As the August 9th election day approaches, fear and uneasiness continues to grow for many Rwandans. The incumbent President Paul Kagame is running for reelection and is expected to win. But, what kind of leader has he been? He has made headlines in recent months for causing trouble for his challengers ahead of elections. There have been assassinations, imprisonments, torture, and harassment of opposition party members. He continues to use an extreme and invented sense of collective guilt against the Hutu, arresting and charging many amongst them with genocide, genocide denial, genocide ideology, negationism and divisionism.
Kagame’s heavy-handed leadership over recent years has also led to division within the inner circle that he brought with him into power. One of the latest victims in that circle is former Ambassador to India and his Army chief of staff, Kayumba Nyamwasa, a Tutsi who escaped an assassination plot in Rwanda in March 2010 and survived assassination on June 19th in South Africa where he is in exile and recovering from his wounds. In his book, L’histoire Secrete (published by Panama Editions, Paris, in 2005, pages 420-429), Lieutenant Abdul Joshua Ruzibiza, a former member of Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), provides first and last names of several officers of the RPF who were murdered by Kagame’s regime for various reasons, mostly to cover up his human rights abuses. Among them is Colonel Theonest Lizinde, killed in Kenya.
In Rwanda, the Hutu-Tutsi divide is as strong as ever and tensions cannot be expected to fade without proper leadership and policy that makes reconciliation a priority in Rwanda. The 2003 elections were not scrutinized because of the fresh memory genocide and the international condemnation of all Hutu for it. Although President Kagame is still campaigning on the message of recovery from genocide, this time around the Hutu, who constitute 85% of the population, took this year’s elections as an opportunity and a forum to claim and redefine their identity as Hutu people, rather than simply the perpetrators of the genocide against Tutsi. In fact, Kagame’s Hutu collective genocide guilt is an ideology. Sadly, Rwandan politics continues to follow its historical tribal politics instead of vision based multiparty, program and policy driven democracy.
US policies in Rwanda against the Rwandan People
The United States taxpayer-funded foreign assistance for Rwanda since 2000 is estimated to be over $1 billion andin the 2011 President’s fiscal year budget Rwanda is set to receive another $2.4 million. Contrary to the wishes of most Americans, the US government is supporting another dictatorial regime in Africa. Nii Akuetteh, an activistbased in Washington observes that “since 1960, Africa’s year of independence, each and every U.S. administration has praised, financed and kept in power its own set of brutal African strongmen that, in its secret files, it has labeled ‘friendly tyrants.’ Mobutu sese Seko of Zaire, Siyaad Barre of Somalia, Hissene Habre of Chad, Samuel Doe of Liberia and Jonas Savimbi of Angola – these are just five of the dozens.”
In recent months, evidence of the heavy-handed leadership of the Kagame regime has been so grave that the administration was forced to defend its policies regarding the worldwide concerns over the Rwandan crisis. On June 14, 2010 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at the US State Department’s diplomacy briefing on Sub-Sahara Africa, 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. … But we are concerned by some of the recent actions and we would like to see steps taken to reverse those actions.” Yet, the US’s willingness to fully support undemocratic regimes in African has long been the norm.
On paper and in speeches we hear that US policy priority objectives in Africa include accountability, democratic governance and prevention and mitigation of conflict. The current political situation in Rwanda shows that Rwanda is neither stable and nor peaceful. The Counselor to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Mr. James Michel, explaining the relevance of the Obama administration’s Africa policies cited above, underscored the fact that “support for peace and stability is necessary for progress on all the other development priorities. To have democratic governance, inclusive growth, and improved health, you have to have peace and stability.” During the recent Africa Faith and Justice Network’s (AFJN) Rwanda meetings with US officials, they expressed the sense that there is very little they can do to help the Rwandans move a step further from their circle of ethnic violence and hatred. However, it became clear after our meeting with a staffer of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, whose district has information technology deals with Rwandan government, that the bottom line is the lack of political will rooted in protecting US interests in Rwanda.
AFJN’s basic recommendation is that the US must first consider a change of US policy toward Rwanda by withholding budgetary and military support to Kagame’s regime unless it complies with democratic principles, respects human rights and guarantees of freedom of any kind to all its citizens. The United Kingdom already decided to stop funding some oversight institutions in Rwanda at the end of this fiscal year because of the numerous instances of violence and repression against members of the press. We encourage you to call your representative in Congress and ask that this kind of funding destined to the Rwandan regime be stopped immediately. Click here to listen to the report from KPFA redio report by Anne Garrison.
Rwanda’s elections are taking place Monday, August 9.
Check www.afjn.org for updates soon thereafter!