Rwanda: Susan Thomson’s Perceived Doom for Country is an Illusion

Ngabo Michael–15 April 2011

Susan Thomson has consistently written very damaging articles on Rwanda in the name of ‘constructive criticism’. She always tries to create a misleading impression that she is ‘defending’ Rwandans from the perceived repressive Government, when instead she is attempting to poison unsuspecting minds against Rwanda. She has condemned Government reconciliation policies since their inception in late 1990s and even her doctoral thesis was directed towards that goal.

Whether it’s the Government policy of land consolidation in agriculture or redistribution of land from senior military and Government officers to peasants, for Thomson, nothing good comes out of Rwanda today.

Take for example an article she wrote that appeared on her blog on Tuesday April 5, 2011, titled “On Genocide Anniversary, Rwanda Needs Political Reform.” In the article, Susan wrote the following:”By most accounts, Rwanda is a nation rehabilitated. Critical accounts to the contrary are dismissed as absurd, as is the notion that post-genocide reconstruction and reconciliation policies could be setting the stage for another round of political violence.”

Thomson goes on to say that most outsiders fail to appreciate the lack of political freedoms and the economic inequalities that confront Rwandans who are not members of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and that the vast majority of Rwandans remain extremely poor, politically marginal, and, in many cases, traumatized by what they lived through.

The learned lady goes on, “for many, daily life is characterized by a lack of food, clean water, and affordable and proximate health services, while the elite enjoy European coffee houses, wireless internet hotspots, new housing and shopping malls, accessible health care, and other services.

The gap between urban elites and the rural citizenry – some 90 per cent of Rwandans live in rural areas – has never been larger. It is this growing socio-economic inequity between the ruling elite and average Rwandans that makes another round of mass political violence possible.

This is what international observers who praise

Kagame’s thoughtful and benevolent leadership fail to appreciate.”

She further writes, “The government requires rural farmers to grow coffee and tea instead of the crops needed to feed their families.

A new land policy has decreased peasant holdings to less than a half-acre. The RPF does not allow peasant farmers to voice their concerns about its agricultural policy and the inequitable ways in which land is distributed into the hands of government loyalists.

Keeping an underfed and disaffected local population is hardly the way forward to sustainable peace and democracy.

Friends of Rwanda, led by Rwanda’s international donors, must start to work more seriously with the RPF to ensure their agricultural and land policies are aimed at developing long-term peace and security, not quick gains for party loyalists.”

Luckily, there are others who know better than Susan Thomson and have travelled extensively around Rwanda and in other countries on the continent of Africa.

Take for example what Andrew Mwenda, a prominent Ugandan journalist wrote about Rwanda during the same week:”The rich and powerful in Rwanda may evade justice, get unfair advantage over others or go unpunished for transgressions.

However, even accounting for these divergences, post-genocide Rwanda has, by and large, constructed the most fair and equitable society in post colonial Africa. For example, it is most likely in Rwanda, more than any other country in Africa or even the world, that the poorest and least educated citizen in the remotest village can have almost the same opportunity as a cabinet minister to be evacuated for medical treatment abroad if their condition so demanded.”

Mwenda points out that, “It is also most likely in Rwanda, more than any other country in Africa or the world, that a child born in an extremely poor family with no political connections whatsoever can, on their merit, get a government scholarship to Harvard. No wonder Rwanda has just been rated the fourth best country in the entire British Commonwealth for a girl child to be born.”

Mwenda goes on to say that, “while in all Africa a malnourished child is a statistic in government records, it is only in Rwanda in the whole of Africa that every malnourished child has a name, a home and gets milk and cereal at the local government clinic daily.”

The Ugandan journalist further asserts that, “It is only in Rwanda of the 27 African countries I have visited that I have seen government build a hospital equipped with most sophisticated equipment and medical staff in the remotest village to serve ordinary people. And all this in a country with a very low income per capita, a poorly developed human resource base and a country without strong institutional traditions.”

Both Andrew Mwenda and Susan Thomson are writing about the same government but their views are opposites. So who among the two is telling the truth?

Andrew Mwenda clearly admires what President Kagame’s Government is doing but he does not exaggerate. He admits Rwanda is not a paradise but also points out that no country is. He also points out that President Kagame is human and like other humans, he is not free of faults but has made a difference in his country and credit must go where it belongs.

