Newsworthy rumors

The national and international media have not covered the most recent grenade attacks in the Southern and Eastern provinces of Rwanda. The justification seems to be, because acts of terrorism occur frequently along the borders of Rwanda, they aren’t actually newsworthy. And so, these events (as well as some closer to Kigali) officially remain rumors.

What the media is failing to address is the fact that tensions here are high–some say as high as they were before the country imploded in 1994. While the seven grenade attacks that killed or wounded 47 people in the capital city of Kigali on February 19 and March 4 caught most of the media’s attention, a number of other events reveal the mounting tensions here. On February 25, President Sarkozy was the first French leader to visit since 1994, ostensibly to open up relations between France and Rwanda, by apologizing (lamely), for France’s starring role in supporting the genocide. Less known is that Sarkozy’s visit was also to negotiate a horse trade, President Habyarimana’s widow (a woman many know to many as “Lady Genocide”), whom the French have protected since Habyarimana’s plane was shot down leading into the worst 100 days of the genocide, in exchange for the safety of the exiled former Rwandan Ambassador to India, who was until recently a respected member of the ruling party. The Ambassador is a former general who is said to have been organizing a split away from President Kagame’s regime (read: coup) and is now seeking asylum in South Africa. The next presidential election is in September.

Fracturing within Kagame’s RPF is the proverbial hole in the dike–the start of instability in a country that above all needs stability. Kagame’s rule may be imperfect, but of the many things it has achieved is making Rwanda one of the safest countries in Eastern Africa in record time. Since the end of its civil war, Rwanda has become the haven to which refugees from the DRC, Uganda, and Burundi have run.

After the first grenade attacks in Kigali, President Kagame attempted to quell fears by assuring on national television that the country is safe. But the announcement seemed only to motivate the opposition party(ies) to prove him wrong. Alarmed by the threat of multiple mass attacks around the country, the government announced on March 7, that March 8 would be a “holiday.” In the guise of celebrating International Women’s Day, all businesses were closed (read: no one was to be on the streets). Since the forced holiday, the streets have remained noticeably more quiet during the day and almost empty by nightfall. While the UN and U.S. Embassy here have been publicly silent on the situation, internally, staff have been warned to avoid large public gatherings (markets, main thoroughfares), all public transportation, and going out after dark.

To make matters worse, April 6 marks the start of the annual 100 days of mourning throughout the country. Every year in anticipation of this time, medical clinics see a rise in cases of severe depression and PTSD, including flashbacks and severe withdrawal (patients often fail to make the connection between their mental and physical health, coming in with “stomach aches”). The bomb threats, threats of a coup, and now rumored snatching of young men off the streets to be forcibly recruited into various military factions, are reminding everyone of what happened the last time.

Living here and working with many Rwandans, however briefly, my view of the situation is of extreme concern. While I will have the luxury of leaving Rwanda later today, my colleagues and friends here do not. It is critically important for the international community to acknowledge the growing violence here. It is not an overstatement that Rwanda is again on the brink of implosion. As human beings, we owe Rwanda so much, but at the very least, we owe them the help we failed to provide the last time around.

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