ESDRAS BIRASA:His passing is our loss

This morning, Esdras Birasa answered the final call and passed away, after a short bout with cancer.

Rwanda has lost a true patriot, an intellectual in his own right.

Words pale in shadow of grief.

What I write here is only an inadequate expression of what we, especially in the diaspora carry in our hearts. Birasa’s passing has hit us like a ton of bricks. Why do the good die young?

The man was passionate about Rwanda, and he eloquently, even though sarcastically at times, said what he had to say in a way only Birasa could muster.

Most of Birasa’s family was lost during the genocide against Tutsi in 1994. His pain and sorrow did not ever silence or dilute his thoughts on where Rwanda is and where it ought to go.

Birasa was a walking encyclopedia of useful information; be it the stock market or African politics, or international affairs. He was a joy to listen to. A sharp and quick mind. He was never afraid to offer a different version of how things ought to be. Damn it, it was as if everybody was entitled to his opinion. We all listened.

Birasa’s pride in Rwanda and who we are as a People is legendary. And decades living in America did not dilute or compromise his love for the land of his forefathers.

The best we can do is remember Birasa — remember how he lived, bringing life and joy to those who knew him and pride to Rwanda.

We will always cherish his presence among us. I know today Rwandans all over the world who knew him are reaching out, holding hands, and finding comfort in one another.

In the loneliness of my heart, his passing is a sharp and sad affair. But I am the luckier for having called him my friend, and my brother.

In the words of a poet;

“Heaven has called upon you today,

leaving so many words left to say.

But now it’s too late, for your time has come,

words unspoken; I am sure everybody has some.

Regrets and wishes are there too,

but lasting forever are memories of you.”

Birasa, my brother, you were a class act. Rest well.

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The 27th African Union just concluded in Kigali is indeed a milestone in Rwanda’s amazing record of recovery, good governance and overall performance in the region, nay in Africa.

One thing is certain: if Rwanda was not stable, well governed and her infra-structure lacking, this summit would have taken place elsewhere. But this was indeed a vote of confidence in Rwanda’s governance, ability to host a mega summit and execute same flawlessly.

In typical no-nonsense Kagame style the president reminded the delegates right away on opening the summit that this time they were there to discuss serious business.

“As we begin our different deliberations let us take a moment to reflect together on the meaning and purpose of which is the first principle of our organization” President Kagame told delegates.

He went on to say, “Belief in the healing power of unity is the defining virtue of African political culture. Indeed in an increasingly divided world by upholding this principle Africa has a lot to offer.”

For Rwanda to have hosted over 30 Heads of State and several heads of international organizations is testament that something beautiful and envious is going on in Kigali. For sure it is testament that Rwanda’s security is intact, and Rwanda has risen and is shinning again.

Eyebrows were raised when Sudanese President Al Bashir showed up, even though he is a fugitive from justice having been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) charged with crimes against humanity that took place on his watch in Darfur.

President Kagame however reminded the press, Rwanda was not about to arrest Bashir because having never signed the Rome Statute it was under no legal obligation to apprehend the Sudanese.

Rwanda’s critics and haters have been mum. What else could they have said, in good conscience, except they have none, having witnessed a well planned and executed first class summit? Their deafening silence is an indication that the engine of vermin is running out of juice and is dying a natural death.

The delegates who marveled at the beauty, cleanliness and security of Kigali will be our greatest bearers of good news. They will surely tell our story in the tone we want it told, truthfully, and they will in the end silence the empty vessels across the continent who tell all sorts of lies and spread their hatred against our Motherland.

President Kagame said it succinctly, “Twent two years ago this country was nearly erased, a history that will forever serve as a testament to the consequences of divisionism.”

“National unity was the starting point for the transformation we have undertaken here in Rwanda with good progress.”

With nerves of steel, a steady hand, foresight and vision, President Kagame deserves our appreciation. But for his leadership, commitment and sacrifices, Rwanda would be defined by her tragic history instead of our resilience.

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Today marks the 22nd liberation commemoration since the Liberation of our Motherland, a day that will forever decide who we are as a People.

