This article was first published in AFJN’s March -April newsletter

As Rwanda prepares for presidential elections in August 2010, the truth about its political system, often characterized as one of the best in Africa, is finally being exposed. Since the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) leader and current Rwandan President Paul Kagame took power, he has been running Rwanda in a dictatorial fashion. He has capitalized on the guilt following the 1994 Genocide to silence all who challenge him on good governance, social inclusion, economic equality and human rights violations, including retaliation against Hutu within Rwanda and across the border in the D.R.Congo and assassinations at all levels. President Kagame has been able to hide the dark side of his regime behind key policy achievements (some of which are debatable) namely restoring order after the genocide, economic growth, development of sectors such as information technology, imposing discipline within his government, and a parliament with the majority (56 percent) of women in 2008, a world record.

In a call to end attacks on opposition parties, Human Rights Watch reported, “[O]pposition party members are facing increasing threats, attacks, and harassment in advance of Rwanda’s August 2010 presidential election.”  On February 3rd, Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, leader of the opposition party United Democratic Forces UDF-Inkingi and Presidential candidate hopeful, and her colleague Joseph Ntawangundi were attacked at a local government office. Ms. Ingabire’s handbag containing her passport was taken and Mr. Ntawangundi was beaten. On Feb 6th, he was arrested and charged with genocide crime, and the 16th Ms. Ingabire was questioned by police on charges of “divisionism” and “genocide ideology.”

In a press release, on Feb 18, Amnesty International revealed that “a law criminalizing ‘genocidal ideology,’ whose terms are vague and ambiguous, was promulgated on Oct 1st 2008, unduly stifling freedom of expression. The offence is punishable by 10 to 25 years’ imprisonment.” Former President Pasteur Bizimungu, after forming an opposition party, Ubuyanja, was accused of divisionism, thus, was imprisoned and tortured.

Many Rwandans who disagree with President Kagame’s policies have been forced into exile particularly out of fear for their lives. In a keynote speech at Notre Dame University on Feb 26th 2010, Former Rwandan speaker of the House, Joseph Sebarenzi, author of God Sleeps in Rwanda: A Journey of Transformation, now a renowned advocate of peace and reconciliation in Rwanda, said that he was pushed to the edge by the fact that, after the parliament passed an oversight bill, a law meant to balance executive branch power and implement government accountability, he was threatened by then vice-president, but the strongest man in Rwanda, Paul Kagame. Consequently, he was forced to flee to the United States to escape an assassination plot against him.

Disagreement over Kagame’s policies is widespread within the army as well. Among those who have disagreed and left Rwanda is Colonel Theonest Lizinde, killed in Kenya by the Rwanda government intelligence services. In his book, L’histoire Secrete (published by Panama Editions, Paris, in 2005), Lieutenant Abdul Joshua Ruzibiza, a former member of RPF, provides first and last names of several officers of the RPF now the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), who were murdered by President Paul Kagame’s regime for various reasons, mostly to cover up his human rights abuses (see pages 420-429).

Some historian and political scientist attribute in part the key problems of Rwanda to policies of its former colonizer, Belgium.  Belgium reinforced greatly the Hutu-Tutsi divide by elevating the Tutsi over the Hutu. In 1959, the Hutu felt the need to free themselves from Tutsi oppression by a revolution that was also an organized ethnic violence. Recently the same ethnic-centered policies have been allowed to continue by Great Britain under former Prime Minister Tony Blair and by the United States of America under former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. They supported President Paul Kagame knowing of his ongoing policies that sidelines every Hutu and treats them as if they are all guilty of genocide.

The Obama administration has yet to move from talking to acting for a more unified and reconciled Rwanda.  Instead it has chosen to stand by President Paul Kagame with more financial and military support. However, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) pointed to this overdue change in U.S foreign policy in Rwanda when he spoke on the Senate floor on March 2nd.  He said: [T]he international community should not shy away from pushing for greater democratic space in Rwanda, which is critical for the country’s lasting stability. 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.”

The question to ask about peace and genocide-prevention in Rwanda is: Why isn’t there much interest and coverage of what is really going on in Rwanda right now? Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) is concerned about how these unreported actions of the Rwandan government work against democracy in Rwanda and most importantly the prevention of another genocide, and massive waves of Rwandan refugees into neighbouring nations (as seen in 1959 and 1962).  Consequently, this March, AFJN submitted a document to the Department of State and USAID that included the following recommendations to the Obama administration:  to pressure the Rwanda government to open political space to the opposition, immediately allow all unregistered political parties to be allowed to participate in the election process within their legal rights, respect everyone’s freedom of expression and assembly and most importantly make sure President Kagame is committed to  holding free, fair, and transparent elections in August of 2010.

We at AFJN encourage you to call your representative in Congress and request that they do all possible to hold Rwandan President Paul Kagame accountable for his human rights violations by withholding any funding to Rwanda and push for the independent elections monitors to be sent to Rwanda in August.