Those who challenge Kagame’s administration and question his past face brutal repression, and worse. Claude Gatebuke highlights the latest case of murdered Rwandan singer Kizito Mihigo.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Jacqueline Luqm…: This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network. The past that we refuse to acknowledge or, in this case, that’s been been covered up so expertly by the US propaganda machine will always resurface to haunt us in the present. Such is the case of President Paul Kagame of Rwanda. In a previous segment, I talk with author Judi Rever whose book, In Praise of Blood: The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, highlights the role of Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Front Army that they played as not the heroes who ended the genocide in 1994, but who committed their own acts of mass violence in the conflict.
In this segment, we turn our attention to current and ongoing conflicts surrounding Kagame as those who challenge his administration and question his past face brutal repression and worse. Joining me for this discussion is Claude Gatebuke who was a survivor of the Rwandan genocide and is executive director of the African Great Lakes Action Network. Claude, thank you so much for joining me today.
Claude Gatebuke: Thank you for having me, Jacqueline.
Jacqueline Luqm…: So Claude, since Paul Kagame was elected president of Rwanda, has there always been opposition within the country to him or is that a new phenomenon, the opposition to Kagame?
Claude Gatebuke: I think to call it an election, you have to put quote marks, right? Because Paul Kagame basically runs against himself which is why he wins 93% in 2003, 95% in 2010 if I’m not mistaken, and 99% in 2017. After, by the way, his terms were supposed to end in 2017, he forced a change in the constitution to allow him to run to be president until 2034.
Jacqueline Luqm…: Wow.
Claude Gatebuke: That is 14 years from now and that is 18 years … Sorry. 17 years in addition to the 17 years he had served as president officially, but he’s really been in charge since 1994, so 40 years, to almost a whole generation and more. So he’s not had any real opposition. What he does to the opposition is if you look back at every one of those elections, for example if we just use the election, every one of the elections that he ran, those who opposed him went to prison. In 2003, there was Charles Ntakirutimana. In 2010, a woman, Victoire Ingabire was imprisoned. She served eight years. Then in 2017, Diane Rwigara, another woman, tried to run against him. He never actually allowed any of them to run, and she served a whole year in prison.
It’s important to mention that these were women, especially the last two, Victoire Ingabire and Diane Rwigara, because the propaganda ran by Paul Kagame talks about a majority women parliament and Rwanda priding itself as having the largest percentage of women in parliament, but these are the same women who rubber-stamped Paul Kagame to run again. Basically, what we have in Rwanda is appointed people by Kagame to allow him to do as he pleases and his RPF party. So to your question, there’s no opposition when it comes to the way the RPF runs the country in Rwanda. Every one of the opponents has been sidelined and their supporters have been arrested, tortured, many of them killed including sometimes for some of them in exile. As we have it now, Victoire Ingabire is basically, although she was “pardoned” in 2018, she’s still under arrest because she still has to report every month to the police station or to some officials to make sure that she’s still there. She does not have permission to travel outside of the country. So she just went from the small house to the big house.
Jacqueline Luqm…: Wow.
Claude Gatebuke: She is basically imprisoned in an open-air prison which is basically the living conditions of Rwandans. Back to that, when I say it’s an open-air prison in Rwanda, the borders of Rwanda are closed around the whole country, especially the Uganda and the Burundi borders, but the Uganda border has been a big source of controversy. So Rwandans, even when they’re starving, cannot even leave the country to go and shop across the border. The ones who obviously live near Uganda, they actually have relatives. They can’t even go visit their relatives on the other side of the border. A woman, a pregnant woman was killed a few months ago for trying to cross, shot by the Rwandan police. Multiple people have been shot including Ugandan citizens.
Of course, there’s the recent story of famous Rwandan singer, gospel singer, a beloved figure in the country, he’s a symbol of peace, reconciliation, and especially justice because you can’t have any of those without justice, was arrested near the border of Burundi. He was actually still inside of Rwanda. Four days later, he turned up dead and the government of Rwanda claimed that he committed suicide which is absolutely a big lie because-
Jacqueline Luqm…: Now, let me pause you for a second there because we’re talking about a singer, Kizito Mihigo, who, as you said, very beloved in Rwanda, not an obscure name. Not to say that people who are not famous deserve to be forgotten in the repression campaigns of Paul Kagame, but this was a death that was not going to go unnoticed in Rwanda. Can you tell us a little bit about how the response to Mihigo’s death has been in Rwanda and what people are saying in the country about his death and the circumstances surrounding his death and people’s response to the Kagame administration now?