It is not only a day that marks the fall of the genocidal regime, when Kigali fell to the RPF, but a day when good triumphed over evil.

It is a day that succinctly defines that which is good and right. The very essence of the Rwandan spirit.

Men and women of the RPF gallantry put their lives on the line and said enough is enough to evil, and a new Nation was born. But this change did not come cheaply: millions lost their lives, and Rwanda’s sons and daughters paid the ultimate price to curve an island of peace and tranquility in a sea of blood. We must never forget or let their names fade into history pages.

In the words of Nelson Mandela, “courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” Our fighting men and women proved this philosophy valid.

Much as this day is etched in blood, with it came the birth of a new nation where all Rwandans realized that we are one and the same, and mayhem and bloodshed is no way to resolve our differences, political or otherwise.

Liberation Day (not independence) reminds us the we all bear collective responsibility for Rwanda’s prosperity and tranquility, and never again shall Rwandan blood be shed by small thinking and evil minds across the lush and beautiful land of a thousand hills that our forefathers called home.

The international community, that amorphous entity, idly stood by and watched us perish. Liberation Day then surely must rudely remind us, if you will, that never again shall we put our salvation in the hands of others. But it also must remind us that Rwanda’s future lies in our hands, and we will never abdicate this awesome responsibility. Future generations would never forgive us.

This day must remind us of our kith and kin who needlessly perished because of an accident of birth. To them we owe a duty to make sure that “Never again” is not empty rhetoric.

Like it or not, Liberation Day summons us to do that which is not easy: forgive. Our humanity is challenged, but if Rwanda is to rise and shine again, forgive we must.

But, we must never forget.

We are collectively assigned a heavy burden of challenging our minds and soul to not let our past define our future. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “the present is an edifice which God cannot rebuild.”

Indeed, “the present is the living sum-total of the whole past.” The future belongs to those who live intensely in the present.

Happy Liberation Day.

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Not that we did not know of the active role France played in the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, but sometimes it helps to look at the naked truth to appreciate the intensity and callousness of their role.

The sheer impunity and aggressiveness of French troops, from active combat role to manning roadblocks alongside INTERAHAMWE where they identified Tutsi and handed them over to be killed has now been exposed. It matters not that it has taken this long.

In a bombshell of a book, “SILENT ACCOMPLICE : The Untold Story of France’s Role in the Rwanda Genocide”, (ISBN 10:1 84511 247 4/ ISBN 13:978 1 84511 247 9) Andrew Wallis lays it all  there, beyond a shadow of doubt, with amazing clarity and overwhelming evidence.

Some of the evidence is truly chilling.

For over 22 years France has distanced itself from collusion with Habyarimana’s genocidal regime, hiding behind diplomatic walls, but Wallis’s research and incontrovertible evidence finally puts France squarely in the dock.

Gen Romeo Dallaire says of the book “… This interference and less than helpful involvement in the denouncement of a civil war and genocide by different levels of the French Government is a reflection of self-interest and inept use of what should have been the moral authority of a world power.”

“The French government instead chose to intervene on the side of one of the most ruthless and destructive group of genocidaires in world history.”

Media Ba, author of “RWANDA, Un Genocide Francais says, “Through the quality of his sources and the rigour of his analysis, Andrew Wallis renders France’s complicity in the Rwandan Genocide undeniable.”

Truly a must read for all Rwandans and lovers of history. No longer can France close its eyes to the bloodshed they caused in Rwanda and their criminal association with genocidaires.

In the book Wallis reveals;

1. The West was ultimately ineffectual.

2. France was keen to defend its influence in Africa, even if it meant complicity in genocide.

3. In the words of French President Miterrand “In countries like that, genocide is not so important.”

4. Both before and during the genocide, French special forces armed and trained the INTERAHAMWE … Who carried out most of the killing.

5. Like all genocides, this one (genocide against Tutsi) had been meticulously planned and organized up to two years in advance. It was a genocide that intelligent, professional, university educated people had masterminded.

6. The United States, in the guise of President Clinton, and his official adviser to the U.N. Madeleine Albright, stand accused of monumental arrogance and indifference as they prepared to watch Rwanda and its people burn for political and electoral reasons.

