Saturday, May 12, 2012

Protesting WPU’s Decision To Honor General Kagame

Dr. Ann Fields
William Penn University
201 Trueblood Avenue
Oskaloosa, Iowa 52577

WEDNESDAY, May 9, 2012 

Dear President Fields: 

Protesting WPU’s Decision To Honor General Kagame 

This letter is in response to William Penn University’s plan to honor this week, Rwanda’s long-time ruler, General Paul Kagame.  

First, a brief word about who we are. The signatory organizations below join with many individuals to form an American coalition whose mission is to assist Africa. We pursue this goal by ensuring that our own American government and entities do no harm to Africa and by our passion for democracy, meaning respect for the choices and aspirations of Africa’s peoples. Additionally, our coalition possesses a very long track record: While vibrant energetic college students lead our activities, we are also guided by experienced activists who cut their advocacy teeth on assisting Africa’s liberation struggle, including the Nelson Mandela-led struggle that dismantled apartheid in South Africa. And we are diverse and broad-based: Besides an American-born plurality, our coalition contains groups and individuals hailing from across Africa—DRCongo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and of course, Rwanda.  

Our message today is succinct: we strongly protest WPU honoring General Kagame, believing it to be a terribly misguided decision. 

The reasons why are legion; here, we will only outline a couple. The first is a deep conviction we hold: General Kagame’s  30-year career dominated by war, invasion and iron-fisted dictatorship, cannot be something that William Penn would have admired. Honoring that career violates those broader Quaker principles that we deeply admire—simplicity, peace-making, integrity, community and equality. 

Our other reason is based on WPU being an institution of higher learning. We believe that among several, a university bears this onerous responsibility: it must inculcate into young adults life-long habits of intellectual rigor, intellectual honesty and the pursuit of truth.  

These vital values are shockingly absent from WPU’s April 20 release on General Kagame. Specifically, it confines itself only to repeating over-blown, self-serving praise about the general.  

In the interest of balance, we must now call attention to the long debit side of the Kagame ledger--which the WPU release completely ignores.  

An important point before that however: Both as a coalition and as individuals, we very much acknowledge and will always mourn the great catastrophe of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide which snuffed out nearly a million irreplaceable lives. Indeed, our coalition’s passion against dictatorships and for deepening democracy across Africa is fueled by this enduring belief: vibrant democracy powerfully helps prevent genocide and other man-made catastrophes. 

And yet, even if we give General Kagame the entire credit and moral high ground around the Rwandan genocide, it does not justify his many other attitudes and actions that we deplore. And the stubborn summary of his 30-year military/political career remains: he invaded Rwanda once (in 1990) and DRCongo twice (in 1996 and in 1998); he played a critical leadership role in starting four large unjust wars in Uganda, Rwanda and DRCongo; he has plundered the Congo; he has sponsored countless localized proxy wars that facilitate and cover up the plunder; he runs a dangerously repressive minority dictatorship inside post-genocide Rwanda; and he has been implicated in many political assassinations far beyond Rwanda’s borders.  

Anyone who goes in search of further details would quickly and easily discover a mountain of damning evidence that implicates the general. Included would be the following sample items: 

• In 2008, The Spanish National Court, The Audiencia National (which charged disgraced Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet), indicted 40 Rwandan military officers for terrorism, mass killings, and several counts of genocide against Rwandans, Congolese and Spanish citizens, following the 1994 genocide.1 Spanish Judge Fernando Andreu has said he has evidence implicating Rwanda’s current President Paul Kagame, who has immunity from prosecution as a head of state. 

• Following the August 2010 election in which General Kagame claimed a 93% victory, many observers charged fraud and cited political violence, intimidation and repression of press freedom. Those concerned included The Obama White House, which issued a statement saying, “[n]o one should underestimate the enormous challenges born of the genocide in 1994. Rwanda’s progress in the face of these challenges has been remarkable, and is a testament to the people of Rwanda. Rwanda’s stability and growing prosperity, however, will be difficult to sustain in the absence of broad political debate and open political participation.”2  

• On Oct. 1, 2010, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) published “The United Nations Mapping Exercise Report,” which documents crimes committed in the Congo from 1993 to 2003. Rwanda’s army was among several identified. Significantly, the Report  notes “the apparent systematic and widespread attacks described in this report reveal a number of inculpatory elements that, if proven before a competent court, could be characterized as crimes of genocide.”

• In May 2011, British authorities warned of assassination attempts by Rwandan government personnel against UK-resident Rwandan refugees and exiles.

• The June 3, 2011 report by Amnesty International says the following about the Kagame regime, “The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), in power since the 1994 genocide, tightly controls political space, civil society and the media, contending that this is necessary to prevent renewed violence. Human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents cannot openly and publicly criticize the authorities. People who do speak out risk prosecution and imprisonment.”

• On December 2, 2011, the United Nation Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo—established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1533 (2004)—published a report documenting, once again, the carte blanche the Rwandan government has continually given to those smuggling of Congo's minerals; the most recent example is their allowance of the ICC-wanted warlord, Bosco Ntaganda, to travel freely in Rwanda. The report states that, "[a]ccording to authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, General Bosco Ntaganda has crossed from Goma to the town of Gisenyi, Rwanda, twice in 2011, in March and again in September, despite the travel ban imposed on him. Congolese authorities reported that on both occasions Ntaganda had gone there to attend a burial, having sought official authorization to do so from his military hierarchy and from immigration authorities. Rwandan officials told the Group that they have no objections to Ntaganda’s crossing the border. They claim that his status as a sanctioned individual “is not a Rwandan problem, but a Democratic Republic of the Congo problem”, adding that “Bosco contributes to peace and security to the region, which converges with Rwanda’s aims.”  This statement is demonstrably false because just a week ago, Ntaganda’s military activities displaced thousands in North Kivu.

As these facts have become better known, many American entities have started exercising greater caution in their relations with the general and his iron-fisted rule. The Pittsburgh City Council is one example.  On July 12, 2011, it adopted Proclamation 1011-1897 identifying the Rwandan government as a major destabilizing force in Congo and scolding the federal government for continuing to fund the Rwandan government in the face of its many human rights abuses.  

We end with a two-part plea to WPU. By all means do continue to partner with Rwanda’s people. Even more important, it is crucial that you also immediately distance your great, innovative university from the current repressive, war-mongering regime in Kigali. In other words, we respectfully urge you to walk a nuanced path. The first step on that nuanced path begins by cancelling the decision to honor the regime’s embodiment, General Paul Kagame. We fervently hope this letter persuades you to take that step. 

Thank you.


Africa Action
Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN),
African Great Lakes Action Network (AGLAN),
Congo Global Action (CGA),
Foreign Policy in Focus,
Foundation Shalupe
Friends of the Congo (FOTC),
Hope Congo (HC),
Mobilization for Justice and Peace in Congo (MJPC),

Links to Sources
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