Is Rwanda Losing What It Has Gained Since 1994?

By Eleneus Akanga (reposted)

The script most of the world has about Rwanda is of a nation on the verge of losing what it has gained since 1994. Not surprising. Sixteen years ago, Rwanda, many will agree looked a complete write off. The mess that was the genocide had left the country on its bare minimum, with no clean water, no hospitals, no justice system or infrastructure and a people who saw themselves as either victims or perpetrators.

So much needed fixing. The marauding Interahamwe had been defeated, the killings halted and a new government promised so much in terms of development and getting the country back on track. At the centre of all this, a certain Maj. Gen Paul Kagame, was pulling the strings. After successfully leading the force that took over Kigali, he embarked on forming an inclusive government, with the aim of uniting Rwandans. Not to credit him for trying or at least for the economic progress that Rwanda has witnessed during this period, would be unfair.

There is going to be the argument about the time spent in power. People can rightly argue that he has had so much time to do what he has done, and that with as much aid that Rwanda has received during his tenure, any fit-for-purpose human being would have performed.

This may be true but you still would have needed someone with character. While President Kagame has the character, has had the luck, agility and steady fastness, he truly is no saint. So often, he has been discovered as wanting in statesmanship, democracy and ability to engage perceived enemies.

Mr. Kagame is from the school of thought who consider dissent as being irrational, uncalled for, and therefore, something which must be fought. To Kagame, leaders are meant to be respected and any divergent views must be expressed directly through stipulated channels (in most cases, composed of his most trusted lieutenants) and on which he has ultimate control. In doing so, he has centralised power, creating or promoting a circle of top trusted friends, who many see as the inner circle, that is out to make or break Rwanda. Remember, this is a government, which accused their predecessors of promoting the infamous “Akazu” a top circle grouping of Juvenile Habyalimana’s trusted cadres, believed to have executed the genocide.

So, when Hilary Clinton, says that “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,” she has a point.

Culture of Silence

Rwanda’s problem has been and continues to be the inexplicable silence embraced by her citizens who despite having mixed feelings about what is going on inside their country choose to either pretend that everything is right, or keep numb about all. Silence in Rwanda, is a virtue. Anything said, risks being misinterpreted for the bad and after years of experience, Rwandans have learnt to gag themselves, or control their speech. It is a culture not only of silence but self censorship as well.

While silence insulates some of the prevalent anger from some members of society at say such things as governance issues, imbalance in power, lack of political space or a not very fair policy, some say, on unity and reconciliation, it encourages pretence. In Rwanda today, there are people who believe that the government should have borrowed a leaf from South Africa’s handling of apartheid, when dealing with genocide and its effects. But because such rhetoric risks being interpreted as a way of inciting public anger, a possible crime under the genocide ideology law, many choose to stay silent and instead moan about it to friends and relatives under closed doors. The government then, gets the feeling that the policy is working when in actual fact, it is the silence and the fear of persecution or being wrongly misinterpreted, which are keeping argument, at bay.

Normally, when members of the public are so afraid to speak out, the onus falls on the media to express people’s views. But the media in Rwanda remains dysfunctional. Weeks after a critical journalist was shot under circumstances that we may never establish, another, Saidati Mukakibibi, has been arrested for comparing Kagame to Hitler. The state maintains her writings would have incited public disorder and promoted divisionism. I asked a government minister if Kagame has become so incomparable that trying to find a comparison amounts to a criminal offence. On top of insisting that I don’t quote him, the minister believes “the police should not have over reacted to someone’s personal opinion although the president deserves respect”. Hitler, the minister added, “can not be the best comparison you can have”.

If Hitler is worse a comparison, then who is, I asked?  He hung up before answering. My chat with the minister goes to explain what many struggle to see with Rwandan politics. In Rwanda, you either, dance to the melody of “Kagame is Lord”, “the best we ever had” and keep your bread, or challenge his views and risk being done for either corruption, genocide or immorality. If a minister finds it hard speaking to journalists, even when he is giving a plain statement, imagine how it must feel being a local and standing out to challenge the establishment, inside Rwanda?

Is there hope?

A friend of mine asked me this particular question the other day on Facebook. While I believe in hope being abundant, I know it takes some convincing to tell people it is there when you have pregnant mothers being imprisoned for attending peaceful demonstrations, opposition party members like Bernard Ntaganda, the founder president of PS-Imberakuri being denied their constitutional right to bail and some opposition party activists simply disappearing, as in the case Andrew Kagwa Rwisereka of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda.