7. The French intervention 1990 was very much aimed at ensuring the continuity of French influence in the country, and the continuation of a brutal, corrupt and “apartheid-based” regime.

8. White Fathers – a Catholic missionary founded in 1868 – threw their weight behind ethnic division and authoritarian rule, preaching the same gospel of Hutu supremacy and total loyalty to the leadership in the capital Kigali.

9. The French government described the RPF as “Khmer Noir” (Black Khmers), a reference to the genocide and killing fields of Cambodia where Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge murdered two million fellow countrymen in the late 1970s.

NOTE: France at the time supported Pol Pot and his bloody henchmen in their “year zero” revolution.

10. In total, France sold $24 million of arms to Rwanda during 1990-94. This figure does not include secret deliveries.

In Part 2, I will discuss more damning evidence against France’s complicity and active participation in the genocide against Tutsi.


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Alexandre KIMENYI : In Memoriam

Six years ago on this very day, a Texas-sized furious thunder and lightening hit the Rwandan Diaspora with the news of Kimenyi’s passing, and nothing has jolted us this much since then.

Like he lived, Kimenyi slipped away holding court, admonishing family and friends to never let the dream die. It is a day to behold and cherish. Little did we know and appreciate that a giant lived and walked among us.

I was privileged to call him my friend, honored he was my compatriot. His philosophy and convictions daily remind me that ours is a collective effort to make Rwanda rise and shine again.

It is not that Kimenyi passed on, but that an idea and philosophy was silenced. It has been an interlude for reflection, albeit arduous and hard to bear.

So today we do not mourn (because we did) but celebrate the Man and his times, his very ideals and convictions that are so sweetly and eloquently the bedrock of the new Rwanda.

The good die young, but this much I know, because I spent four decades watching and observing this proud and ferociously patriotic son of Rwanda: Kimenyi would be proud of the enormous and amazing recovery that has become the signature of our Motherland.

I do not wish to make Kimenyi bigger in death than he was in life, but reflect on his ideals and life’s work. He was the force and fuel of the Rwanda diaspora in our hour of need and desperation. When faith and hope were scarce and our imaginations would not let us visualize a free and prosperous Rwanda Kimenyi kept the dream alive. He lived it and passed on holding it close to his heart.

He was fond of reminding us that “statelessness is not an acceptable condition for a free People.” Hell no. And more than most, Kimenyi struggled and sacrificed to make this dream a reality.

And so, today we remember and pay homage to the voice of IMPURUZA, then seemingly a lone voice in the desert. But little did we know we were challenging a status quo that would sooner than later crumble because it had built its foundation on a dubious and shallow ethnic foundation that sought to divide and destroy.

Kimenyi was not a quitter. His heart quit on him. But six years later his words thunder and reverberate as loudly and clearly as they ever did. His vision of Rwanda is a dream come true, and because of this, I know my friend, my brother, is at peace.

June 11 like many other dates in our tortured history shall remain etched in our minds. It should serve to remind us that we all have a personal obligation to make Rwanda become a beacon of hope, and all that is good. Kimenyi superbly fulfilled his duty.

And so we remember.

In the words of a poet;

“Remember me in your heart:

Your thoughts, and your memories,

Of the times we loved,

The times we cried,

The times we fought,

The times we laughed.

For if you always think of me, I will never have gone.”

And no, my friend, my brother, we will carry on the baton. The struggle continues, and the dream shall never die.

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MUHAMMAD ALI (1942-2016): Simply The Greatest

In 1966, Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) was drafted and inducted into the army in 1967. But he refused to answer to his name or take the oath.

“Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name – it means beloved of God, and I insist people use it when people speak to me.”

The Greatest is no more. He passed away last night, at 74.

He flew like a butterfly, stang like a bee, to paraphrase his words. But, he stood like a rock.

In refusing to join the army and fight in Vietnam, Ali said; “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Lousville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”

Ali’s philosophy and moral stand galvanized millions of his fellow citizens to question the injustice of their government.  It infused much needed moral fuel for the civil rights movement of the time. He was as effective in the ring as he was in the public arena. No black leader, other than Martin Luther King, has changed the black man’s thinking like Ali.

