By Eleneus Akanga
First was the arrival in Rwanda and subsequent incarceration of Victoire Ingabire, a Rwandan, who until January 16, 2010, was exiled in Holland. While she was lucky to escape immediate detention on arrival at Kanombe International Airport, the establishment’s decision to ground her was meant to be a stern reminder to all, that Rwanda is simply not ready to talk about its genocide in a manner different from that towed by the ruling regime.
By speaking out on the lack of indicators of Hutu victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, at the genocide memorial centre in Kigali, Ms. Ingabire thought, such would open up a genuine debate on the country’s history. A debate, that would examine what exactly happened in Rwanda, pre and post genocide, and give Rwandans (victims, perpetrators and neutrals) a chance to objectively discuss the real issues that have continued to make true reconciliation in Rwanda impossible. Her argument was swiftly regarded as very divisive, her talk very controversial. She was to later be accused of working with the FDLR (remnants of the Hutu extremists based in Congo), charged with collaborating with terrorists, downplaying genocide and divisionism.
As Ms. Ingabire tried to clear her name, news came in of yet another bad story for Kigali. Lt. Gen Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, former Army Chief of Staff and until then, Ambassador to India, had fled the country. He was to later be accused of throwing bombs in Kigali (even when the police spokesman had suggested the grenade attacks were the work of the FDLR) and his diplomatic immunity was withdrawn.
Almost immediately, President Kagame made a series of high profile changes in the military. While many saw this as progression of fear and a possible link to rumours of a coup detat in Rwanda, the government rubbished the claims as baseless, arguing instead, that the reshuffle was normal.
Meanwhile, Rwanda mounted a ferocious war of words with Gen. Nyamwasa accusing him of corruption, terrorism, incompetence (even when the government is on record to have awarded Nyamwasa for excellence and hardwork). To observers, Gen. Nyamwasa’s break up with President Kagame had been so acrimonious that when the general survived a shooting in South Africa, many suspected Kigali had a hand.
As we tried to get to the real facts in the Nyamwasa shooting case, Jean Leonard Rugambage, the acting editor of Umuvugizi, a local language publication, was killed on his way home from work. The circumstances surrounding his death were as deplorable as they were very suspicious. This was a journalist, whose publication had published a story that day, which seemed to suggest complicity on the side of the Rwandan security services, in Gen. Nyamwasa’s shooting. Even with two suspects now in custody over his death and one having confessed, there are many who still suspect Rugambage’s death as having been an assassination.
As the nation and the media world mourned the death of a brave and vocal journalist whose work they had grown to like, Agnes Uwimana, another editor with the local weekly, Umurabyo was arrested on charges of genocide denial and inciting violence. Ms Uwimana who had served a year in prison for defamation and inciting ethnic division was followed yet by another journalist Saidati Mukakibibi for comparing Kagame to Hitler.
And just yesterday, the body of Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, the vice president of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, was found murdered near his car, after being reported to have gone missing. Mr. Rwisereka would have died a happy man if the ruling government had not persistently refused the registration of his political party, despite numerous attempts by party members to fulfil everything required of them to register. His case is likely to raise more questions than answers. The government has linked his death to a robbery, an argument the Rwanda Greens, have flatly rejected calling instead for an independent and thorough investigation.
It is worth noting that these sad events have happened in between the closure or suspension as the government would want it called, of the two most popular and independent newspapers in Rwanda. Umuseso and Umuvugizi, which would have tried to report at least with some success , the events in Rwanda right now were slapped with a six months suspension by the High Council of the Press in April this year for violating the media law and inciting public order.
It would appear that any dissenting opinion, business or project, which endeavours to critically question or suggest a different view to that universally acceptable by those in power in Rwanda is either charged with inciting violence or put out of the public domain. And it matters less how this silencing is done. In some cases, those in question have been lucky that the silencing act has come in form of putting them out of business. To some, silence has been promoted through ending their lives by people who choose to put the law in their own hands – people the government tells us are thieves or thugs avenging their departed.
Very sad too, that despite these saddening developments in Rwanda, the closest we have come to a demand for proper accountability from the regime in Kigali by those the world looks up to in cases of democracy (US, UK, France, Belgium or the West as they are collectively known) is a muted and thinly veiled remark from US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton that Rwanda risks losing what it has gained over the years. Even the UN has been silent despite numerous calls from Reporters Without Borders and Committee to Protect Journalists on the plight of democracy, political space and press freedom in Rwanda.
At least Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero decided not to go ahead with a meeting today with Mr. Kagame today in Madrid.
You would think that after what happened in Rwanda sixteen years ago, any hints of possible mayhem would be adhered to with some consideration. President Kagame will definitely win another 7 year-term as expected, and even more so after effectively banning any credible opposition by selectively choosing who registers and who does not. He will argue there are laws to be followed for party registration, and rightly so, but who can deny that these rules have been made to make it extremely difficult for any credible opposition party to register?
Is it fair that the European Union should agree to send election observers to Rwanda for an election whose result is already known? It is such failure to act that promotes and encourages African leaders to flout democratic principles. It is this failure to act on potential hints of broken societies or increasingly repressive governments, that has helped breed strong dictators. And when the chickens finally come home to roost, questions will be asked as to whether the West did not actually abet oppression in some of our countries.
Over to you my little monsters…