On April 16th 2013 the Alison L. Des Forge Memorial Committee and the University of Buffalo in New York co-sponsored a symposium to gain understanding about the current volatility in both the Middles East and in Central Africa.
The theme of the symposium was comparing and contrasting Rwanda with Israel on many things— such as having suffered a genocide, and rising from the atrocities determined to rebuild and strengthen their military power, to list a few.
Late Alison was a historian, human right activist and a scholar who had done extensive research on the Rwandan genocide. Some of her work includes: “Defeat is the Only Bad News”, and her best seller “Leave None to Tell the Story.”
The guest of honor at the symposium was Kenneth Roth. He is the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW). His obligations to the world make my heart bow in respect. The moment Mr. Roth stepped on the podium; I expected sympathy— especially now in April when Rwanda is remembering the souls of one million people brutally massacred during the genocide against Tutsi. Little did I know that I traveled from Virginia to be assaulted by a man who chairs the most important organization in the world, HRW.
Standing almost six feet with bones breaking out of his cheek, his voice reverberated in the hallway like a destructive wave. “Rwanda is not what you think it is.” He said. My heart escaped a beat not knowing what would follow. Sure enough, “The so-called development in Rwanda is a hoax— the cleanliness of the city, the lights, the green islands in the roads is nothing but a cover-up.” In my chair, I felt the urge to stand and shout but I waited for the appropriate moment— kwihesha agaciro, self-respect. So, I took the heat but refused to let this man undermine my country.
Speaking to an academic audience, scholars, professors, researchers and students with the hunger to learn, Mr. Roth disrespected the government of Rwanda, pointing fingers at president Paul Kagame as a man behind the misery and failures of Rwanda even beyond, particularly the Congo Democratic. It made me think of the bloodbath the Congo has been floating in since the time of King Leopold, to the Mobutu era and now both Kabilas father and son.
Roth’s hate for Rwanda goes farther than that. I never expected to hear from an educated man say “Rwanda takes serious advantage of the international community’s guilt for not intervening during the genocide, and that Rwanda uses this to plunder the natural resources in the Congo. It was such a hurtful statement that I lost respect for him as a person. I heard myself quoting president Kagame, “Injiji mbi ni izize.”
He accuses Rwanda for using its military capabilities to cross over to the Congo in the pursuit of the genocide perpetrators. Only if you could see him angrily nailing his index finger in the lectern repeating: “and that is a serious human rights violation!” Mr. Roth has been the forefront advocate for the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda FDLR. Question his integrity not his affiliation with FDLR.
After his remark, I asked him and I quote “Thank you Mr. Roth for your comment. I don’t know when was last time you visited Rwanda, but I like to inform you that development is actually happening and the people of Rwanda are happy with it. That’s the most important. Regarding your thoughts on the genocide, that Rwanda uses the atrocities, as a shield to the international community’s guilt is offensive. Looking around this room, I see virgin minds that you are trying to corrupt with your false prophecies. That said, Mr. Roth, you are no different from other genocide deniers. Those of you who are here, bear this in mind, this man is a genocide denier.”
Responding to my comments, he said: “I have been confronted by other Kagame fanatics like you.” What I did not bother telling him was that I have reasons to be.
Compiled by Louis Gakumba