“I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was. I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I was really the greatest”, he said.

Ali’s thinking was original, humorous and philosophical. He said, “Don’t count the days. Make the days count.”

His thinking was as swift as he was in the ring. “Float like a butterfly. Sting like a bee. You can’t hit what your eyes don’t see.”

But it was his moral gumption that made him the greatest. Refusing to fight in Vietnam he said, “No, I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the champion.

But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is right here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own Justice, freedom and equality…

I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So, I’ll go to jail. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years.”

Ali showed incredible strength in his 35 years fighting his debilitating illness and was true to his unique philosophy. “It isn’t the mountains ahead that wear you down. It is the pebble in your shoe”, he said.

With so much skill, sportsmanship and prettiness he had 56 wins and 37 knockouts. He said, “The will must be stronger than the skill.”

RIP, brother.

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Capt. DIAGNE MBAYE: Rwanda salutes him

Tomorrow Capt. MBAYE would have been 58, but he was killed on duty in Rwanda saving lives, never flinching for a moment in fear for his own life. He was only 31 years old.

This young Senegalese Army officer defines heroism: “one who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities.”

And tomorrow, if you know a Senegalese reach out and tell them that a grateful nation thanks them for their gallant son who saved hundreds of people during the genocide against Tutsi.

In a story for the BBC, ” A GOOD MAN IN RWANDA” Mark Doyle starts off by saying “This is the story of the bravest man I have ever met.”

He says, “I’ve covered many wars and seen many acts of courage. But for sheer grit and determination I’ve never seen anyone to compare with Capt MBAYE Diagne, a United Nations peacekeeper in Rwanda.”

Mbaye is credited for driving Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingyiyimana’s children to safety at the Hotel des Mille-Collines, at great risk to himself through a maze of roadblocks set up by Interahamwe. Commenting on this, Gen Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian commander of the small and poorly equipped UN force said, “The gutsiness of that. There are no limits to describe how gutsy. It’s Victoria Cross-type action.”

Those who knew Mbaye describe him as a man of immense charm. Easygoing. They say his humor put people at ease and he used this to disarm the marauding killers in Kigali that he dealt with on a daily basis.

A friend of Mbaye, Babcar Faye, now a colonel in the Senegalese army said, “He used his sense of humor to talk his way through the roadblocks.”

One Concillie Mukamwezi said but for Mbaye she would have been killed at Sainte Famille church by a Kalashnikov-carrying priest. Mbaye confronted the priest and warned him, “Why do you want to kill this woman? You must not do this because if you do the whole world will know.” The priest backed off.

Mbaye was shocked when the French and Belgians came and rescued their own people, leaving Rwandans in their midst to be slaughtered. It is said this scandal embittered him immensely.

When the UN organized a convoy of trucks from the Mille Collines to the airport at the height of the genocidal frenzy, it was intercepted by Interahamwe. In the lead car, Mbaye is said to have jumped out and stood between the lorry and the killers and shouted, “You cannot kill these people, they are my responsibility.. I will not allow you to harm them — you will have to kill me first.”

“We will never know exactly how many people owe their lives to Mbaye”, say those who worked and knew this gallant man well.

Gen Dallaire, following the news of Mbaye’s death said, “It was a very, very difficult day. There were so many, but it stood out because we lost one of those shinning lights, one of those beacon-type guys who influence others.”

“He had a sense of humanity that went well beyond orders, well beyond any mandate”, Gen Dallaire says.

“He moved at least half a pace faster than everybody else.”

Twelve days before his mission was to end, it is reported that Mbaye told his wife Yacine on the phone, “There are only 12 days left before my part in this mission ends, then I will be back in Senegal. So you must pray for us.” It was not to be.

As Mbaye’s body was being loaded on the plane to be flown home, a fellow Senegalese, Capt Tall approached Mark Doyle of the BBC and said, “I am a soldier, but you are a journalist. You must tell the story of Capt Mbaye.”

I am telling my own.

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