Bahai News - Rwandan president speaks at U. Maryland
Rwandan president speaks at U. Maryland; audience member calls
him mass murderer
Updated 12:00 PM ET September 12, 2000|
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."
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
"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
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
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"
"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
"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
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