Thursday, August 11, 2022

Open Letter to Blinken: Scholars Call for Partnership ‘Free of Condescending Positions’

By James Karuhanga

August 09, 2022

Ahead of the visit of the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Rwanda, 30 African and American scholars, researchers, lawyers, artists, journalists, and other professionals, have written him an open letter, calling for among others, a respectful and equal partnership free of condescending and moralising positions. 

Regarding the crisis in eastern D.R. Congo, they invite the US Secretary of State to adopt a holistic approach considering the political, economic, and socio-cultural ramifications of the Congolese situation. 

One of the signatories, Gatete Nyiringabo, a human rights lawyer and social activist based in Kigali, told The New Times that the intent of their letter is to “use all available diplomatic and academic avenues to ensure justice for our people.” 

The letter’s signatories inform Blinken that they hope his visit will contribute to lasting peace in the great lakes region of Africa, and strengthen the relationship between Africa and the US.

“During your visit to DR Congo, you intend to address the question of ‘free, inclusive, and fair elections in 2023’ and how to ‘advance peace in eastern DRC.’ The question of elections is important as certain leaders are increasingly restricting the presidency to candidates with two Congolese parents,” reads part of the open letter.

Moreover, they note, anti-Rwandan speech and particularly hate speech against Congolese Tutsi is spreading quickly in the DR Congo and people have already been impacted. 

The signatories inform Blinken that in fact, hate speech against the Congolese Tutsi has become so common that it may be used during the 2023 presidential campaign, something that “could result in even more victims and in the further destabilization” of eastern DR Congo, where most Congolese Rwandophones originate from.

With regards to peace in eastern DR Congo, it is noted, while a firm attitude against the M23 is appreciated, one cannot forget or remain silent regarding the violent armed groups currently operating in the country. 

“Refusing to take a holistic approach to the Congolese situation in all its complexity and with all its political, economic, and sociocultural ramifications would be counterproductive. We ask that the USA not ignore the existence of these hundreds of armed groups––in particular FDLR––that are responsible for widespread bloodshed in eastern Congo,” reads the letter. 

“We strongly urge you to earnestly consider the fact that the Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese are victims of exclusion, public incitement to hatred, and massacre. Blaming Rwanda for much of the violence on Congolese soil will not bring peace nor fix the Congolese social-economic crisis that has existed since the Mobutu presidency.”

Rather, it is noted, attributing responsibility to Rwanda amplifies and justifies hatred against Congolese Rwandophones, clears politicians from their social responsibility and allows multinationals to exploit Congolese wealth while the world and media choose to distract the Congolese population with Rwandophobia.

About Rusesabagina case

On the case of Rusesabagina, the scholars remind Blinken that the lives of Rwandan citizens matter as much of those of American citizens.

When announcing his visit to Rwanda, the signatories remind Blinken, he referred to “the wrongful detention of the U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident Paul Rusesabagina."

“We were surprised by your unilateral judgment about his case. Mr. Rusesabagina was accused, among other indictments, of forming terrorist groups, funding terrorism, enlisting child soldiers, and kidnapping. If the USA had any reservation about this case, it would have been better to directly challenge each of the indictments brought against him.”

Rusesabagina created the National Liberation Front (FLN), a criminal organization that served as an armed wing of his Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRDC).

On September 20, 2021, the High Court Chamber for International and Cross Border Crimes handed a 25-year sentence to Rusesabagina, for terrorism. His jail term was upheld in April 2022. The FLN orchestrated murders in south-western Rwanda between 2018 and 2019. 

In 2018, on three different occasions, the FLN carried out violent attacks inside Rwanda, killing nine civilians, injuring several, and destroying properties. Rusesabagina made several statements “celebrating these criminal acts and claiming responsibility.” 

On many occasions, Rusesabagina publicly announced his support to the National Liberation Front. 

In early 2019, in a video available online, Rusesabagina reaffirmed his allegiance to the terrorist group, declared war against Rwanda, and called for recruitment and mobilization of combatants. 

“It is particularly worth noting that much of the evidence that was used to establish his guilt was provided by the Belgian justice system, Belgium being a prominent member of NATO and host of the headquarters of his operations.”

The authors of the open letter note that on August 2, Blinken celebrated the death of Al-Zawahiri with the following words: “We have delivered on our commitment to act against terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan. The world is safer following the death of al Qa'ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The U.S. will continue to act against those who threaten our country, our people, or our allies.” 

The Al-Qaeda leader was killed in US drone strike in a counter-terrorism operation carried out by the CIA in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

If the US has the right to kill a foreign national using “transnational repression”, then Rwanda, which abolished the death penalty, certainly has the right to bring to justice Rusesabagina, a Rwandan citizen, at the root of an armed group responsible for the deaths of Rwandan civilians in Rwanda, they pointed out. 

“If American lives matter, Rwandan lives do also matter.”

Another signatory, Gaetan Gatete, a manufacturing systems engineer and manager based in the US state of Indiana said: “We would like to remind Secretary Blinken that we are Americans, African Americans, and some of us of Rwandan origin, are professionals, and that we too matter!”

“[Paul] Rusesabagina is not more American than we are; he does not even pay more taxes than we do. We would like to remind him [Blinken] that Rwandan lives matter. The Congolese Tutsi are humans and their lives matter. Rwanda matters just like the USA. Terrorism in USA is the same in Rwanda. Rwanda wants peace, and deserves peace, same as the USA.”

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