Nkurunzia and Museveni–No Longer at Ease.
[Open Letter: Commentary]
His Excellency Yoweri Museveni, President
The Republic of Uganda
14th December, 2018
Two days ago I came across your letter dated 8th December, 2018, to President Pierre Nkurunziza. Earlier, I had also stumbled on President Nkurunziza’s letter (December 4,2018) to you, in your capacity as the Chairperson of the East African Community. I was surprised how these days delicate state and diplomatic business are conducted or easily leaked to the public.
Nevertheless, both letters, written with a claim of candor by sitting African Heads of State of two member nations of the East African Community reveal as much in what they say, what they leave out, the state of internal and regional affairs, and the mindsets of the authors.
I write to you as an African, and a citizen of Rwanda living in exile. It is my intention to be equally candid, and respectfully disagree with you on a number of points you raise in your letter. My commentary is understandably short, for more space would be required to give exhaustive comment.
BURUNDI’S CONTESTED HISTORY
Since you say you have been in the business of revolution for 53 years, most likely you understand that the history of Burundi does not begin with the assassination of Prince Rwagasore in 1961. What you rightly describe as Burundi’s “chronic problem” is indeed centuries old, characterized by Tutsi monopoly of power for most of this convoluted history. Since 1966, successive military regimes within this broader Tutsi monopoly (Micombero Bagaza, Buyoya ) was therefore primarily an exercise of preserving the old order by other means. Your assertion that this Tutsi monopoly of power in Burundi was a reaction to Rwanda’s 1959 Hutu revolution and the consequent killings and exile of Rwandan Tutsi, while being a possible factor, ignores the facts in history’s time line.
The rise of Hutu resistance against this Tutsi monopoly, exemplified by CNDD-FDD among others in the 1990s, was the primary pressure that created the need and momentum for the Arusha negotiated and peaceful settlement. Admittedly the leadership of Mwalimu, visibly missed in present times, provided the wisdom to shepherd a complex process to the Arusha Peace Agreement of 2000. It is not correct to minimize the role of CNDD-FDD in particular, and Hutu resistance in general, in bringing the Buyoya government to the negotiating table. That they did not capture Burundi’s capital city, Bujumbura, only speaks volumes to your rather militaristic understanding of revolutionary change. Not all changes in history are born out of outright military victory. Nor does outright military victory translate into sustainable democracy and security for all. I am surprised that in your analysis, you conveniently decided not to mention two landmark tragic events that have shaped Burundi’s recent history. The first is the genocide committed against the Hutu in 1972, and the second is the assassination of Melchior Ndadaye, the first democratically elected Hutu President of Burundi, in 1993. Both were committed by Tutsi military elements in power.
RWANDA’S TRAGIC HISTORY
As a student of the Africa’s inter-lacustrine history you missed an important point in Rwanda’s story line. Until the Hutu Revolution of 1959, the Kingdom of Rwanda was centuries-old monarchy at the top of which was a Tutsi king. As in Burundi (with unique differences in the complex relationships among the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa), Belgian colonial rule accentuated the sharp distinctions, contradictions, and divisions between and among ethnic identities. I presume you do not contest the historical fact that the Hutu people were at the very bottom of the socio-economic-political pyramid. The rise of Hutu consciousness, though ethnic-based in character, was a legitimate development against historical group injustice. That Belgians opportunistically manipulated these identities, in shifting alliances, simply testifies to the nature of every colonial enterprise. For President Gregoire Kayibanda and his Hutu colleagues to have risen to lead the Hutu revolution to end monarchical rule and preside over the new Rwandan republic was a momentous and historical achievement. To dismiss him just as a reactionary in the service of Belgians is not a correct assessment. He failed to create a Rwandan consciousness, lead all people, and extricate himself from the limitations of his time. As history shows, revolutionaries of yesterday can easily turn up as reactionaries of today and tomorrow.
THE EAST AFRICAN COMMUNITY AS A GUARANTOR
You argue that because the region was the architect, mediator, and guarantor of the Burundi peace process, it still must have a say in how Burundi should be managed. President Nkurunziza has a different opinion on that, emphasizing that the process should be internally-owned and Burundi-driven, while not excluding the complementary role of the region and the international community. Neither you, Mr. President, or any other leader in the East African region, or anywhere else in the world, would ever want guarantors to have a permanent presence in one’s own home. The rationale, comparison with, and examples of American and British forces in Germany and Japan is not a strong argument. Germany and Japan were defeated by the Allied Powers. The victors then had every reason to occupy the vanquished spaces as a deterrence against any future re-emergence of Germany and Japan as military powers. Decades later, however, the United States and Britain do not determine how Germany and Japan are governed.
To guarantee peace, the guarantors must fulfil certain criteria. Neutrality, impartiality, and moral authority are crucial ingredients. Above all, the principle of “do no harm” is an indispensable one. National, as well as regional actors, must endeavor to be mutually accountable, open, and transparent. An attempt to be manipulative on either side will always be counter-productive. This is complicated by the fact that national actors in one country have historically played roles that are biased in favor of some other national actors in another country. How could you, Mr. President, imagine that you are an objective and impartial actor in Rwanda, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo where you have spent fortunes of time and treasure?
President Nkurunziza raises an important point that is crucial to the credibility of the East African Community as the guarantor of peace processes in the region. There was a coup attempt against his government in 2015. That Rwanda was very involved in planning and supporting the failed attempt is very much a public secret bragged about by Rwanda’s intelligence officers. Has Rwanda been held accountable to the harm it has caused (and continues to cause) to a sister state in the community? If not, why? The people of East Africa, and the foreign powers you decry, will not take serious the East African Community under such conditions.
