Thursday, December 19, 2013

Rwanda: A Citizen’s Call to Action

By Frank Samvura
Gicumbi District
Northern Province
Rwanda

December 18, 2013

Martin Niemöller once said: “First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me…”

Pastor Martin Niemöller
Pastor Martin Niemöller was an anti-communist theologian who supported Hitler’s rise to power. He became deeply disillusioned when he realized the Führer’s autocratic propensities, and became the leader of a group of German clergymen opposed to Hitler. He was arrested in 1937 and sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Released in 1945 by the Allies Forces, Niemöller continued his career in Germany as a clergyman and a leading voice of reconciliation. His testimony has become humanity’s rebuke to foolish inertia. We cannot, and must not remain silent as despotism continues to wreak havoc in our motherland.

Back in April 1996, I attended a week-long workshop in West Africa with an American woman from Oklahoma City. When I told her that I was from Rwanda, she was excited and wanted to know more. It was obvious that she had read all the official propaganda. We sat down on a terrace café for nearly half an hour. I gave her some key facts and did my best to avoid controversies. She listened carefully and at the end told me “I don’t believe in any of your stories”. She went her way, and I went my way. Two years later, I had just picked up my lunch tray at a Nairobi Anglican Church canteen when I heard a female voice calling my name. “Frank, is that you?” “Yes, Linda. It’s me”. I replied. We sat down for a little over an hour this time. I quietly enjoyed my ugali, beef stew and githeri (beans and corn). Linda spoke non-stop. She had just been expelled from Rwanda after her work permit was revoked. She narrated the horrors she witnessed in Ruhengeri and Gikongoro. I made no comment. At the end she asked me “do you remember what I told you in West Africa?” Her words still reverberated in my ears. I said “Yes”. Then she said “I’m sorry. You were right. We’ve been misled”. And that was the last time I saw Linda.

Linda lived in Rwanda at a time when nobody cared. It was as if those who were being killed deserved to die. The world was tired of watching live TV feeds with people were being hacked to death. This was a time similar to the early days of Nazism in Germany. Some of us chose to stay on the sidelines, hoping we would be safe. We were dead wrong, exactly like Pastor Martin Niemöller six decades earlier. We thought the new regime in Kigali was only after those who led the genocide. History has proven us wrong. After finishing off all political and military enemies both inside and outside Rwanda, the regime has now turned its guns on ordinary citizens; just like you and me. Highly respected and successful citizens such as Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa are on the run, and their properties confiscated. General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa and his soldiers who were once hailed as freedom fighters are being flushed out of their hideouts in neighboring countries and beyond to face the gallows like petty criminals. The civil society has been neutralized; NGOs shut down or kicked out of the country; the media muted and any alternative voice muzzled.

Victoire Ingabire speaks to her supporters 
in front of the Supreme Court in Kigali,
Rwanda, on December 13, 2013
Two weeks after his release from prison on 11th February 1990, President Mandela said “The collapse of good conscience and the absence of accountability and public scrutiny have led to crimes against humanity and violations of international law”. The Rwandan judiciary has lost its conscience. Otherwise, how would you justify the sentencing of Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza to 15 years in prison? Is it because of the concocted criminal charges or just because she championed a free and democratic society? The Rwandan Supreme Court is accountable to whom? Not to their conscience or the people of Rwanda, but to one man. Imperialism has taken roots in Rwanda. The judiciary has lost its independence. We are doomed.

We must all stand up and resist oppression. Pastor Martin Niemöller supported Hitler to rise to power. He remained silent as he watched others around him, one by one, fall victim to Nazi terror, remaining aloof because it was not “me”.  And when “they” finally came for “him”, he was all alone! President Obama said the following at the Mandela commemoration ceremony on December 10, 2013: “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba's struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard".

The time for action is now. Let’s put aside our differences and cynicism and fight oppression. You and I are the next targets of the regime in Kigali. We may be struggling to make ends meet; send our children to school; but the regime in Kigali is busy fabricating criminal charges against us. They are contemplating every single opportunity to squash all those “perceived” to be enemies of the aristocracy.

As we gather with friends and family during this festive season to celebrate the birth of our redeemer Jesus Christ and usher in a new year, let’s not forget that the regime in Kigali has no more enemies left other than you and me. They will come for us, unless we go for them. Our voices must be heard.


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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