AFJN has long been concerned about Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s role in destabilizing eastern DRC, as well as his heavy-handed and undemocratic leadership style at home. Recently, his regime’s politically repressive behavior in the run-up to the elections in August – such as the arrest of lead opposition candidate and the closing of independent newspapers, for example – have been particularly alarming.
Meanwhile, U.S. leaders remain silent. Instead, this week and next, Kagame travels the U.S. as an honored guest, meeting with key business partners and honored at educational insitutions. Oklahoma Christian College honors Kagame at their commencement ceremony this Friday, April 30, and Oklahoma City is establish a long-term collaboration with the president. AFJN submitted a letter to the school’s President calling for a more critical look at Kagame, and circulated it within the community and faculty to raise awareness about the reality of Kagame’s leadership style.
AFJN, with the support of its members and in collaboration with Rwandan colleagues, has been working to sound the alarm on Capital Hill regarding the political situation in Rwanda, but without widespread discussion and awareness, Congress will fail to act and Kagame’s honored status with American audiences will continue. Please consider calling your member of Congress to ask what he or she is doing to promote free and fair elections in Rwanda. Or, consider submitting a letter to the editor of your local paper to encourage more critical coverage of Kagame (see below)
For more information:
- Statement from Human Rights Watch: “Allow Human Rights Watch to Work”
- Statement from Amnesty UK: “End Human Rights Clampdown Before Presidential Elections” [link dead or removed, 2014]
- NY Times reports on arrest of Ms. Ingabire “Presidential Candidate is Arrested in Rwanda“
- The BBC reports “Military Leaders arrested and Newspapers Suspended“
- The Economist covers political repression in Rwanda
- The BBC on “True Cost of Recovery in Rwanda“
- Kagame’s Hidden War in the Congo by Howard French NY Review of Books
- Professor Stam’s Lecture at the University of Michigan delivers a lecture on Rwanda Genocide [link dead or removed, 2014]
Sample Letter to the Editor
Thank you for your coverage of issues related to democracy, justice, and rule of law in Africa. However, we are troubled by the insufficient coverage of the news of political arrests, expulsion of neutral observers, and clamp-downs in free speech in Rwanda as it prepares for elections in August.
Primary opposition leader Victoire Ingabire was arrested on April 23 and released on bail the next day. Like many others vocalizing that criticism of President Kagame’s policies, Ms. Ingabire has been falsely accused of association with a terrorist group, genocide ideology, genocide denial, and divisionism, and has long been a target of harassment and intimidation. Although her arrest only lasted for one day, the rigid parole restrictions make her release irrelevant. Furthermore, this month the Rwandan Media High Council suspended two independent local-language weeklies and Human Rights Watch researcher Carina Tertsakian was denied a work visa, effectively expelling the organization from the country and thus eliminating a key source of information and analysis on the electoral process and political freedoms.
Since President Kagame came to power, the United States political and business communities have uncritically supported his regime and his efforts to rebuild a post-genocide Rwanda. While the 1994 genocide in Rwanda was a tragedy beyond human expression, it is important to recognize that political repression based on latent guilt only fuels the cycle of ethnic violence rather than promoting healing and reconciliation. American citizens would not tolerate such undemocratic behavior in our own electoral process, yet our tax dollars continue to support heavy-handed Rwandan leadership and our political leaders remain silent.
During last year’s visit to Ghana, President Obama made it clear that supporting democracy in Africa was a priority for his administration and that Africa needs “strong institutions, not strong men.” It is time for President Kagame’s American allies to reconsider their support.