Current Political Climate in Rwanda
Since the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, true democratic governance has never been on the agenda of the party that won the war, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Officially, Rwanda is a multiparty system, but only one party, that of President Paul Kagame, is allowed to function. Currently, it is clear that the August 9th presidential election will be held with the incumbent President Kagame as the only candidate; other recently-announced candidates are in fact part of the regime and are ghost candidates used to give legitimacy to the election process. The true opposition has been prevented from registering their parties, and consequently, prevented from partaking in presidential elections bid. Violence, imprisonment, intimidation, killing, assassination plots within Rwanda and across Africa and Europe have been the methods used by the regime in Kigali to deal with those with a different opinion on Rwandan politics. Accusation of genocide, genocide ideology, incitement to genocide and divisionism are common charges against the opposition.
In addition, human rights abuses, censorship, and lack of freedom of any kind, including suspension of independent media, are common experiences. The evidence is overwhelming and the list of victims is long. (For a list of some of the cases, see Annex from page 4-6.)
Concerns about US Policy toward Rwanda
Like in many struggling democracies in Africa, Rwanda’s President Kagame has followed the trend of “the winner takes all” politics. With such high stakes in the context of chronic and unresolved Hutu-Tutsi hatred, Rwanda has become a ticking time bomb. The US Department of State officials continue to say that the Obama administration’s policy in Africa includes “preventing and resolving conflicts.” However, the US has chosen to send money, more than $1 billion since 2000 and $240 billion proposed in the President’s fiscal year 2011 budget , to support the Rwandan government despite its heavy-handed leadership. In addition, the US trains and equips the Rwandan army.
Given the Recently, Congressman Donald M. Payne, said that “the U.S. has moved away from a policy in Africa hinged on containing the Soviet sphere of influence during the Cold War, a policy which too often led to U.S. support for dictatorial regimes on the continent with disastrous results which are still felt today.” Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) is not convinced that there has been much change, AFJN’s question to the US government is, if “conflict destabilizes states and borders, stifles economic growth and investment, and robs young Africans of the opportunity for an education and a better life,” why is the US promoting a dictatorial regime in Rwanda whose leadership, by all predictions based on Rwandan history and the current situation, will likely go back to war with the victims of its policies, Rwandan-majority Hutu? AFJN urges the US government to change its policy toward Rwanda to prevent another ethnic cleansing between Rwandans.
Who are the Rwandan people’s Witnesses among you?
The current state of political affairs in Rwanda is not entirely unknown to U.S. officials. Senator Russ Feingold, on March 2nd said: “We fail to be true friends to the Rwandan people if we do not stand with them in the fight against renewed abuse of civil and political rights. In the next few months in the run-up to the elections, it is a key time for international donors to raise these issues with Kigali”
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson has also commented on the level of political repression. On May 25, 2010, he said “The political environment ahead of the election has been riddled by a series of worrying actions taken by the Government of Rwanda, which appear to be attempts to restrict the freedom of expression. In a period of months, the Government of Rwanda has suspended two newspapers, revoked the work permit and denied the visa of a Human Rights Watch researcher, and arrested (and subsequently released on bail) opposition leader Victoire Ingabire, who has been linked to the FDLR. Despite multiple attempts, two political parties – the Green Party and FDU Inkingi – have still been unable to register. Dissention within the ruling party also appears to have surfaced.”
On June 14, 2010 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, regretful, but still standing by the common US official view of Rwanda as a success story, said, “We really don’t want to see Rwanda undermine its own remarkable progress by beginning to move away from a lot of the very positive actions that undergirded its development so effectively. We still are very, very supportive of Rwanda. The kind of development that has taken place in Rwanda is really a model in many respects for the rest of the continent. But we are concerned by some of the recent actions and we would like to see steps taken to reverse those actions.”
On Wednesday, July 7, 2010, Mr. Stephen O’Brien, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development announced that “The UN-led program of support to six oversight institutions in Rwanda, including the media high council, comes to an end in this fiscal year.” Honorable Mary Creagh clearly stated the reason of this decision in these terms: “I am relieved to hear that we will not be funding the media high council given that it has recently suspended Rwanda’s two leading independent newspapers, Umuseso and Umuvugizi, and given that a leading Rwandan journalist, Jean-Léonard Rugambage, was murdered in Rwanda in June….” To the contrary, the US government still is in denial that Rwanda is not the successful story as previously claimed.
Africa Faith and Justice Network, in its advocacy effort, calls with its last energy upon the Rwandan government with the help of the US and other friends of the Rwandan people to tirelessly work to:
• Promote good governance and open democratic space to all parties
• Respect human rights, freedom speech and assembly
• Hold free and fair elections by allowing opposition parties to equally compete for the office of president.
• Immediately end the sabotage, intimidation and violence of all kind against opposition members and release of all political prisoners
• Establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to address the 1994 genocide and thus bringing about social harmony and healing.
