Outspoken presidential advisor on media matters, Tamale Mirundi, has advised Ugandans to emulate their Rwandan neighbours and turn ugly history to their advantage.
Mirundi was commenting on the current alleged standoff between the two states following a story by Red Pepper tabloid saying President Museveni was plotting to overthrow Kagame.
“Who is building this issue about Rwanda,” Mirundi wondered Tuesday while appearing on NBS TV “Extra” programme.
He said in the first place, Rwanda and Uganda’s policies are very different.
“Rwandans are very smart and they are surviving on genocide. Here we have skulls in Luweero but we have failed to use them,” the former presidential press secretary said.
Genocide vs Luweero skulls
The Rwandan genocide, also known as the genocide against the Tutsi, was a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority government.
According to Wikipedia, between 500,000–1,000,000 people were butchered between April 7, 1994 – July 1994 by Hutu-led government, Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi militias.
A 2013 article by WIDER Angle newsletter under the title “To Aid or Not to Aid? The Case of Rwanda, DFID, and the Good Aid Debate” says post-genocide Rwanda represents one particularly high-profile and difficult dilemma for Western donors.
Rwanda is not an unequivocal case of an egregious wrongdoer. Its critics point to the country’s poor performance in international measures of human rights compliance and political freedoms, and the regime stands accused by the UN of promoting war in eastern Congo.
Yet the same regime enjoys the moral distinction of ending the genocide whilst the world stood by — inaction that now weighs heavily on the bystanders’ consciences and that constrains their criticisms, the article stated.
“The regime has also made remarkable achievements in respect of growth, public good provision and, according to government data, also poverty and inequality reduction, notwithstanding the enormous damage to its society and economy wrought by the violence.”
In 2012, The UK Department for International Development (DFID) suspended, reinstated, and then suspended again budgetary support for Rwanda.
Its equivocation tells of the complex choice that donors face in whether to aid or not to aid regimes whose ethical records raise concerns at the international level.
The article says Rwanda, for example, was itself a highly-favoured aid recipient on the eve of its 1994 genocide, despite a series of credibly documented ethnic massacres prior to this.
It showed a dilemma of how continued support of a regime that is unresponsive to and repressive of its citizens undermines the coherence of a development programme whose explicit objective is to improve the welfare and alleviate the suffering of the poor.
Positively, President Paul Kagame and his ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) have set out an ambitious vision for Rwanda to become a middle-income country by 2020, and they have made remarkable progress since 1994.
Growth has averaged over 6 percent per annum, the service sector has overtaken agriculture in its contribution to GDP, regional trade has gone up, and most recently poverty and inequality have gone down according to the latest government data.
The social sectors have recorded progress too. Child and maternal mortality have dropped significantly and free, universal primary education has been established.
On the governance front, donors commend Rwanda for the improved effectiveness of its civil service and its achievements in reducing low- and mid-level corruption.
Rwanda also boasts the highest number of female parliamentarians in the world.
The article said twenty-one years of donor support to President Habyarimana’s regime were tragically undermined with his assassination on 6 April 1994.
Thinking long term also means discounting personal friendships between political leaders of donors and recipients (Tony Blair and Clare Short were both close to Paul Kagame for example) and resisting the usually shorter-term considerations of the donor’s foreign policy establishment.
While Rwanda’s government appears to be relatively responsive to the needs of its people, it invites speculation on its legitimacy through its authoritarian controls on political freedom.
It defends these measures by claiming ethnically divisive elements persist in Rwandan politics and society.
In February 2016, the ruling National Resistance Movement leaders from the districts in Luweero Triangle, the main frontline for the 1981-86 National Resistance Army (NRA) guerrilla war that brought President Museveni to power, clashed with the Electoral Commission (EC) for using skulls in its media adverts.
The campaign material was used for intimidation and blackmail of voters in Kayunga, Luweero, Nakasongola, Nakaseke and Kyankwanzi districts.
Leaders said splashing the skulls of their dead on national and social media has a chilling effect and would most likely scare away voters.
As per Mirundi’s advice, the ruling party did indeed utilise Luweero skulls of more than 500,000 people who died due to bad leadership, to intimidate the triangle into voting Museveni back into power.
Museveni began the war to protest what he said was a rigged elections of 1980, which returned Milton Obote, then exiled in Tanzania, to power. Gen Tito Okello Lutwa overthrew the Obote II government, before Mr Museveni toppled the latter six months later in January 1986.
Museveni had used the skulls in campaign adverts is the 1996 elections. The campaign was then championed by the current Senior Presidential Advisor on Media, John Nagenda.
Photos of Luweero skull were splashed in the government-owned New Vision with the threat that if Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere was elected as president, state power would slip back into the hands of masterminds of the Luweero killings.
Red Pepper dilemma
Mirundi says arresting Red Pepper staff over Rwanda relations story is only escalating issues.
“We have a Rwandan embassy here but they are not saying anything,” he noted a day after the five directors and three editors were remanded to Luzira on charges of libel and offensive communication.
Human Rights Network for Journalists [HRNJ-Uganda] coordinator, Robert Ssempala, said he sees a lot of economic sabotage being meted to Red Pepper.
“The way Red Pepper staff is being treated it’s as if they are criminals. We gave an ultimatum for one day if the editor and directors of Red Pepper were not presented in court. We were going to call out for nationwide protests.”