Why Kagame should invite Judge Bruguière for a thank you cup of café after getting his heroes’ medal from Museveni As a country, we seem to live in very interesting and happier times. And President Paul Kagame must be a very happy and satisfied man these days. These two sentence statements came from an acquaintance. When I asked why, he wondered whether I know the implications of the findings in the Trévidic report and whether I was aware that President Kagame is scheduled to receive a heroes medal from President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda for his contribution to NRM/A’s five year ‘liberation’ war. Upon reflection, my acquaintance has a good point informed by historical facts. A few years ago, Rwanda was at the brink of war with Uganda following the two countries’ armies’ bitterly clashing on three different occasions in DRC’s Kisangani City between August 1999 and 2000. Just less than three years ago, Rwanda and France had severed all diplomatic relations.
As a follow up to the Kisangani debacle in which the ICG estimates six hundred soldiers and civilians to have perished, each country, as recently as early last year, was accusing the other of supporting each other’s dissidents. Almost all major Rwandan dissidents in recent times, including Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa and Patrick Karegeya were reported by the media to have transited through Uganda with the support of senior officials in that country. Media reports also suggested that the Museveni government believed that Rwanda was financing Dr Kizza Besigye’s campaigns in the 2006 and 2011 elections to defeat their man.
Now, all of a sudden, Presidents Kagame and Museveni are so much in love that each cannot visit the other’s capital without icing it with lunch, dinner and breakfast at the other’s country home. Last December, President Kagame spent Christmas Holiday at Museveni’s village home at Rwakitura, Western Uganda. In August last year, Museveni was here and spent two days at Kagame’s home at Muhazi. To top this up, media reports now suggest that Kagame has been invited to NRM’s liberation celebrations where he will be awarded a heroes medal on January 26 for his role in the NRM five year war and eventual capture of state power.
How was it possible for Kagame to turn bitter foes into bosom friends? How did he manage to convince France to talk on equal terms following the humiliation of their ambassador who was given marching orders upon Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière indictment of nine former senior RPA and now RDF officers in 2006? Or how did Museveni and France manage to convince Kagame to talk peace? To understand how Kagame managed to turn foes into friends or vice versa, one needs to comprehend Rwanda’s strategy in its relations with both countries. Evidence suggests that she combined both hard and soft power to win the respect of both countries and their leaders; at least some of the leaders. For starters, Rwanda and Uganda are not really enemies. The peoples of the two countries share long historical, social and economic ties. Also, a lot has been said and written about Uganda’s role in RPA/F’s four year struggle just as the contribution of Rwandese in NRM/A struggle is well known. There is no doubt that Uganda and President Museveni in particular played a critical role in RPF’s victory than any other country or leader. The reason this history is important to recount here is not to reignite sad memories. It’s to ensure we know how we got here; what it took and what it takes or might require in the future remaining a respected people and country. It’s also to show how respected countries are built and sustainable mutual relations between countries forged.
With France, it is a well know fact within the political and diplomatic circles that Paris, from the day the RPF/A captured state power and defeated its ally, the FAR, it used different tools to undermine it; ranging from attempting diplomatic isolation to undermining the country’s ability to attract aid. It has also been said variously by different leaders in Rwanda that France was using justice to intimidate, and silence Kigali or deflect attention from its role in the 1994. The Bruguière report of 2006 that ended in indicting nine senior RDF officers is largely seen in this light.
On his part, Kagame refused to be intimidated and called France’s bluff. First, in reaction to the indictment, the French ambassador was expelled and their embassy closed. Secondly, the Mucyo Commission was set up to investigate France’s role in the genocide. This closed with the naming of 33 senior military officials and political leaders, including current foreign minister Alain Juppe. The Mutsinzi Commission was also set up that closed with the finding that the plane that was carrying Habyarimana was brought down by a missile from Kanombe Military barracks then controlled by Habyarimana forces. If France did not reconsider its stand, it is thought her officials would be indicted too.
Combining diplomatic, political and judicial offensive, and publicising it must have humbled the French establishment or some of it. As a consequence, France, under Nicolas Sarkozy agreed to talk instead of plotting and fighting. With Uganda, it is probable that the gist of the problem was Ugandan officials’ failure to recognise that while some Rwandese were in their army as junior officers, upon return home, they had grown up to become generals and leaders of a sovereign nation that deserved respect. It is widely known that some Ugandan senior military officials such as the late Maj. Gen James Kazini used to refer to Rwandan senior officials as ‘corporal’.
In this climate of disrespect, something had to be done. Either the RPF/RPA had to accept the inferior position or they had to assert their equality and even superiority. This is partly what was done and achieved in Kisangani. As former US president Woodrow Wilson said many years ago, the best and durable agreement is one between equals. President Kagame will be travelling to Kampala to pick his heroes’ medal from his former mentor, not as an inferior, but an equal; an accomplished and tested general and head of a respected state.
Likewise, in the years to come, he will sit down with French officials, including Sarkozy, not as an inferior but a leader of a respectable country with interests to pursue and protect. In that sense, Bruguière will go down in history, not as the man who helped France silence Rwanda over its role in the genocide, but as the judge who handed Kagame the weapon to downsize the French ego and assumptions about its superiority and in the process establishing relations based on mutual respect.
With this outcome, and politics being what it is─with no assured permanent friends or enemies, it would perhaps be worth Kagame inviting Bruguière for a thank you cup of café at Village Urugwiro! And in Uganda, no one will say Kagame has fluked the heroes’ medal, for he is not only among the original 27 members of the NRA war, fighting and rising to become Uganda’s chief of military intelligence, but he reconfirmed his military credentials as an accomplished general in Kisangani.