Smith gives for such grave allegations, against Rwanda, and its leadership. That would be an excellent question on the one hand, but on the other hand, it would also suggest that you have not been paying quite as much attention, as you might. For you see, the whisperer needs no evidence, he or she need only assert, and his or her assertion is gospel.
But Mr Smith is nothing, if not obliging. He did offer what he, at least, clearly considers an egregious example, of the government of Rwanda’s villainy: the “kidnap” of Paul Rusesabagina, his trial for crimes of terrorism, subsequent conviction, and demands from the US, that he be released.
Now you probably want to know, why this particular example, and you should be applauded for that. Questions are a sign that you are kindly paying attention, and your least reward, should be some answers.
Rusesabagina was in fact never kidnapped. He was lured to Rwanda, in a sting operation, where he was then arrested, and given due process, which ended with his conviction, for among other charges, leading and financing a terror organisation.
Just in case one were needed to help us understand, there is an example of kidnapping, which in fact took place round about the same time Mr Smith, was on his keyboard, merrily tip tapping away, to create his imagined Rwanda.
It involves 74 year old Abu Agila Muhammad Mas’ud Kheir Al Marimi, who now, suddenly finds himself in an American court, on trial for alleged involvement, in the terrorist attack on a Pan Am flight, which was blown up, over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, in 1988, killing 270 people.
The ailing man’s journey to an American court, began when armed, masked men, forced their way into his home, in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, at midnight, and dragged him out of his bed, threatening to shoot neighbours, who tried to intervene. Mr Al Marimi’s case, is only one among hundreds of examples one could give, of America’s modus operandi when it comes to the treatment of alleged terrorists.
It is in short, safe to assume, that as an American, Mr Smith is conversant with what a kidnap entails, leading to us to the rather disappointing conclusion, that he allows himself to be economical with the truth, in the case of Rusesabagina.
It is however, easy to understand why Mr Smith would turn a blind eye, to the mountain of publicly available evidence, against Rusesabagina. Just as in the days of the Roman Empire, it was enough to utter the words, Civis Romanus sum, I am a Roman citizen, to escape due consequences for one’s actions, it is, it seems, enough for Rusesabagina to say, I am a resident of the United States of America, for various Senators, and even a Secretary of State, to insist that despite overwhelming evidence, Rusesabagina should face no sanctions for committing terrorism.
By Mr Smith’s reckoning, President Kagame should not have been invited to the White House, because it confers on him, what for Mr Smith, believes to be perhaps the greatest honour, that can be bestowed upon an African head of state, “a walk up the red carpet, in Washington…and smile for photographs…”
It is an honour, Mr Smith considers so singular, that it will “assuredly be used for propaganda purposes at home…”
Among those beguiled by African whisperers, are of course, human rights organisations. Thus, was the Lantos Foundation, quick to rush to twitter, to alert us that “this is a vital read, from Jeffrey Smith, about Paul Kagame…”
It is a vaguely diverting, even slightly amusing thought, to imagine, how in his private moments, between him and his mirror, Mr Smith feels, when confronted with the troublesome knowledge, that unlike the one in his head, the real Paul Kagame, has no need, and cares little, for what Mr Smith perceives as the propaganda value, of a walk on the Washington red carpet, and photographs of a shared smile with the President of the United States of America.
Rather than flatter the Rwanda President back home, as Mr Smith would have us believe, the images rather flatter the American President, endearing him more to Rwandans, for having the good sense to appreciate their man’s qualities. Does that consciousness, gnaw at Mr Smith, or does he smile in his mirror, and congratulate himself, on creating an alternative reality, and not only be handsomely remunerated for it, but also have a supposed human rights organisations endorse his imagined creation?