Claude Gatebuke: The death of Kizito, I can’t call it a death in good faith. Anybody that does that is not operating in good faith. The assassination of Kizito Mihigo by the government of Rwanda devastated Rwandans. The general population, every person, every generation was touched by Kizito through his music and his message of peace and reconciliation, and just acknowledging the fact … So here’s his crime, why the government of Rwanda started going after him.
Jacqueline Luqm…: Yes.
Claude Gatebuke: Kizito Mihigo sang a song in 2014 called [foreign language 00:08:06] which means The Meaning of Death. In that song, he was comforting victims and survivors of the genocide, Tutsi people, who suffered a genocide in 1994. It was also comforting people who died in other circumstances including those who were killed in crimes not recognized as genocide, which basically that indicts the RPF, the government in power in Rwanda. Soon after that, he was disappeared. He went missing for over a week. Then they produced him and they paraded him in front of the media with handcuffs. That’s the first time I actually personally heard of him. I didn’t actually know a lot about him. Then I just started looking into the case because it was really weird to have somebody in handcuffs paraded in front of media to make a statement without a lawyer and then-
Jacqueline Luqm…: Yes.
Claude Gatebuke: … have a court case after that. They made him apologize. We have secret audios where he talks about what they did to him. They tortured him. They beat him. He was in the office of the … When they beat him, he was in the office of, and it’s in the secret audio, the cabinet, the president’s cabinet leader. Then they made him confess to a crime that he didn’t commit. They sentenced him to 10 years in prison, then pardoned him in 2018 after four years, and they kept him basically imprisoned because just last week, they arrested him and claimed that he was attempting to leave Rwanda when, in fact, the people who had him arrested said he was 10 minutes away from the border and he was laying down or sleeping.
So he wasn’t even anywhere crossing the border. This was before any crossing happened. It was inside of Rwanda which he’s allowed to do, and there was no crime being committed. Then of course they paraded, they showed pictures of him. He looked like he was touring like a tourist. Then they arrested him. He died four days later in custody, killed. Then they claimed it was suicide. The people were devastated. That’s what I wanted to get to. Everybody is mourning in Rwanda. For the last two weeks, there’s been mourning all over the world. There’s been church services everywhere for Kizito Mihigo. That is the most protesting you will ever see from Rwandans which is a sign of repression by the way.
The simple fact that people even went to the funeral … Normally when somebody like that dies that the government doesn’t like, people don’t show up to the funeral. There’s a handful of people. This time, thousands of people showed up. That’s the biggest protest we’ve ever seen in Rwanda. Some of the people interviewed, one journalist said that he noticed there was cuts on his face and bruises on his forehead. There was other people who were interviewed that said, “You know what? He got killed just like everybody else.” Basically killing somebody is business as usual, but Kizito is no ordinary person. That’s why the whole world, at least Rwandans all over the world, are mourning. Like I said, every continent has had a service, something to acknowledge and pay tribute to him.
So those are really the … This is the first time Rwandans have united to protest against an injustice. A lot of them are doing it in a timid way by just holding church services. A lot of people have spoken out which is why a lot of the media reports now are saying, “You know what? This story of suicide cannot be believed. It’s under dispute.” Even when you look at the conditions, they say that he hung himself with a bed sheet.
Jacqueline Luqm…: Sounds familiar.
Claude Gatebuke: Give me a break. Right.
Jacqueline Luqm…: You speak to just the beloved nature of this man and the fact that the international community, Rwandans throughout the diaspora, are protesting in their own way against his death, but then there is the issue of the secret recordings, which we have some of the secret recordings where he describes what was done to him.
Speaker 3: In the days following the song’s release, I received insults and threats and messages saying something bad would happen to me. I was invited for an interview with president’s chief of staff which took place in the office of the senate president who was, at the time, the senate vice president. They said the president didn’t like my song and I should write a letter asking for a pardon. The chief of staff and senate vice president said if I didn’t do what they said, I was a dead man. I was put on the floor and beaten on the buttocks. The deputy police chief came to see me and said if I continued to ask forgiveness during my trial, things would be easy, but if I pleaded not guilty and tried to denounce injustices which had been done to me, they’d give me a life sentence and I would die in prison.
Jacqueline Luqm…: So we received those recordings from News Channel 4 in England and now, these recordings are being played for an international audience. What do you think the response is going to be of the Kagame government to the release of these recordings in particular?