Andrew Mwenda also has facts from credible institutions such as the World Bank which rates Rwanda as one of the best countries in the world when it comes to “Doing Business”. Also a recent UN report indicates that Rwanda is among very few developing countries likely to achieve all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

The achievement of MDGs of course means that Rwandans have adequate access to quality health services, reduced infant mortality rate, which cannot be achieved if children and their mothers are underfed as Thomson claims.

Why then does Susan Thomson portend a doomsday over Rwanda? It is not clear why but Thomson has exhibited an embedded dislike for the RPF Government since it stopped the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and came into power.

Those who knew her during her stay in Butare in the late 1990s and early 2000s have described her as a very secretive person and very controversial. Even fellow Canadians who worked with her in Butare did not like the way she was behaving towards colleagues.

At one time, her unbecoming behavior caused the Rwanda National University authorities to decline the renewal of her contract and she left Rwanda a bitter person.

In 2004, Thomson returned to Rwanda for a few days trying to organize a conference on Genocide but was refused permission because she had not followed the right procedures.

Thomson’s problem is that she is stuck with the idea that the reconciliation policies adopted by the Government of Rwanda cannot work because according to her, it is ‘forced reconciliation.’ Given her controversial and strange character, Thomson is not willing to accept the fact that the policies she predicted not to work years ago have worked. Rwandans are living peacefully side by side in their villages and homes.

The political and socioeconomic policies adopted by the Government of Rwanda have prevented the reigniting of ethnic violence. It is also important to remind Thomson that as a scholar she should be aware of substantial or natural ethnic divisions and constructed ones.

Rwanda’s case falls in the constructed ethnic divisions and it is the duty of the current Government to de-construct what was constructed by the colonial masters and entrenched by neo-colonial regimes that ruled the country after independence.

That is what the Government of Rwanda has been doing and needs not consult Thomson or any other scholar because it has the right diagnosis and the best medicine on this issue.

Thomson says that, “since ethnic identity was manipulated to maintain state power, the post-genocide government erased the traditional identities of Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa to promote reconciliation. Unofficially, however, ethnic identities persist.”

But the Government of Rwanda never had any illusions that they could erase these identities completely, at least not in the shorter term. What the Government wanted is to promote the idea of being “Rwandan” first so that the other labels such as Christian, Muslim, Tutsi or Hutu come last.

Also maintaining these identities in the official national ID cards would enable those who believe in these identities to use them to favour or deny some Rwandans public services, which is unacceptable.

Thomson is quite often misinforming or telling lies about what is happening in Rwanda. She for example said in one of her writings that, “all Hutu men are presumed guilty of genocide and must defend charges against them”, which is not true.

About a hundred and twenty thousand (120,000) persons were ever in Rwanda’s prisons suspected of committing Genocide and this number included both men and women. The number has over the years dwindled to less than fifty thousand (50,000).

Does Thomson imply that Hutu men in Rwanda are less than a hundred and twenty thousand in number? This is ridiculous. It is also not true to say that whoever is accused of committing Genocide cannot vote.

The law implicates those who have been convicted of Genocide crimes and not those suspected or accused.

Another criticism that Thomson and others like her have been advancing is that the urban areas especially Kigali City are developing much faster than the rural areas.

One would assume then that these critics would like the Government of Rwanda to either slow down the growth in Kigali so that the rural areas can also catch up or fast track development in the rural areas to be at per with Kigali. It is a fact however that all over the world, no single Government has managed to develop all its parts evenly.

I imagine even in her country, not all states are at the same level of development. Rwanda’s leadership has the vision of fast-tracking development for all Rwandans wherever they live in the country and eventually this will be achieved but not evenly.

Kigali for example will develop faster because of the existing infrastructure and the size of the population. Most investors tend to establish their businesses where there is better infrastructure and a bigger population.

Given Thomson’s presence in Rwanda during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, her immediate return to the country as a UN monitor and her multiple visits to

Rwanda after that, one cannot rule out some sinister agenda or design over Rwanda by this woman.

It would be advisable for the Government of Rwanda to use all means available to find out what motivates Thomson to distort facts about Rwanda and who her sponsors might be.


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