Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Rwanda’

Bringing Burundi Back from the Brink

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 28th December, 2015

Museveni NkurunzizaToday, here in Entebbe, Uganda, the first round of peace talks aimed at averting mayhem in the central African state of Burundi are scheduled to begin. Given the way that things have deteriorated so rapidly over the past few weeks, especially in the Burundian capital Bujumbura, where dozens of bodies have turned up on the streets, it might have been useful to have convened the talks earlier, but the man charged with overseeing them, Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 30 years, has been busy campaigning for re-election. The crisis erupted in Burundi this April when incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he was not stepping down at the end of his constitutional second term, but would instead stand for re-election. There was an attempted coup by a group of military officers against the government the following month that failed, and Mr Nkurunziza was duly re-elected in a poll boycotted by much of the opposition.

Burundi 2A few days ago, the African Union announced that it was preparing a peace-keeping force of 5,000 troops to send to Burundi to prevent more bloodshed. But President Nkurunziza declared firmly that they would not be welcome. Hence the added importance and urgency of the talks here in Entebbe, for which representatives of different Burundian parties have been arriving. The challenge for reaching an accord is enormous as there is a central disagreement: the President’s opponents are demanding that he step down, while he and his supporters are insisting that he will stay. Next year is the 10th anniversary of the peace accord that brought an end to 12 years of civil war in Burundi, in which an estimated 300,000 people were killed. And large numbers of Burundians fear that the country is once again on the brink of such a devastating conflict. At least 200,000 refugees have fled the country, many to neighbouring Rwanda. Unconfirmed reports meanwhile suggest that in Rwanda, some Burundian exiles are preparing to return to their homeland to fight if the opportunity arises.

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Keeping Christmas Special

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 24th December, 2015

nativity sceneOver the past few days, Brunei, Somalia and Tajikistan (to name only those I have spotted in the news) have banned celebrating Christmas. To that list one can of course add Saudi Arabia, where Islam is the only permitted religion. I find it sad that the Islamic fundamentalism — much of it promoted by Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi imams — should lead to such prohibitions. After all, Jesus is a prophet recognised in Islam as well as in Christianity. I have spent several Christmases in more inclusive Gulf countries such as the UAE and there it is not just the Christians who enter into a spirit of celebration.

church congregationThis year I am spending Christmas in Rwanda, which is a predominantly Christian East African country, mainly Roman Catholic. Last night in the market near my hotel there was a brisk trade in artificial Christmas trees and associated decorations and it was only last night that the hotel started playing Christmas music in the restaurant. That struck me because that’s how Christmas used to be in Europe and North America: arriving suddenly and offering just a few days of merry festivities. These days, alas, thanks to commercialisation, that sometimes magical intensity has been lost. The shops are full of Christmas merchandise in October, Christmas lights go up in major high streets at the end of November and stay up well into January. Everyone is encouraged to consume as much as possible for as long as possible, including food and drink, until we are physically and mentally bloated and desperate for Christmas to be over. That’s a pity, as Christmas should be a significant occasion, both spiritually and as a time to be close to loved ones, whether family, partners or friends. Perhaps in the West we need to remember how to make Christmas special, and keep it that way.

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Coming to Terms with Genocide

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 22nd December, 2015

imageIn 1994, when Rwanda was seized with a killing frenzy, I was working for BBC World Service at Bush House in London, writing analysis pieces about what was going on. It was clear that the then government in Kigali was orchestrating the massacre, with the Interhamwe militia and later ordinary Rwandans taking part in the brutal slaughter, mainly of men, women and children of the Tutsi minority. Some brave souls did hide or protect potential victims, at great risk to their own lives, but others joined in the blood-letting, some under duress. Over a period of 100 days perhaps as many as a million people were slaughtered, many thousands of them inside churches where they had sought sanctuary. For three months the international community essentially stood by, until the French declared rightly that something must be done, and a force of Rwandan exiles from Uganda moved in. It was largely because of the Rwandan genocide, in which Hutu fanatics set out to exterminate the Tutsi just as surely as Hitler tried to exterminate the Jews, that the Canadians, among others, worked out the theory of humanitarian intervention known as Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

Visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial 21 years later, earlier this week, I tried to come to terms with what drives people to instigate or participate in a genocide. The methods used in Rwanda were often sickening, as people were slashed to pieces with machetes or babies had their heads smashed against walls. Some victims were buried alive. What drives people to abandon their humanity in such an extreme way? Greed, envy and other deadly sins, certainly, but also fear, especially when the dreadful killing machine has started moving. Almost every family in Rwanda was directly touched by the genocide and many come to the gardens of remembrance at he Kigali Genocide Memorial to feel reunited with their loved ones, an estimated 259,000 are buried in the grounds. It is a calm, beautiful place for reflection, but I challenge anyone to come out of the exhibition halls, with their graphic photographs and moving video testimony of the bereaved, to emerge with a dry eye.

 

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Rwanda and Regional Integration

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st December, 2015

imageAs a small landlocked country in the heart of Africa, Rwanda would have limited economic possibilities if it tried to go it alone. But by cooperating more closely with some of its neighbours it can gain many benefits. A degree of regional integration — without undermining national sovereignty — is accordingly being promoted through the Northern Corridor Integration Projects (NCIP), which held its latest Summit in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, just over a week ago. The NCIP groups Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, and as of this Summit Ethiopia as well. As the name suggests, the initiative is project-focussed, in particular promoting the development of railways in the sub-region and in improving both the road network and the efficiency of the port of Mombasa in Kenya, on which the land-locked members — in other words, all of the countries except Kenya — depend for many of their exports and imports. Tanzania is currently only an observer, but logically it would make sense if it joined NCIP too and integrated the port of Dar Es-Salaam into overall planning.