The future looks not so clear and I am sure there are so many Rwandans out there, who would love to see Clinton, demand freedoms from Rwanda’s iron man, instead of meandering around diplomatic language and deploring the fact that Rwanda is in danger of losing what it has gained since 1994.

America, just like other Western countries should rethink their relationship with Mr. Kagame, not for his sake but that of democracy and Rwandans.  Like Timothy Kalyegira put it the other day, for all the fine wine, decorations and music at a wedding party, it is resolving differences, balancing needs and compromises that are the core of a marriage.

Over to you my little monsters…

Rwandan Election: Doubts About the Poster Boy

Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame, long the darling of western donors, is widely expected to win August’s presidential polls, the second since the 1994 genocide. But is his success down to pure popularity, or because of an apparent crackdown on voices of dissent?

Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame, long the darling of western donors, is widely expected to win August’s presidential polls, the second since the 1994 genocide. But is his success down to pure popularity, or because of an apparent crackdown on voices of dissent?

Paul Kagame stands at a podium in an open-air stadium in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, where terrified thousands sought refuge from the men with the machetes as the killing started exactly sixteen years earlier.

It is Genocide Memorial Day, April 7, 2010, and the president is talking about turning grief to strength and determination. So far he has spoken mostly in Kinyarwandan, his nation’s language, but without warning he switches to English.

What he says next is clearly directed at the suited dignitaries representing the world’s diplomatic missions, the donors who together pump roughly $700million into his country annually, or a little less than half its budget.

‘Political space, freedom of expression, press freedom, who are these giving anyone here lessons, honestly?’ Kagame asks, softly, seemingly genuinely puzzled, as applause breaks out behind him. ‘These Rwandans…are as free, as happy, as proud of themselves like they have never been.’

On the surface, Kagame is a poster boy for the west’s aid policies, an African leader who stamps on corruption, who uses international help to educate children, treat the sick, repair roads and boost business.

Former United States President Bill Clinton last year recognised his ‘public service’ with a Clinton Global Citizen Award. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is an unpaid and enthusiastic advisor to his government. Blair’s successor, David Cameron and senior members of the British Conservative party have for the last four years spent part of their summer recess building schools across Rwanda, and cosying up to its President.

So, why, at an event charged with the memories of sixteen years ago, is Kagame appearing to bite the hands that help feed his people? The reason is another date, August 9, when Rwandans vote in only their second democratic presidential election since the genocide.

UGLY EVENTS

In the lead-up to polling, a series of ugly events has focused the international spotlight on Kagame in a way that has never happened before. He suspended two popular independent newspapers, Umuseso and Umuvugizi, described by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists as ‘the only critical media voices left in the country’.

A week later, Victoire Ingabire, head of the opposition Unitied Democratic Forces, returned from exile in Holland and was promptly arrested and charged with denying the genocide, among other indictments. She has been bailed, but is under house arrest. Her American lawyer, Peter Erlinder, was arrested too, also accused of genocide denial, and only released on medical grounds after three weeks.

A second presidential hopeful, Bernard Ntaganda, is in prison awaiting trial on four charges, including terrorism. A Human Rights Watch researcher was expelled from the country over alleged visa irregularities.

Only three opposition parties have been allowed to nominate presidential candidates. They are accused of at best being strategically soft on Kagame’s ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, at worst, being its proxies. ‘There is nothing we can do, we have supporters, we are ready to contest the election, but we cannot because we cannot register,’ said Frank Habineza, leader of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda.

Most seriously, a reporter from one of the banned newspapers, Jean-Leonard Rugambage, was shot dead outside his house on the evening of June 24.

Earlier in the day, a story he had written appeared online, alleging Rwandan security force involvement in the apparent assassination attempt of a disaffected army general – and former ally of Kagame’s – in South Africa.General Kayumba Nyamwasa, who reportedly fled Rwanda earlier this year afraid for his life, is expected to survive his injuries.

Two other army generals have been arrested in Rwanda, one for corruption, another for immoral conduct. Both were accused of links to a series of mysterious grenade attacks which killed one person and risk frightening-off tourists, who supply the largest share of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.