Until the Rwandan government complies with these policy priorities, AFJN requests that the US go beyond what the United Kingdom did by withholding any funding to the Rwandan government’s general budget (estimated to 15% ), elections and any other financial aid that does not go directly to the people.
Annex: Reporting Human Rights Abuses and Lack of Freedom
Violent Attacks on members of opposition parties
• On October 30th, 2009, in the presence of Rwandan Military Intelligence, Local Defense Forces attacked members of the Democratic Green Party in Rwanda while they were trying for the fourth time to conduct their founding convention.
• On February 3rd, 2010, Mrs. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, Presidential candidate and leader for opposition party United Democratic Forces UDF-Inkingi was attacked at the local government office where she was to try collect official documents. She and her colleague Joseph Ntawangundi survived the mob attack, but not long after Mrs. Ingabire was arrested and charged with genocide ideology among other things. She is now under house arrest.
• June 24, 2010 UDF-Inkingi party members Ms. Alice Muhirwa, Mr. Sylvain Sibomana, Mr. Theoneste Sibomana, and Mr. Theogene Muhayeyezu (the new defence lawyer of Ms. Victoire Ingabire) and PS-Imberakuri party members Maitre Bernard Ntaganda (the party Chair) Jean Sylvere Mwizerwa, (the party spokesperson) Theopbald Mutarambirwa (the party Secretary General), and Baptiste Icyitonderwa were arrested, tortured, jailed and, apart from Bernard Ntaganda, later released on bail.
Arrests and Imprisonment
• On February 6th, 2010, three days after the attack against Mr. Joseph Ntawangundi of FDU-Inkingi, Mr. Ntawangundi was arrested and told that a community-based genocide court, Gacaca, had convicted him in absentia for genocide crimes committed during the 1994 genocide.
• Deogratias Mushayidi, a Tutsi genocide survivor as well as outspoken government opponent was arrested in Burundi and taken to Rwanda on March 5, 2010. He is in prison on charges that include, among other things, links to a terrorist group, undermining state security by propagating harmful information, and genocide negationism.
• On July 2, 2010, Agnes Uwimana, the director of a private newspaper, Umurabyo, was arrested on the ground of criticizing the government. She recently served a year in prison.
• On May 29, 2010, Professor Peter Erlinder, an American defense lawyer was arrested and jailed while in Kigali to represent his client, the opposition leader Victore Ingabire. He was accused of genocide denial. The charges have not been dropped even though he was released on medical grounds.
Assassination and assassination plots, political exiles, and terror campaigns
• On June 24, Jean Leonard Rugambage, a journalist was killed in Rwanda because he was investigating the shooting of General Kayumba Nyamwasa in South Africa where he is in exile.
• Former president of Parliament, Joseph Sebarenzi, a Tutsi and an advocate of peace and reconciliation, lives now in the United States after escaping an assassination plot against him.
• Two former prime ministers, Faustin Twagiramungu and Pierre Celestin Rwigema have been forced into exile. Rwigema fled to the United States after being accused of genocide. A U.S. immigration court cleared him. Twagiramungu fled to Belgium after resigning.
• Ambassador to India and former Army chief of staff General Kayumba Nyamwasa, a Tutsi, escaped an assassination plot to South Africa in March 2010. On June 19, he was shot in South Africa where he was in exile, but he might survive.
• On July 14, 2010, Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, vice president of the opposition Democratic Green Party, was found dead not far from where his pick-up truck was ditched near the Mukula river.
• On July 14, 2010 University of Dar es Salaam Law Professor and defense lawyer at International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Jwani Mwaikusa, was shot at his home. “No one knows for sure whether he was assassinated by Rwandan Patriotic Front operatives, but we do know that lawyers put themselves in danger by defending people whom the RPF have identified as their enemies,” said professor Peter Erlinder, ICTR layer also recently released from Rwandan jail for his work at the ICTR. Mwaikusa believed that both warring parties in the 1994 genocide tragedy should be brought to justice.
Lack of freedom of press
• In March 2009, the media credentials of Mr. Bonaventure Bizumuremyi, the editor of independent newspaper Umuco, were suspended in Rwanda and he was threatened for publishing criticisms of President Paul Kagame.
• In April 2009, the government suspended BBC broadcasting in Kinyarwanda on grounds of “broadcasting unacceptable speech.”
• In August 2009, government minister Mushikiwabo accused Rwandans working for BBC and Voice of America of producing “programs that destroy Rwanda’s social fabric” and threatened them with suspension warning.
• In August 2009, the government closed Umuseso newspaper for three months for reporting similarities between the current government and the one in power prior to the 1994 genocide. April 2010, Umuseso and Umuvugizi, two most popular newspapers in Rwanda were suspended on the ground of “violation of the media law and inciting public disorder”.