RWANDA UNDER PRESIDENT PAUL KAGAME
I vividly recall a remark you once made to me in 1995 during one of many encounters I had with you to the effect that Abanyarwanda bari treacherous (Rwandans are treacherous). Later, in a letter you wrote in 2001 to Claire Short, then British Minister for International Development, you described RPF as ideologically bankrupt. Unfortunately, you were right in describing Rwanda’s ruling elite as such. Looking across East Africa, and Africa in history, it is striking to note that treachery and ideological bankruptcy aptly describe ruling elites, but not African people. I know RPF and President Paul Kagame a lot. I served as RPF’s Secretary General, represented Rwanda Government as its Ambassador in United States, and managed President Kagame’s Presidency for a while.
In your letter you casually remark in passing that you cannot speak for President Kagame. Yet you know him a lot too. Of all people, you are most familiar with his earlier formative years as a military and intelligence officer in the National Resistance Army (NRA) in Uganda. I wonder whether his reactionary and ultra-violent character was apparent in Luwero triangle as it has become a distinguishing characteristic in his conduct as RPF leader since 1990, and Rwanda’s ruler since 1994.
You know as much as I do that President Paul Kagame confirmed to you in person that he was responsible for the shooting down of the plane in which President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and President Cyprian Ntaryamira of Burundi were killed on their way from meeting you and other East African leaders in Dar es Salaam on April 6, 1994. This was a trigger that derailed the Arusha Peace Agreement, provided the spark for the start of genocide, and the subsequent capture of state power by the RPF. Let me remind you, Mr. President, that Tanzania as Facilitator and all of you East African leaders were guarantors of the Rwandan peace process. Two African Heads of States were assassinated by a signatory to a peace agreement. East Africa, the African Union, and the United nations have never called for an investigation in this assassination to hold accountable the perpetrators of this crime. If this is not betrayal of the Rwandan and Burundian people by East Africa as a guarantor, what is? In the case of Burundi, this was a second time in less than one year two Hutu Presidents had been assassinated by Tutsi elements from Burundi and Rwanda. Are you then surprised that politics in Rwanda is a zero-sum game where winners win violently, sustain power violently, and lose power violently? For now, the Tutsi monopoly of power in Rwanda is a reproduction of pre-1959 marginalization of Hutu, and mirrors the earlier Tutsi monopoly in Burundi. This is a recipe for recurrence of genocide and war in Rwanda and the region.
In your letter you do explain that there is a difference between Interahamwe who committed genocide against Tutsi, and coup plotters. You are right in pointing out this. However, you should not remain silent on the war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possible acts of genocide that President Kagame’s intelligence and army committed against Hutus in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nor should you be silent about millions of Congolese people who have perished from Rwanda’s and Uganda’s predatory military interventions in that country.
President Kagame’s intelligence was involved in the planning and assassination of President Laurent Kabila on January 16, 2001. You recall that you and President Kagame sponsored and installed President Kabila in power on May 17, 1997. Once again, East Africa, the African Union, and the United Nations have never sought or conducted an investigation to hold President Kagame accountable. When state actors use the same criminal methods as non-state actors in shooting down planes, assassinating opponents, killing and maiming women and children, they should be called terrorists.
FOREIGN IMPERIALISM, AFRICA’S PROSPERITY AND STRATEGIC SECURITY
You state that Africa’s main problem is foreign imperialism. True, the legacy of Western imperialism has had an enduring negative impact on Africa’s development. However, Africa’s primary problem now, almost six decades after political independence, is internal. Otherwise how do you account for deadly civil wars, human rights abuses, genocide, massive dislocation of refugees and internally displaced people, the peace keeping industry, economic misery, dependency on foreign aid, lack of rule of law, political exclusion, and stunted institutional growth imposed by local tyrants who rule by coercion indefinitely? It is these internal weaknesses that are exploited by all sorts of opportunistic foreigners, whether imperialists of yesterday, today or tomorrow. The rhetoric of denouncing foreign imperialism that was fashionable yesterday increasingly sounds hollow today. Some of Africa’s ruling elite willingly become tools of foreign imperialism against interests of their own people in exchange for handouts and assurance of protection from accountability. This is the real danger to Africa’s quest for prosperity and strategic security.
LEADERSHIP AND MANAGEMENT
In your concluding sentence you write:
Given the convoluted history of our countries (Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, South Sudan, etc..), the more the reason, sometimes, using flexibility in handling these simple situations but complicated by mismanagement (italics mine).
Convoluted political histories of our countries, because they have been tragic and protracted, continue to leave behind a trail of tears, blood and ongoing human suffering. There is a trail of trauma that runs across decades, national boundaries, communities, and generations. These are therefore not simple situations to be managed by technocrats with the latest knowledge and skills from managerial disciplines. This is not about markets, about selling and buying, important as they are. It is about people’s dignity and rights. It is about healing the wounds at the individual, family, community, national and regional levels.
The true and urgent call of East African leaders is to do no harm, help their whole society to heal, imagine and co-create communities of shared interests nationally, facilitate people-based regional cross-border bonds, and build Africa’s bridges to the world and the future. This is the heart of building East Africa’s, and Africa’s sustainable prosperity and strategic security.
Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa
Washington DC, USA
H.E. President Pierre Nkurunziza, The Republic of Burundi
H.E.President Uhuru Kenyatta, The Republic of Kenya
H.E.President Dr. John Pombe Joseph Magufuli, The United Republic of Tanzania
H.E.President Paul Kagame, Republic of Rwanda
H.E.President Salva Kirr Mayardit, The Republic of South Sudan
H.E.President Cyril Ramaphosa, The Republic of South Africa
H.E. President Joseph Kabila, The Democratic Republic of Congo