Rwandan president speaks at U. Maryland; audience member calls him mass murderer
By Mike Rosolio
(U-WIRE) COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Rwandan president Paul Kagame's speech announcing an international partnership between the University of Maryland campus and the National University of Rwanda Monday was interrupted twice by angry spectators shouting accusations that the leader is a murderer.
Two people were escorted out of the Colony Ballroom by University police after their outbursts during Kagame's speech. The two spectators asked Kagame to respond to questions regarding the genocide taking place in Zaire. After refusing to leave without an answer, they were removed from the building by police.
The partnership, which includes information technology exchange, distance education and conflict management and research, was conceived by campus President Clayton D. Mote Jr. about a year and a half ago. Mote formally introduced Kagame, presenting him with a crystal candle which, according to Mote, "symbolizes a lasting friendship."
"Peace development and social justice must go hand-in-hand," said Ernest Wilson, director of the Center for International Development and Conflict Management and professor in the behavioral and social sciences college, who introduced Mote at the event.
Senior history and classics major Steven Murphy said the partnership will be successful. "Maryland is trying to step up to the plate for peace and international affairs," Murphy said. "This is a task that Maryland can handle and I think Rwanda is an excellent choice. The whole Rwandan experience shows that a country can move past something like a genocide or revolution. It will help people to realize that Maryland is committed to addressing these issues."
"I think any efforts that are exerted to promote peace in the world should be encouraged and helped," said Suheil Bushrui, of the Baha'i Chair for World Peace and campus government and politics professor. "I think America has a responsibility to lead the way and teach people."
Kagame, formally inaugurated as president on April 22, was forced into exile as a child with his family to Uganda in 1959. Kagame joined the army credited with overthrowing the Idi Amin dictatorship and liberating Uganda in 1979. He continued to serve in the military before leading the Rwandan Patriotic Army against the ruling government in 1990. Kagame and the RPA ended the genocide that cost the lives of 800,000 Rwandans on July 4, 1994, according to the event program.
Kagame began his speech discussing the genocide, mentioning the nightmares the nation had to endure and talking about the future of his country's place in the changing continent.
"One of the most fundamental goals we have to address is the unity of the Rwandan people," said Kagame.
"I thought it was good-spirited," Murphy said. "I was pleased that he was willing to address the genocide when people brought it up."
As Kagame began his segment on conflict management, one of the audience members rose to his feet and began accusing the president of committing atrocities against the people of Zaire, shouting, "You are responsible for the death of Zairian people. You are a mass murderer. What are you doing in Zaire?" The man, who was not a campus student, was advised by Wilson to remain seated until later when the president would answer questions in an orderly manner. When the man refused, he was escorted out.
As soon as Kagame resumed his speech, another audience member stood, shouting, "Answer the question! Answer the question!" She was similarly warned by Wilson to save the questions for the end and also refused to sit down. As she was being removed from the room, she began yelling, "You're a disgusting murderer. Anyone who listens to this man is disgusting."
Police said that no charges were brought against the two protesters from the meeting.
During the formal question-and-answer session, held after President Kagame had concluded his address, Greg Stanton, a representative from Genocide Watch, brought up Zaire again. He said two people were detained while traveling through Rwanda to receive medical attention in northern Africa, and that five other people have disappeared. The only reason these people have been arrested, Stanton said, is that they are strong protesters against the Rwandan occupation of the eastern Congo.
Stanton said that the Interahamwe, the group originally responsible for the genocide in Rwanda, has grown to more than 15,000 people, is better armed than five years ago and are ready to come back to "finish" the genocide.
"I think you have the hardest job in the world," Stanton said to Kagame, "But we are concerned about recent reports from Amnesty International that Rwandan forces may have been involved in the detaining and disappearance of seven people on August 17 of this year."
"We are dealing with a very difficult situation," Kagame said in response. "It is true that individual cases of violations of human rights have taken place. It is also true that action has been taken to deal with such occurrences."
"I thought (the address) was very informative," said Mark Tosso, senior history and communication major and chair of the President's Student Advisory Council. "Most people associate Rwanda with the genocide, and it was interesting to hear a more hopeful view of the country during democratic reform."
Murphy notes that the people who interrupted the president's speech had made their point. "The first person served his point and accused President Kagame of genocide," he said. "I think they are important issues and we shouldn't pretend that they're not there. President Kagame handled it very well. I'm glad he didn't change his speech to answer the question."
"These people obviously had an opinion that they felt strongly about," Tosso said. "When you're being disruptive, it's no longer free speech. I think the university was correct in having them leave."
The address was broadcast over the Internet through videoconferencing software for viewers in Rwanda.
(C) 2000 The Diamondback via U-WIRE
©Copyright 2000, The Diamondback via U-WIRE