By Jason Muhire
When reading news articles on Rwanda that were published in the past few weeks, one cannot help but be reminded of a famous stand-up comedian’s words: “the problem is that people with the most ridiculous ideas are always the people who are most certain of them!”
Indeed, the narrative pushed by some commentators and lawyers around the crimes committed by self-styled critics of the government of Rwanda has reached unprecedented levels of ridiculousness. The ridiculousness itself is pronounced in such an authoritative and assured manner that an uncritical reader would buy into it.
Consider for instance the narrative adopted by the lawyer of one of those so-called critics, Andrew Oliver, who goes to great lengths to justify the crimes of his client, Rene Mugenzi. Oliver’s assertions were given space in a recent article in The Daily Mail, a mass circulation paper in the UK that reported on the conviction of the Rwandan for stealing 220,000 pounds from Norwich Roman Catholic Cathedral.
According to Andrew, his client, who is described in the article as “a human rights activist” and an “outspoken critic of the Rwandan government”, was under threat.
“He (Mugenzi) believed he was under threat from the Rwandan government and this made him anxious and fearful and he had struggled to work,” the lawyer said.
Oliver further asserted that Mugenzi used gambling to deal with mental health issues stemming from the fear and anxiety generated by the so-called threat, suggesting that the gambling addiction made Mugenzi become a thief. In other words, the Rwandan government, whose alleged threats are at the origin of the gambling addiction, was somehow to blame for the crime committed by one of its ‘critics’.
But the ridiculousness of this position was exposed by the Eastern Daily Press’s commitment to expose Mugenzi. As members of the Eastern Daily Press successfully fought to overturn a court decision that banned publication of Mugenzi’s story, the journalists demonstrated how Mugenzi himself had repeatedly appeared in the media, published photos of his location on social media, revealed his work addresses online, and even stood to become an MP in 2015.
Evidently, Mugenzi’s actions were absolutely not those of a person under threat – even less so a person experiencing anxiety and fear who supposedly was hiding from a government targeting him for assassination.
Confronted with reality, Judge Katharine Moore had no other choice but to overturn the decision, noting that Mugenzi’s fears were “not well founded” and had “no reliable support.”
However, the case of Mugenzi is not the only one where ridiculous claims that attempt to diminish the criminal responsibility, or justify the crimes of so-called critics of Rwanda by blaming Rwanda have been pushed by commentators abroad.
Almost two months ago, Timothy Longman, a professor of political science and international relations at Boston University, argued in an article, that Paul Rusesabagina “became more radical because of unrelenting attacks on his character”; attacks that Longman claims were “coordinated by the government” of Rwanda. “We cannot know for certain whether Rusesabagina provided material support to armed groups and supported terrorism, as he is accused of,” Longman added in his attempted justifications of Rusesabagina’s crimes.
The surprising thing is that Longman could claim uncertainty about Rusesabagina’s support of terrorism despite the existence of videos proving the fact. Yet Longman could forward theories, supported with nothing, that “radicalization of Rusesabagina was caused by Kigali.”
From Longman’s perspective, the self-incriminating videos are not sufficient proof against the terror suspect, while mere psychobabble should exonerate “the Hotel Rwanda hero.”
Longman proceeded to advance an exculpatory narrative in the public opinion for the terror suspect. He invited the public to temper its anger towards a terrorist, to extend empathy to his bruised ego and purportedly tarnished reputation, all to blame Rwanda (“the intolerant government”) for crimes the suspect committed!
It is not surprising for a lawyer to resort to all sorts of tricks to defend his or her client. To achieve their objectives, lawyers enjoy more freedom of speech in courts than the common man or woman and as a consequence defend positions that may not only be offensive to the aggrieved party and the bereaved families, but blatantly ridiculous to Rwandans.
But Longman is not a lawyer. He arrogates himself the right to intervene “as a scholar”, although his pursuit of an elusive “bothsidesim” clearly hinders his clarity of thought.
Similarly, if commentators like him don’t want to review their questionable standards of proof when accusing Rwanda, they should at the very least be reasonable enough not to mislead the public but ascribe responsibility for crimes where it properly belongs: the perpetrators themselves.