The vice-president of the opposition Democratic Green Party of Rwanda was found dead near his abandoned car on July 15, in what authorities said was a robbery. But his Green party colleagues immediately voiced suspicions that this too was a political killing. Kagame’s government has angrily denied any involvement in the deaths or shootings.

WESTERN WORRIES

‘It is strange. Why, if he has all this support, will he not allow opposition and then trounce them at the polls,’ asked a Kigali-based European diplomat. ‘Clearly all this other stuff is not the kind of press we were expecting out of Rwanda in the run-up to the elections.’

Certainly not, agreed US President Barack Obama’s point-man for Africa, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson. In testimony to the US House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, he said: ‘The political environment ahead of the election has been riddled
by a series of worrying actions taken by the Government of Rwanda, which appear to be attempts to restrict the freedom of expression.’

Carson’s comments came as something of a pleasant surprise to those frustrated at a lack of international pressure on a leader who, they felt, was being allowed to run his nation like a dictatorship.

‘Carson’s statement was significant, and encouraging,’ said Carina Tertsakian, the Human Rights Watch staffer whose Rwanda visa was cancelled. ‘Sadly so far we have seen very little will on the part of western donors to deal with this issue, we’ve seen nothing like that coming out of the UK, for example, which is by far the biggest European donor and main supporter of the Rwandan government. We hope for more [international pressure], but we’re not seeing it yet.’

But this is exactly the kind of attention that irritates Kagame that prompted his puzzled statements on Genocide Memorial Day. Much of the concern, from human rights organisations and media freedom advocates, centres on the accusation that the government uses the charge of denying the genocide as a political tool to silence critics.

Britain’s new coalition government has said it is watching the run-up to Rwanda’s election closely. Speaking to The World Today during a visit to Nairobi, Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, said Britain was Rwanda’s ‘good, but candid, friend’ and that he had raised concerns publicly and privately with the government in Kigali.

‘There are real issues about ethnicity in a country which saw over eight hundred thousand people murdered principally by machete and single shot in ninety days,’ he said.

‘You have an incredible legacy to balance between the desire of the survivors for revenge and the rights of the Hutu people to live in peace. I think we in the west should be respectful of that very difficult situation in arriving at conclusions about how the Rwandans handle it.

‘I’m not saying that the restriction on political space should go unchallenged, far from it. But I think that they are entitled to be cut quite a lot of slack in addressing ethnic issues which have the power to be deeply destabilising in a country with Rwanda’s history.’

From holding an iron grip on a generally supportive military, the same army which he led from exile into Rwanda to stop the genocide sixteen years ago, Kagame is now facing dissent among some senior officers.

There are accusations that political patronage is spread too thin. Or that control of privatised state assets is being passed to too small an inner circle.

But critics claim, discuss this and the strong arm of the state will find you. Further, they question the long term sustainability of what is, in essence, the world’s first real experiment in post-genocide state reconstruction.

Kagame’s unspoken theory is that if people are richer, they are less likely to fight because they will have far more to lose.

But that is not proven, and what if another seven years of firmly keeping the lid on dissent means that, come the next election, the pot is boiling and ready to explode?

‘It shouldn’t be us raising these issues, but as a Rwandan, what can you do’, asks Tertsakian. ‘As soon as you say anything, you are arrested and accused of genocide ideology, or threatened with it, or forced into exile.’

That is to entirely miss the point, counter Kagame’s supporters. ‘For Rwandans, guarding against genocide ideology is a matter of core national security,’ said Andrew Wallis, an advisor to Kagame’s government and author of Silent Accomplice: The Untold Story of France’s Role in the Rwandan Genocide.

‘Kagame feels that if you have a western-type full freedom of expression, that will allow revisionism, genocide denial, and that can lead to genocide itself. It’s still too soon since 1994. The feeling is, give the guy a break.’

BEST FOR BUSINESS

And Kagame’s record – human rights concerns aside – is impressive. A country utterly on its knees sixteen years ago, where neighbours had turned on neighbours, teachers on pupils, churchmen on congregations, is now among Africa’smost successful.

Since Kagame was first democratically elected – privately saying his models for how to run his country were South Korea and Singapore -economic growth has averaged above eight percent, and this year the World Bank named it as the world’s best business reformer.

Kigali aims to become a regional hub for conferencing and the service industry. Broadband internet cables are snaking up and down the hills.

