No way to escape the eye of the state in Rwanda

by Ann Garrison

KPFA Weekend News, broadcast May 23, 2015


On May 21, 2015, David Himbara told a U.S. Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing on U.S. relations with Rwanda that “the smallest administrative unit is 10 houses, and every 10 houses is watched by one individual, and as you move on, the whole state machinery driving fear is very well established.” KPFA asked him to elaborate.


Rwandan-President-Paul-Kagame-300x144, No way to escape the eye of the state in Rwanda, World News & Views
Rwandan President Paul Kagame

KPFA Weekend News Anchor David Rosenberg: A House Foreign Relations subcommittee held a webcast Congressional hearing on Rwanda and the U.S. relationship with Rwanda earlier this week (video posted below). New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith chaired the hearing, which was also attended by California Congresswoman Karen Bass.

A Human Rights Watch advocate told the committee that the organization has repeatedly documented “a climate of fear and incredibly violent tactics that have been used against dissenters” in Rwanda. KPFA’s Ann Garrison spoke to David Himbara, a Rwandan exile in Canada, who addressed the House subcommittee about how this climate of fear is created.

KPFA/Ann Garrison: David Himbara, during yesterday’s hearing, one of the most intriguing moments was when you said that the smallest unit of social organization in Rwanda is 10 households and that someone is watching and controlling every 10 households. I believe that’s what I understood. Could you elaborate on how that works?

David Himbara: Yes, if you look at the structure of local government, you have of course the minister and the department in Kigali. Then you have districts, you have city of Kigali and towns, you have sectors and then the smallest administrative unit is the 10 houses. So 10 houses have someone watching, reporting, so basically there’s no way in Rwanda that you can escape the eye of the state.

So when you see thousands attending the rally of Kagame, President Kagame, don’t think that it’s because of popularity. No.

If you don’t go, if anybody does not go and he or she doesn’t have a good reason like being sick or upset, the state knows because it has a detailed eye, as detailed as every 10 houses. So that’s how the system works.

KPFA: That is fascinating because I’ve always wondered how he could keep such tight control over the population. He has a spy on every 10 households.

Rwandan-Canadian-David-Himbara-former-economic-advisor-to-Paul-Kagame-300x169, No way to escape the eye of the state in Rwanda, World News & Views
Rwandan Canadian David Himbara, former economic advisor to Paul Kagame

David Himbara: Yes, and so what is going on now is that of course people are signing up, demanding for constitutional change, so that Kagame stays in power.

So this is the system they are using. They have forms in every 10 houses. People have to sign. If you don’t sign, then you’re gone. You know you have to sign. There’s no way around it.

So what you’ll see is millions! Millions of people, when the time comes, marching on the streets, demanding that Kagame stays. That is how this is being done. That’s the same instrument.

KPFA: What will happen to you if the state administrator – or perhaps more colloquially “spy” – reports that your household, or you in particular, did not attend these rallies or support the constitutional amendment. What would happen? Would you go to prison if you refused to go to a rally or you refused to sign the petition?

David Himbara: Ohhh … my answer is, first of all, that very few will refuse. How do you refuse?


David Himbara: If by miracle there’s a Rwandan, a principled Rwandan who refuses authority, then those are the ones you’ll see dead in the lake. Those are the ones you’ll see and hear that they have disappeared. As simple as that. They’ll die.

KPFA: Himbara also said that there are other dictatorships in Africa, but nothing else like the totalitarian state, Paul Kagame’s Rwanda, which is determined to control not only the people’s behavior but also their minds.

For Pacifica, KPFA and AfrobeatRadio, I’m Ann Garrison.

Oakland writer Ann Garrison writes for the San Francisco Bay View, Black Agenda Report, Black Star News, Counterpunch, Colored Opinions and her own website, Ann Garrison, and produces for AfrobeatRadio on WBAI-NYC, KPFA Evening News, KPFA Flashpoints and for her own YouTube Channel, AnnieGetYourGang. She can be reached at In March 2014 she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for promoting peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa through her reporting.