Claude Gatebuke: Denial as usual and basically saying that these aren’t true recordings of his voice, but we know that these can be authenticated. Where he sent them is our trusted places, and these were conversations that he was having with real people. The response to the audios and to the international community responding the way it’s responding basically with, at least at a minimum for once, skepticism on the story that Kagame’s presenting is going to be force, more repression against Rwandans and more repression against those of us who are spreading the news, but the fact that it’s very public is going to be really difficult. So I think they’re going to go on a big PR campaign to try to sanitize the image of Kagame which is what they do. They commit atrocities and then they [inaudible 00:15:31] to make people forget.
What we’re doing is to make sure that this is not forgotten and this is the last time that they assassinate or massacre people and get away with it and that Kizito Mihigo, a symbol of peace in Rwanda, and his work and his legacy will not go to waste. So they’re going to lobby. They’re going to spend a lot of money on lobbyist, a lot of money on PR, and also they are running a smear campaign and dehumanization campaign against Kizito Mihigo. They’re having people who are supporters of the government running opinion pieces and other things and talking about conversations they had with him dehumanizing him, saying that he dirtied the genocide survivors’ memory and that he should not have sang the song.
The song is really the central point of it. Again, the point of contention is if the crimes that the RPF acknowledged, then the whole story and narrative of Kagame and the RPF being saviors in the genocide instead of one of the perpetrators, it goes out the window. I personally, what I know, based on what I know, Kagame and the RPF were just also perpetrators during the genocide. I have testimony on video, on audio too, from some of Kagame’s bodyguards. One is James [Munyandinda 00:17:18]. I’ve also spoken to [inaudible 00:17:22]. They have testified that the RPF sent units of their soldiers to mix in with the militia, the
militia that committed the genocide in 1994 against Tutsi people, to mix in and go and massacre Tutsis, but there’s also other evidence where Paul Kagame himself has admitted to sacrificing Tutsis who lived inside of Rwanda before 1994 by slowing down his war efforts and being really slow to move and General Dallaire, the Canadian peacekeeper, asked him, “Hey, finish the war faster so that people can be saved.” He refused. He said-
Jacqueline Luqm…: Wow.
Claude Gatebuke: … “We’ll finish the war on our own pace.” They also asked him, “Are you not concerned about all of these people that are being killed, all the Tutsis that are being slaughtered?” He said, “In order to win the war, there’s got to be sacrifices.” So all of this, Kagame’s not ready for it to come out and it’s the narrative that keeps the international community, including the US, supporting Kagame and saying that they made a mistake and they left him to be the sole savior during the genocide and therefore, they cannot speak or take any action against him which, again, is based on a false premise which is slowly and slowly getting destroyed.
The death and the killing of Kizito Mihigo is going to destroy this narrative even more because there are a lot of people who survived the genocide that the RPF actually recognizes because they don’t recognize or acknowledge or accept many of us who survived the genocide as survivors because we will not basically go along with the narrative of the RPF. We just tell the story as we know it. There are many who were previously pushing the same narrative that the RPF pushes. Now with the death of Kizito, they’ve turned their backs. So the truth is coming out. It just happens to be … Losing the right term for it, but unintended consequences. The unintended consequences of killing Kizito which was they wanted to scare people into silence, there’s even more people speaking out now. There are more people outraged.
Jacqueline Luqm…: The exact opposite has happened of what they have intended.
Claude Gatebuke: Yes.
Jacqueline Luqm…: We’ve got a couple of minutes left, and I want you to tie all of this together with to what the United States’ interest in this issue and the Kagame administration is because from what I understand, the Rwanda Development Board has just reported that the Kagame administration has attracted $2.4 billion of foreign investments. That’s up from last year which was supposed to be $2.1 billion. This is an amount of money that is actually more money in foreign investments than Rwanda has collected the past eight years. So that’s an interesting point, but-
Claude Gatebuke: Definitely.
Jacqueline Luqm…: … the US … Yeah, but US business interest in Rwanda is expanding not necessarily through government interests, but through private interest in coffee, energy, and mining. So explain why that is important to what is going on in Rwanda right now.
Claude Gatebuke: Yes, so let me start with what does this have to do with the American people, audience. We are paying for a lot of these atrocities because when you give resources to a war criminal like Paul Kagame, they commit more crimes because you give him resources. So people should know, US citizens should know that the US is a donor to Paul Kagame who turns around and basically uses our money to kill the people in Rwanda and the Congo. So I’m getting to the resource part.
Jacqueline Luqm…: Right.
