The two weights and the two measures of Pegasus: the case of Rwanda

By Marc Hoogsteyns
On 21 July 2021 at 05:17

The discussion about Pegasus, the Israëli system to monitor the cellphones of opponents, suspected terrorists is at full swing in Europe after the publication of a number of articles that were published by a group of investigative journalists. They discovered that not only suspected terrorists were targeted by Pegasus but also journalists, human rights groups and politicians. They also wrote that the system is nowadays used by several dozens of countries in Europe and around the world. I can only applaud this publication and I share their views that the privacy of colleagues and other people should be respected. But to my view this article comes way too late.

They write and insinuate that Pegasus was developed to counter terrorism and heavy crimes. They also write that Pegasus was also sold to so called dictatorial regimes and that is being used to counter and to shut up opposition in these countries.

Knack, a Belgian magazine, highlighted the case of Paul Rusesebagina’s daughter whose phone was infected by Pegasus and whose activities were being tracked. The English newspaper ’The Guardian’ took over this information and also published this story. The Rwandan government denied several times the accusation that they are using Pegasus to monitor people. The team of investigative journalists who brought out this story are now claiming that Rwanda was screening more than 3000 people.

I really don’t know if Rwanda is using Pegasus and I certainly would not applaud this if they do. I’m a journalist and I’m a true believer of personal privacy, freedom of speech and the respect for human rights. But we can’t be naïve either: Pegasus is already in use in many countries and European governments (and probably also the US) are using it in their anti-terrorist warfare practices. Their perception is that instruments such as these can be useful to prevent violence, hatred and crime.

Correct me if I’m wrong but they also share the perception that Pegasus can only be used by ‘governments who know how to use it’. So in this case Rwanda becomes easy prey. Too easy prey!

A lot of Europeans do not look at Rwanda as a 100 % democratic country and the Rwandans themselves are very proud to have developed their own system of governance. The country is developing at a fast pace, the country is sending troops to other African countries such as Mozambique, Sudan and to the Central African Republic to restore peace. Sometimes much to the disliking of the former colonial powers that were there before them. The Rwandan example is also liked by other African leaders who want to copy it.

On the other hand the country is surrounded by problems: with Burundi in the south, Uganda in the north and the DRC is the west - all of them are countries with very unstable regimes - Rwanda is on its own to develop itself. Some of these countries also gave free passage to rebel groups that infiltrated Rwanda from the south and from the north. But these were never able to cause any serious damage, mainly because of the professionalism of its intel services such as the NISS. But this treat is and was very real. And it was instigated by the same people who were responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The lobby behind this short lived rebellion is now very active on the social media. The whole Rusesebagina or Hotel Rwanda story is a very good example of that.

The Guardian sticks the label ‘activist’ on Paul Rusesebagina’s back and claims that he saved more than one thousand lives in the Mille Collines Hotel in Kigali during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. A lot of other sources and witnesses do not agree with this. Rusesebagina also admitted that he was leading a group of infiltrators that killed several people in the south of Rwanda. And they also wrote that Rusesebagina’s case cannot be judged by a Rwandan court because they consider these courts as not objective and neutral. In the same article they also repeat that the ‘hero’ was kidnapped in Dubai and flown to Rwanda with a chartered plane.

They lured him into that after letting him believe that he was going to get a free ride to go and visit his collaborators in Burundi. Before that the Belgian authorities had also provided evidence to the Rwandan government that the guy was or had send money to the FDLR, a group of Hutu extremists that was at that time part of the rebel force to destabilize Rwanda. The FDLR also figures on the internationally accepted list of terror organizations. But the European press keeps on describing him as an activist instead of calling him a terror suspect.

I personally also strongly believe that Rusesebagina would never have been brought to trial in Europe or in the US. The public opinion in these countries was convinced that this man, who was parachuted into fame via the Hollywood blockbuster Hotel Rwanda and who was awarded for that by president Bush, would not be capable of those crimes. In Europe a new lobby group was put in motion to convince the public opinion of Rwanda’s wrongdoings to judge the man in Rwanda. And in the meanwhile small groups of infiltrators kept on trying to cross the Rwandan border. How can you deny justice to Rwandan villagers whose relatives were murdered or raped by these guys?

The mainstream European press is describing Rwanda as a dictatorship. I do not agree with that: I live here and I see what I see and I talk here to a lot of people. My personal description of the regime is that of a well oiled and run company that is being lead by a very strict manager and a very strict board of directors. Corruption is not accepted here, people can move freely from one place to the other and criticism is accepted as long as it is constructive and not slowing down development. This system is not perfect but the government is trying its best to run things smoothly.

A good example of that is the way they have been handling the corona pandemic; Rwanda was applauded for its initial efforts to deal with that crisis but the country is nowadays put under a new quasi total lockdown because it failed to obtain enough vaccines from the European countries. As I already explained the country developed its own style of governance. This might defer from the classical European standards but that certainly works well in Africa. The RDF, the Rwandan army, is one of the most disciplined forces in Africa and it is involved in peace restoring missions in several other countries. Its intel services such as the NISS were always able to be one step ahead of their enemies.

Most of the recent incursions failed because the RDF ambushed them on the Rwandan side of the border because they knew they were coming and how many of them were coming. Using Rwanda as an example of of a boogeyman state that does not respect at all human rights and that is arresting people at random is not correct. I do not agree with everything I see and witness here but this cliché does not match my own findings.

If Rwanda is using the Pegasus tool to monitor its enemies - I repeat that I’m not sure of this - it would do so to defend its own integrity and it to keep out violence of its territory. Pointing the finger at an African country that is not well understood by European governments and most of the foreign press core who prefer African countries that play their games, accept their pampering but who are in the meanwhile indulging in corruption and civil wars, is not correct.

Africa is changing and a lot of Africans do not agree any longer with the way Europeans look and judge them. Especially not because those European governments are also using tools like Pegasus to control their own interests and to protect themselves. Cyber strategies have become as common in warfare and intelligence as other weapons such as guns. You can’t deny a country like Rwanda to fight back their enemies with bows and arrows. This regime can simply not allow to be walked over and will fight all its enemies standing up. Very much to the despair of those who would like to see a more submissive and humble regime in place.

Rwanda was completely ruined after the 1994 Genocide and its leaders want to prevent similar catastrophes in the future. Most of the Rwandans think that Europe is allowing the groups that were responsible for that genocide to take new roots in new lobby in Brussels and that Belgian and other European politicians are supporting these groups. And they do not understand why people in Europe put their beliefs in the theories of the latest wave of genocide deniers. That is the reason why Rwanda remains very sharp when it comes to opposition.

Rusesebagina’s daughter became, just like her father, a tool for Kigali’s enemies to attract attention to their cause. I fully understand that she loves her father and that she wants to get him out of jail but she’s in the meanwhile also campaigning for a group of people that caused great pain to thousands of other Africans.

Belgian and other politicians who are supporting her in her quest are now shouting very loud that they were probably also monitored via her I-Phone should also have thought twice about this whole issue. And now it’s up to them to prove that Rwanda was behind the fact that her phone was hacked and not another service that was interested in her activities. To my opinion, they should have tried to counter the spread of systems such as Pegasus when it was still not too late.

Intelligence is believed to be a powerful tool to counter terrorism and other crimes.