Regional integration has had something of a chequered career in East Africa, notably the East African Community that brought together Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda but failed to live up to its expectations. By being project-focussed the NCIP probably has more chance of success and it confirms a trend towards regional integration that is happening all round the world as a by-product of globalisation. The European Union is, of course, by far the most advanced example of regional integration, as well as being the most ambitious, having political as well as economic dimensions and grouping no fewer than 28 countries. Not everything is running smoothly in the EU, but it is too important to fail in a world where new economic giants are rising. Africa is beginning to understand that as well, and although the continent-wide African Union is provably over-ambitious as a model of integration for the foreseeable future, smaller sub-regional groups such as the NCIP are feasible and promising.

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Rwanda: Green Light for Kagame

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 20th December, 2015

Rwanda referendumRwandans this week voted in a referendum in favour of changing the country’s constitution by a provisionally announced margin of 98.4% to 1.6%. The changes were notably to remove the current limitation of the president’s terms of office. The incumbent, Paul Kagame, 58, took power in 1994 in the turmoil after the country’s genocide and was subsequently elected twice as President. Under the constitution (before amendment) he would have been precluded from standing for a third term, but with the changes that the voters have approved he could in theory keep getting elected until 2034, though he has given no indication he wants to stay that long. The United States and the EU, which are major aid donors to this landlocked East African country, had urged the government in Kigali not to proceed with the term limit changes as they believe that the era of African rulers staying in power for decades without allowing alternative leaders to emerge has long passed. Moreover, attempts by the sitting presidents in neighbouring Burundi and DR Congo to run for an unconstitutional third term have caused massive unrest there. But that has not been the case in Rwanda, where Mr Kagame has overseen a remarkable period of national reconciliation and economic growth. To outside observers, the figure of 98.4% in favour of constitutional changes might seem fishy, but some individuals who are not happy with the changes told foreign journalists it was not worth voting in the referendum as everyone knew what the result would be and there was blanket coverage in the local media urging a Yes vote.

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Burundi: R2P in Action?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 19th December, 2015

R2PThe African Union, moving with uncharacteristic speed, has decided to send 5,000 peace-keeping troops to Burundi, even though the government there has not asked for them. This is a legitimate move under an evolving concept in international law: the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which basically argues that the international community has a moral duty to intervene in a country if there is a danger of genocide or other grave humanitarian crisis and the government on the spot either can’t or won’t solve the problem itself. Accordingly, R2P challenges a fundamental principle of the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, namely that the ruler or government of a nation state has the sole authority for managing its affairs. Some countries, such as China, still cherish the notion of non-interference in the internal affairs of another state, not least because of foreign criticism of its policies in Tibet, but in a case like Burundi there is unlikely to be much protest at any peace-keeping action. This is because of the awful precedent of Rwanda, where I am now.

Burundi 1In 1994 one of the worst genocides in history took place as predominantly Tutsi Rwandans were slaughtered or maimed with machetes and other weapons by a militia force with the encouragement of some people in power and, shamefully, even some Christian priests. The international community stood by — some UN troops were even withdrawn, sealing the fate of thousands — until France decided that something must be done to halt the carnage. It was largely because of the Rwanda genocide that the idea of R2P was formulated. As it has evolved, the assumption is that military intervention should only take place when it is clear that diplomatic and other pressures or measures will not work. Moreover, rather that the United Nations itself being expected to act as a global policeman, regional organisations are encouraged to be the prime movers. So the African Union’s initiative will be widely welcomed. There is no doubt that the matter is urgent; scores of bodies have been found in the streets of the capital Bujumbura and hundreds of thousands of Burundians have fled into neighbouring  countries. Although at the moment the conflict is not overtly ethnic it could so easily become so, as it was in Rwanda, and then the true nightmare would begin.

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The Kurdish Genocide in Iraq

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th January, 2013

Halabja victimsSaddam Hussein2013 is a year of remarkable anniversaries so far as Kurds in Iraq are concerned: the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War (opposed by many, including me, in Britain, but viewed bythe Iraqi Kurds as a Liberation), the 25th anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s Anfal genocide operation and the 30th anniversary of the régime’s killings of men from the Barzani tribe. But those are only milestones — however gross and tragic — in a long journey of suffering that has been the Calvary of Iraq’s Kurds. No wonder they have an ancient saying that their only friends are the mountains. But even the mountains could not protect Kurdish villagers when Saddam’s airforce dropped a cocktail of chemical weapons on them in 1987-1988. First-hand testimony of the effects of those assaults (delivered at an International Conference on the Kurdish genocide, held at Church House in Westminster today) came from Dr Zryan Abdel Yones, who was a medic in the region at the time and had to deal with hundreds of victims dying in front of him, including preganant women whose bodies expelled their foetuses in a pool of blood. Saddam Hussein was indeed a monster — and a megalomaniac, as I had cause to remember when I spent two days in his palace in Baghdad last month. But the Iraqi Kurds do not yet have closure on their suffering; they want the international community to recognise that what was done to them amounted to genocide, as the Norwegian and Swedish parliaments have already done. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of casualties — many of whom simply disappeared without trace — in one of the most sustained and horrific crimes against humanity in modern times. It was really only after the Rwanda genocide of 1994 that the international community began to realise that there was a international moral reponsibility to protect which over-ruled the usual priunciple of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. But it is not too late and a petition to 10 Downing Street has already attracted many thousands of signatures. To sign yourself click on the following link: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31014

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