A head of state makes a speech, it is a statement of some import, for the peace and stability of a region. No sooner has he closed the folder with his notes, at the end of his remarks, than a human rights organisation, a smattering of news organisations, declare that he has made an announcement against accepting refugees. But, the head of state made no such statement. Did those who claimed otherwise simply misunderstand, or did they choose to mislead?
“Rwanda says it will not accept DR Congo refugees anymore” according to Al Jazeera, while the BBC, claimed, “Rwanda President Paul Kagame says his country will no longer offer refuge to people fleeing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
With so much misinformation on such a grave question, the Rwanda government, chose to offer a clarification, through its spokesperson, Yolande Makolo, that the country will continue to welcome refugees, as it has always done.
Rather than retract the error, the BBC framed the clarification as a “U-turn” by Rwanda, from it seems, a direction towards which the country had never traveled in the first place. Apparently oblivious of the irony, the corporation quoted DRC government spokesman, Patrick Muyaya, who accusing the Rwandan head of state, that “human rights were of no value to him.”
Congo’s politicians, including Muyaya, stand accused of spreading hate speech, which continues to lead to murders of Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese.
As much as the fighting between the rebel M23 group, and the government, with the latter’s allies among armed groups, it is the state instigated persecution and murders, that are increasing the flow of refugees.
Generally, those fleeing the fighting, are internally displaced, and as is happening in Bunagana, steadily return to their homes, in areas captured by M23. Those who flee across the border, are fleeing persecution from the government, and their allies among the plethora of armed groups in the country.
Never to be outdone, when it comes to vilification of Rwanda, it is Human Right Watch (HRW)’s East Africa director, Lewis Mudge, who twists, contorts and bends the facts, to suit his evident purpose of miscasting the country.
Anyone involved in Human rights advocacy, even peripherally, will recognise that no country in the world, has a better record in welcoming refugees, or better policies to ease their stay, than Rwanda. Mindful of their own history, it is a virtual article of faith for Rwanda, that no one who has need for a safe haven, should ever be without it.
Mudge will almost certainly have been aware, that when he claimed that President Kagame’s statement “crudely illustrates the Rwandan government’s politicisation of refugee rights” he was mispresenting the Rwandan head of state. To borrow Mudge’s own phrasing, his claims crudely represent HRW’s decades old, political campaign against Rwanda.
Mudge goes on to concoct absurd, tenuous links, between the recent Rwanda/Britain migration agreement, and a 2018 refugee riot, in Kiziba refugee camp in Rwanda, during which twelve people died. He bizarrely claims that President Kagame’s statement, was a reference to what Mudge emotively refers to as “killings” in Kiziba.
In a preposterous attempt to use a few seconds’ comments, lifted from a speech, out of context, to demonise Rwanda, Mudge throws together a hodgepodge of accusations, twisting truth and facts, in a way that would make the mad hatter seem the very acme of logic, and Pinocchio of truth telling.
He no doubt consciously omits to mention, that what he calls the killings in the Kiziba refugee camp, followed a violent riot by a group of refugees, who attacked police, armed with rocks, and any other weapon they could find. The police who were outnumbered, fired warning shots over their attackers’ heads, to no avail, and only fired into the crowd, when they feared being overwhelmed.
Mudge, predictably dismisses the investigation that cleared the officers involved, as a “whitewash,” contradicting refugees themselves, many of whom were horrified by their fellows’ temporary moment of insanity, which led to the needless tragedy. But, then Human Rights Watch, would dismiss any judgement that does not condemn Rwanda, even if it were delivered by Solomon.
The import of President Kagame’s speech itself, was inevitably buried under the attempts to use it as a weapon against him and Rwanda.
It was an address to parliamentarians and other public servants, at a swearing in ceremony, for the new speaker of the Senate. The bulk of the speech was on domestic, bread and butter issues, like the fairness of taxes, service delivery to people and even customer service.
Towards the end of his remarks, the President told his audience, he also wanted to reiterate some points he made, the last time he addressed them, then a swearing in of new ministers.
Addressing the refugee question, he pointed out that Rwanda had hosted refugees from different parts, including from neighbouring countries, for two decades. He then talked about the circumstances under which some refugees, fled the Democratic Republic of Congo.
There is not a single person in the audience, listening to Paul Kagame, who did not understand that he wanted to make it clear, that Rwanda would no longer accept the circumstances of these particular refugees.
No one extrapolated that, to mean that refugees from the DRC, would no longer be accepted into Rwanda. No one that is, except those who relished an opportunity for sensationalism, or vilifying Rwanda, over listening to the entire message, within its context.
Although it came with a great deal of detailed background information, the message was perfectly clear, even simple. The International Community, should not expect Rwanda to keep taking in refugees, while refusing to acknowledge the causes of those refugees, even as more and more of them continue to pour into the country.
And it is indeed instructive, that neither HRW, nor any of the news organisations, who were in haste to get the wrong end of the stick, so much as mentioned the ongoing murders and persecution of Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese. They could not have done any better, if their intention had been to vindicate the truth of President Kagame’s remarks.
Kagame explained as untenable, the situation where the whole world scapegoats Rwanda, on the basis of claims made by the DRC government, accusing Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebel group, and demanding that M23 “go back to Rwanda,” where they apparently belong. “We have tried to explain, almost on a daily basis, that those fighting over there, did not actually come from here. Little did I know” he said, “that those who say it, are actually saying…’Oh, these are Tutsi from Rwanda, as of origin, even though it is a hundred years ago, so must go back to Rwanda’. At least that’s what the authorities in Congo, are actually implying…”
“I don’t know whether those who support this idea, from outside, are aware of this, and are doing it knowingly, but it’s an abuse, a gross abuse of people’s rights, and actually abuse against us, as a country…”
The President charged that rather than be guided by the facts on the ground, the international community, which he would have expected to know better, go along with the DRC government’s posture, and seek to make Rwanda, carry the burden of their failure to act as they ought.
“Some people we thought should be clear about this, go along, and then we are the ones, that is Rwanda, who must carry that burden, and be held responsible, for the turmoil that is going on, in that part of the country…I have objection to these statements being constantly made…to the point that we are abused…”
As he has said on many occasions, he now reiterated to the international community, that what is happening in the DRC, is not Rwanda’s responsibility.
“This is not Rwanda’s problem” he emphasised, “and we are going to ensure that everybody realises that it is not Rwanda’s problem…”
The international community, he said, could start by repatriating the Congolese refugees, who even now are arriving into Rwanda, “because of the actions of government and institutions, actions to which the world is seemingly choosing to turn a blind eye. Rwanda must not be expected to shoulder the responsibility for the dysfunctional of the DRC,” he added.
“You tell me, ‘government [DRC] is not functioning properly’ this or that, that is still none of my business. If it is to be my business, it is yours also, meaning the international community; these are the ones I am addressing. It is as much your problem, as it is mine. But I am refusing that Rwanda should carry this burden, and be insulted and abused, every day, about it…”
Far from threatening not to take in refugees, Paul Kagame called on the international community, to shoulder their share of the responsibility for the refugees, by recognising the causes of the crisis in the DRC. That, if anything, should have been the basis of the headlines.