On August 3rd, a coalition of advocacy groups including Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) held a press conference in Washington DC calling on President Barack Obama to not recognize the sham elections in Rwanda. This was one of their many whistle blowing efforts to shine some light on the Rwandan government’s human rights violations, killing and imprisonment of opposition leaders, silencing the media, and assassination plots within Rwanda and abroad.
Finally, on August 13, the White House Office of the Press Secretary, in a statement by the National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer, congratulated the Rwandan people “for their national elections on August 9th” instead of congratulating Mr. Kagame for his re-election .
The statement goes on to express great concern about what has been going on in Rwanda in these terms: “We remain concerned, however, about a series of disturbing events prior to the election, including the suspension of two newspapers, the expulsion of a human rights researcher, the barring of two opposition parties from taking part in the election, and the arrest of journalists.” Although the advocacy groups interpret this expression of concern as good sign, they believe that it is not enough.
Why should you believe that the Obama White House is truly concerned about the heavy handed leader that Kagame has become? The Obama administration must go beyond expressing concerns by stopping any support that strengthens the oppressive Kagame’s regime. This must include among other things, ending the training and equipping of the Rwandan army which has made Kagame the strong man he is now, and withholding all financial support that does not go directly to the people.
President Obama in his remarks to the Ghanaian Parliament in July 2009, said that “Africa doesn’t need strong men, it needs strong institutions”,. Why does his administration continue to support African strong men, President Kagame being one of them? Without good governance, Rwanda’s stability and prosperity will be compromised. Africa Faith and Justice Network believes that the US still has a chance to promote lasting peace, stability and prosperity in Rwanda. However, US policies in Rwanda must change. This change must include promoting and encouraging Rwandans to organize a truth and reconciliation strategy. This would mean that the side that won the war and the side that lost the war would take responsibility for their role in the Rwandan tragedy from 1990 to the genocide in 1994 and beyond.
The United States is not the only supporter of Kagame’s regime that has gone public to express worries about his leadership. On August 12th, Lawrence Cannon, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs congratulated the Rwandan people for the elections and added that “Canada is concerned, however, by the political environment during and after the election, as well as with the number of violent incidents that occurred. Reports of intimidation of political opposition and restrictions on the media are also troubling.”