As Westerners living in peace and comfort, most of us have never had to experience bloody conflicts and instability in our lives. As a result, we lack the capacity to fear such cruelties, we lack the capacity to imagine instability, and ultimately, we lack the ability to foresee brutal scenarios whenever we observe – what seems to us – mere social unrest.
In order to understand this introductory statement, it’s vital to first analyze a news article that was published on The Economist in the first edition of September 2020, titled The hero of “Hotel Rwanda.” The story, described in a three-minute-read article, concerns the arrest of Paul Rusesabagina, the manager of the Hotel “The Mille Collines,” who, during the genocide against the Tutsis that occurred in 1994, provided a shelter to approximately 1,200 Tutsis. Mr. Rusesabagina is regarded as a hero by many leaders in the Western World. Nevertheless, the news of his arrest struggled to receive coverage by mainstream media outlets, nor did it spark interest within the West. This is mainly due to the characteristics of the audience and readers in our society. News articles about Rwanda, Kenya, Mozambique, Congo and other countries in the African and Asian Continent tend to appeal less than those regarding Western Nations.
When exploring the aforementioned story, it’s crucial to become aware of what is perceived by most Rwandans as opposed to what is superficially narrated by our favorite newspapers. The latter, in fact, tend to blame President Kagame’s actions rather than analyzing the events that occurred leading up to the arrest. For instance, The New York Times was hasty in defining Rwanda as an authoritarian state where Mr. Kagame exerts total control. (Abdi Latif Dahir, Declan Walsh, Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Ruth Maclean). Luckily, I had the immense honor to talk with some of my friends who were born and raised in Rwanda and they provided me with a different perspective. The common opinion each and every one of them agreed upon was the truthfulness of the charges Mr. Rusesabagina is facing. In fact, the hero of Hotel Rwanda is also known in the country for having posted a video on YouTube calling for armed resistance to the government. Furthermore, he’s the MRCD group leader, an opposition party that is tightly linked to an armed group known as National Liberation Front (FNL). The latter has been held accountable for various terrorist attacks at the expense of Rwandan nationals as well as Congolese and Burundi citizens. Thus, the story is more intricate and complex than it seems, and it deserves a deep analysis. Journalists should be able to present both sides of the argument and provide the reader with factual truths rather than tailored, prefabricated judgments.
Whenever western journalists attempt to interpret and portray facts occurring in places mostly unknown to them, they commit the common mistake of exposing their cultural ignorance. In other words, they indiscriminately apply western frames of reference to situations in which they do not belong. For instance, the notion of political opposition is undoubtedly the foundation of all democracies in the West. As we often see, two or more parties tend to counterbalance the political discourse in a peaceful, yet heated manner. Sometimes, among these opposition parties, western democracies may also be threatened by extremist groups whose desire to overthrow the status quo and establish a regime is jeopardized by solid constitutional constraints. Indeed, even the most extreme opposition does not threaten the core of these nations. Extremists are kept under control and scrutiny by the institutional framework in which they operate (e.g., President Trump’s second impeachment). On the other hand, Rwanda experienced a genocide only two decades ago. Thus, its government and its people are still undergoing the process of establishing a stable net of institutions that guarantees democracy and protection from the acts of violent agitators and tyrants. In addition, Rwanda has to seek and maintain stability in a highly unstable region. For this reason, from the standpoint of the government, any form of social unrest or violent opposition that may create chaos is seen as an existential threat that ought to be suppressed.
Perhaps, in order to partly grasp the concepts explained above, one could read The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After, written by Clementine Wamariya, a survivor of the 1994 Genocide. As Clementine embarks on the process of understanding and sharing her own experience as a refugee, she voices her hopeless thoughts and her guilt for being incapable of improving her own situation and, to a larger extent, the condition of her home country. She states, “[t]here is no path for improvement – no effort you can make, nothing you can do and nothing anybody else can do for you either, short of the killers in your country laying down their arms and stopping their war so that you can move home” (Wamariya). The author, as well millions of other Rwandans, went through extreme sufferings during the Genocide and those feeling are hard to bury, especially for those people who, unlike Clementine who currently reside in San Francisco, returned to live in Rwanda and attempted to start a new life. Thus, their desire for peace and stability goes beyond the need to have a powerful opposition to President Kagame. Rather than a recipe equal for all, democracy is a notion that needs to be tailored and adapted to the need of each specific country in order to guarantee safety and security to each person without unjustly restricting anyone’s freedom.
The close-minded approach we tend to deploy as Westerners who never experienced cruelties and fear triggers two correlated reactions: on one side, we depict anything around us using our biased and privileged frame of reference, on the other, when we are given such depictions, we lack the interest of taking a closer look to the facts presented and researching additional ones so as to compose a clearer picture. These two reactions make us feel entitled to propose a heedless recipe to any problem and ultimately, allow us to assume a position we do not deserve: one of the moral and political arbiters of the world.