Claude Gatebuke: Private entities benefiting from this, from Paul Kagame’s reign, that’s the main, really the fuel if you will. The contracts … So I’m not actually sure about those numbers because it’s been shown in previous reports that a lot of the numbers coming out of Rwanda are inflated and they’re fake. However, even without the fake numbers, there’s a real issue. Rwanda doesn’t have a lot of … Coffee for sure, yes, is the main export material. Energy, there’s very little that would come out of Rwanda, Lake Kivu definitely being one of the suppliers which previously there was actually a dispute between Rwanda the country and a Canadian company fighting over contracts.
Then there’s mines that are being looted, plundered from the Congo. Rwanda is the top exporter, I believe if I read the recent reports correctly, or one of the top exporters of coltan. There’s no coltan in Rwanda. Coltan is in the Congo. Coltan is used to power our cellphones and a bunch of other electronics. There’s also other minerals like uranium and others in the Congo that are found in the Congo, copper, that are … Rwanda is the transit point and a conduit to Western mining companies. There’s a bunch of Western mining companies in the Congo that are exploiting the Congolese people, supporting these various warlords or supporting militias that are formed by the Rwandan military and soldiers to go and take over these mining towns and displace people and then go in there and mine and take the resources. There’s a website, conflictminerals.org, that has a list of those companies that are mostly Canadian, Australian, American, British, French, Belgian, and then a few others from around the world.
So the resources is one. The other is this cover or hiding behind Kagame having the moral authority to basically do whatever he wants because he “stopped” the genocide which is incorrect that has the US providing political and diplomatic cover. The way this has happened in the past is when there are reports showing the atrocities by Rwanda’s military, especially its top leaders, General James [Kabarebe 00:24:38], General Charles [Kayonga 00:24:40], General [Jacques Nziza 00:24:41], reported in these major reports and others, the US has blocked the reports, especially at the UN, from being released until they were leaked in the media. So that’s the diplomatic cover and political cover. Then facilitates these US businesses which there’s nothing wrong with just going to do business as long as it’s honest business, but-
Jacqueline Luqm…: Sure.
Claude Gatebuke: … going there to use basically a proxy army, the Rwandan military, to go into the Congo, destroy the villages … Today, just this weekend, there were massacres in a town called Beni which is also in eastern Congo where there’s a lot of mining towns and a lot of these mines are located. There are massacres happening in Beni today. B-E-N-I for those who would like to look it up. All of this has a hand of US policy and US businesses. Paul Kagame just happens to be a conduit and the latest by the way … Let me just say this. He is the latest puppet of the US who will most likely be disposed of just like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and others that the US has previously supported. So he is one in a long line of friendly tyrants. Previously in the region was Mobuto Sese Seko of the Congo. Now today, you have Paul Kagame and Museveni of … Kagame of Rwanda and Museveni of Uganda.
Jacqueline Luqm…: So Claude, this is … I always like to wrap these conversations up with how people can learn how to support the efforts of your organization and how people can work to bring accountability to those who have been so far unaccountable for their actions and that’s Paul Kagame and also the protect the dissidents who are speaking out against him. How can people get involved?
Claude Gatebuke: So a couple of things. Reach out to us through our website, aglan.org. A-G-L-A-N.org. There are a number of other organizations that we are in coalition with that we’ll connect with, but if you start with us. Continue to follow us on social media and spread our message and the message that we’re sharing, but more importantly, we’re getting involved. There’s an effort by Nobel Peace Prize winner, a doctor in the Congo who’s been doing amazing work to fix women who-
Jacqueline Luqm…: Yes.
Claude Gatebuke: … brutally, brutally assaulted and raped. So he’s been doing amazing work with them and he won a Nobel Peace Prize for them. What he’s calling for is a mechanism to bring justice to the victims of the crimes documented in a report. It’s called the UN Mapping Exercise Report for the Congo. It came out 10 years ago in 2010, October 1, 2010. The report has been there. It documents some horrible crimes, and what we’re doing is supporting those efforts to bring about justice for those victims. So we ask that the viewers and the followers to check with us so we can guide them on how to get involved in terms of supporting this mechanism. Part of it will be involving actually American US officials obviously.
Jacqueline Luqm…: Yes, obviously. Claude, I cannot thank you enough for explaining why the crimes, the ongoing crimes of Paul Kagame in Rwanda and in the Congo are important issues for American viewers and for our viewers internationally. So thank you so much for your work and your witness, Claude. Thank you for your time today.
Claude Gatebuke: Thank you for having me.
Jacqueline Luqm…: Thank you for watching. This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network in Washington, DC.
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