Primary schooling is now free, extra teachers are being hired, new universities planned. Subsistence farmers – still eighty percent of the eleven million population – are advised on modern techniques and organic fertilisers.

Rwanda became only the second non-Anglophone country – after Mozambique – to join the Commonwealth last year, and Kagame has come to something of a rapprochement with the French, whom he long accused of favouring the Hutu genocidaires before and during 1994’s horrors.

Both moves are aimed at broadening Rwanda’s business partnerships. Beijing is being courted, but is unlikely to be as big a player as elsewhere in Africa because Rwanda has few minerals.

So, it is clear that Kagame will win re-election this year. For many Rwanda-watchers, the more fascinating contest will be the next presidential polls, in 2017. The president is unlikely to stand again, but as yet there is no clue as to his successor.

‘The question is whether Rwanda is ready for a Western-style democracy, and the answer at this point probably is no,’ said Wallis. ‘He has been called many things, but one is for sure: Kagame is a man of immense vision, and that vision is being impressively implemented. Why must outsiders keep pushing their theories of how to run a country onto Rwanda?’

‘Give him another seven years to bequeath a country where everyone’s too busy making money to risk anything like 1994, and then, perhaps, that will be time for true multipartyism. It’s far from sure, though.’

Mike Pflanz, Correspondent, East, West and Central Africa, Daily Telergaph, in Nairobi

Rwanda: Stop Attacks on Journalists, Opponents

(New York, June 26, 2010) – Insecurity and political repression are increasing in advance of Rwanda’s August 2010 presidential elections, Human Rights Watch warned today.  In the last two days, an independent journalist has been killed, the leader of an opposition party has been detained by the police, and other opposition party members have been arrested.

“The security situation is rapidly deteriorating,” said Rona Peligal, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “With only 45 days left before the election, the government is lashing out to silence its opponents and critics.”

The Rwandan government should investigate all incidents of violence and ensure that opposition activists and journalists are able to carry out their legitimate activities in safety, Human Rights Watch said.

Jean-Léonard Rugambage, a journalist for the newspaper Umuvugizi, was shot dead shortly after 10 p.m. on June 24 outside his home in Nyamirambo, in the capital, Kigali. His colleagues and other sources in Rwanda told Human Rights Watch that the assailant appeared to be waiting for the journalist as he returned home.

As Rugambage drove up to his gate, a man approached his car and fired several shots at close range, hitting him in the head and chest. Rugambage died on the spot. The assailant then drove off. Police arrived on the scene and took Rugambage’s body to the police hospital in Kacyiru for autopsy. The police stated on June 25 that they were investigating his death.

Umuvugizi, an independent newspaper that has often been critical of the government, had published an article online on the morning Rugambage was killed, alleging that the Rwandan government was behind the attempted murder of a former Rwandan general, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, in South Africa on June 19, and implicating senior officials.  General Kayumba, once a close ally of President Paul Kagame and a former chief-of-staff of the Rwandan army, has become an increasingly outspoken critic of the government since fleeing to South Africa in February 2010.  Umuvugizi’s editor said that Rugambage had been investigating the murder attempt on Kayumba and had reported being under increased surveillance in the days leading up to his death.

“We are shocked and saddened by the death of this courageous journalist,” Peligal said.  “Freedom of expression is already severely restricted in Rwanda, but the death of Rugambage is a further chilling blow to investigative journalism and, more broadly, to freedom of expression in the country.”

Human Rights Watch called on the Rwandan authorities to ensure that those responsible for Rugambage’s murder are brought to justice without delay, and to ensure the security and protection of other journalists.

In the early hours of June 24, police entered the house of Bernard Ntaganda, leader of the opposition party PS-Imberakuri, and took him away for questioning.  He has spent two days in police custody and is believed to be detained at Kicukiro police station.  The exact accusations against him are not confirmed, but it is thought that the police have questioned him, among other things, about his alleged involvement in an attempted arson attack on the house of former party vice-president, Christine Mukabunani, and inciting ethnic divisions.

Members of the PS-Imberakuri reported that the police raided Ntaganda’s house and the party’s office and took away documents and other belongings. By June 25, the party’s flag and sign had been taken down from their office.

Later on the morning of June 24, several members of PS-Imberakuri were rounded up by the police and taken into custody after they gathered outside the US embassy; they had gone there to ask for help following Ntaganda’s arrest. Some were released, but several, including the party’s secretary-general, Théobald Mutarambirwa, remained in detention in various locations in Kigali on June 25.

