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Rwanda: Bloggers take on Stephen Kinzer

An article by Stephen Kinzer criticizing Human Rights Watch’s position on Rwanda was not well received in the blogosphere. In the piece, which appeared in the London’s Guardian, Kinzer laments that human rights groups are spreading what he refers to as “Human rights imperialism”. With specific reference to Rwanda, Kinzer favors a dictatorship that allows for stability. Stephen Kinzer is a United States author and newspaper reporter.

He writes:

By my standards, this authoritarian regime is the best thing that has happened to Rwanda since colonialists arrived a century ago. My own experience tells me that people in Rwanda are happy with it, thrilled at their future prospects, and not angry that there is not a wide enough range of newspapers or political parties.Human Rights Watch, however, portrays the Rwandan regime as brutally oppressive. Giving people jobs, electricity, and above all security is not considered a human rights achievement; limiting political speech and arresting violators is considered unpardonable.

In a vehement disagreement with Kinzer, SunKissed accuses Kinzer of defending a dictatorship that has little concern for human rights:

It’s a sad day when backed into a corner, formerly credible journalists resort to shamelessly defending issues, causes, and people known to be destructive to humanity, especially when they have helped them get there. This is Stephen Kinzer’s job today when it comes to Rwanda. He helped construct the myth of a seraphic Kagame. But with mounting evidence against Kagame’s human rights violations record, Kinzer is scrambling to maintain the fallacy by any means necessary, even by going so far as to undermine human rights organizations. Kinzer knows he is defending a criminal.

The blogger goes ahead to identify what he/she sees as Kinzer’s weaknesses:

Where was Kinzer when the RPF and Kagame went into the Congo and committed genocide there? Where was Kinzer in 1996? 1998? 2000? And subsequent years when Kagame’s army ravished the Congo, with only the Congolese people as the real loser of each one of their incursions? Where was Kinzer when the UN released a mapping report documenting the most serious human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1993 and 2003, where an alleged possible genocide was committed by Rwandan troops?

And most importantly, where is Kinzer today? Where is his altruistic non colonial and non imperialistic proclivities for defending human rights instead of businesses? I have not seen Kinzer speak out on behalf of Congolese. Instead he defends Kagame’s right to deny others rights, and to violate their human rights, and commit crimes against humanity against them.

Writing for Cry for Freedom in Rwanda, blogger Nkunda Rwanda expressed similar sentiment. Nkunda sees Kinzer’s support for Rwanda, despite its poor human rights record, as an example of “contradictions espoused by western powers when it comes to human rights”.

Nkunda observes:

On one hand, you have regimes that are hard pressed to respect human rights. These currently include those in Kenya, Sudan and Zimbabwe. On the other, you have regimes that are given the blessing to violently violate them, or so it seems. The dictatorial regimes of Uganda and Rwanda fit the latter category. They form a special club of untouchables, whose members can openly rig elections, shoot journalists, even commit genocide and the international community, except for a few lukewarm statements, will stay mum.

Kinzer's arrogance drives Nkunda nuts:

But it is Kinzer’s extremely arrogant and insensitive statement that completely drives me nuts. He says, “By my standards, this authoritarian regime is the best thing that has happened to Rwanda since colonialists arrived a century ago.” This statement is very problematic and reflects a very patronizing way of thinking. When is it ethical for a foreign journalist to praise an authoritarian regime that is killing its own people? And what standards are these? Is this not the most despicable form of “imperialism?” Don’t Rwandans have a voice?
Rwandans deserves the same right to pursue democratic values as any other country. Rwandans are not “thrilled”  by an oppressive regime. If the people were happy as Kinzer wants us to believe, Kagame would not have had to rig elections (he “won” by 93%) and imprison opposition activists. If the people were happy, we would not be having an outraging number of government soldiers marauding with guns in our streets and villages on a daily basis.

Lastly, the Propagandist blogger Armin Rosen argues that the world has no choice but to defend human rights:

Now I think the “stark choice”  is actually between standing up for human rights and standing for nothing; between preventing some of the world’s most dangerous leaders from acting with total impunity, and a moral universe in which we aren’t horrified or even concerned by the likes of Bashir and Kagame. How we go about doing this is an open question. For instance, should Bashir’s ICC indictment be lifted, thereby jeopardizing the current international legal framework in exchange for peace in the South Sudan? And exactly what does the legacy of the Rwandan genocide entitle Kagame to? U.S. financial and military support? Benign dictatorship? The ability to invade neighboring countries whenever he wants? All three? None of them?

He points out that Steven Kinzer wrote his article from uninformed position about Paul Kagame “the warlord-turned-president who has helped turn Rwanda into one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s most unlikely success stories.” He simply does not know what he is talking about:

Kinzer, like Tisdall, has no idea what he’s talking about. Since the Rwandan genocide, the west has empowered Kagame far more than it’s criticized him, and the results have been catastrophic and, according to a controversial UN report from this past August, genocidal. Under Kagame’s lead, Rwanda has invaded neighboring Congo four times: In 1996, Kagame’s primarily-Tutsi RPF helped overthrow Congolese dictator Mubutu Sese-Seko, whose regime was providing a safe-haven for Hutu militants who helped lead and organize the atrocities in Rwanda. In 1998, Rwanda invaded again, touching off a conflict that would eventually involve six countries and last well into the next decade, leading to smaller Rwandan incursions in 2004 and 2009. So Kagame has had an instrumental and the for the most part destructive role in the world's deadliest conflict since World War II, and his treatment of the country's internal dissidents is actually an extension of this: in both instances, Kagame's interested in protecting Tutsi hegemony in the Great Lakes region, which requires things as mundane as jailing opponents for “divisionism” and as grandiose as escalating a war that would eventually kill over five million people.

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