Also on the morning of June 24, police arrested several members of the FDU-Inkingi opposition party, who had gathered outside the Justice Ministry to protest a court case against their party president, Victoire Ingabire.  Most were released on June 25, but the party’s secretary-general, Sylvain Sibomana, treasurer, Alice Muhirwa, and Kigali representative, Théoneste Sibomana, were still in detention at the police station in Kicukiro on June 26. Some FDU-Inkingi members reported that when the police broke up their gathering, the police told them that they should stop being members of the party. Police also surrounded Ingabire’s house at about 6 a.m. on June 24, and stayed there for most of the day.

Members of both parties reported being beaten by the police.

On June 25, the Commissioner General of Police issued a statement saying that about 40 individuals had attempted to hold a demonstration without a permit, that 22 people had been arrested and questioned, 14 had been released and eight were being held for further questioning.

“These incidents are occurring at the very moment that parties are putting forward candidates for the presidential elections,” Peligal said.  “The government is ensuring that opposition parties are unable to function and are excluded from the political process.”

Intimidation of Independent Media

The killing of Rugambage was not the first incident of violence against journalists.  In February 2007, a group of assailants attacked Umuvugizi’s editor, Jean-Bosco Gasasira, in a near fatal incident outside his house, after he spoke out at a presidential news conference about the harassment of journalists. No one has been brought to justice for the attack.

In July 2009, the information minister publicly declared that “the days of the destructive press are numbered,” referring to Umuvugizi and a second independent newspaper, Umuseso. Within 24 hours, the national prosecutor’s office had summoned Gasasira to answer allegations of defamation, a criminal offense punishable with imprisonment. Gasasira was convicted and sentenced to pay a large fine. Umuseso faced similar defamation charges for exposing scandals involving public figures. In February, a court sentenced its former editor, Charles Kabonero, to a year in prison and the current editor, Didas Gasana, and a reporter, Richard Kayigamba, to six months each. The editors of both newspapers have fled the country after receiving repeated threats.

On April 13, the Media High Council, a government-aligned body in charge of regulating the media, suspended Umuseso and Umuvuzigi for six months, and then called for their definitive closure. It alleged, among other things, that some of their articles constituted a threat to national security.  The newspapers’ appeal against the suspension is still pending. The suspension has effectively shut down most independent reporting in advance of the elections, since Umuseso and Umuvugizi were among the very few active independent newspapers left in Rwanda. Umuvugizi has since posted an electronic version of its newspaper, but access to its website has been blocked inside Rwanda.

Obstruction of Opposition Parties

Incidents of harassment and intimidation of members of opposition parties have steadily increased in the months leading up to the August elections.  Ntaganda and Ingabire, as well as their party members, have been especially targeted. Unless the situation changes in the very near future, none of the three main opposition parties (PS-Imberakuri, FDU-Inkingi, and the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda) will be able to take part in the elections.  Parties and independent candidates must submit their candidacies to the National Electoral Commission by July 2.

Rwanda: Government Denies Visa to Rights Researcher in Crackdown on Dissent

(New York, April 23, 2010) – The Rwandan government’s decision to deny a work visa to Human Rights Watch’s representative in Kigali demonstrates a pattern of increasing restrictions on free expression in Rwanda in advance of August’s presidential elections, Human Rights Watch said today.  Human Rights Watch will appeal the decision and continue working on human rights issues in Rwanda.

“In the last few weeks, we have seen repeated intimidation, harassment, and obstruction of opposition parties, journalists, and civil society in Rwanda,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Rwandan government is doing everything it can to silence critical voices and independent reporting before the elections.”

On April 23, 2010, officials from the Directorate General of Immigration informed Carina Tertsakian, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher on Rwanda, that she would not be granted a work visa. They alleged that there were anomalies in her visa application, specifically signatures and dates on the documents she had submitted.

Staff at Human Rights Watch’s headquarters in New York had attested in writing to the authenticity of all the documents and signatures, but the immigration officials described their explanations as “unsatisfactory.” However, they had not made any attempt to contact Human Rights Watch’s headquarters or the individuals whose signatures they had queried.

The immigration officials refused to put their decision in writing. They told Tertsakian that as a British national, she could not exceed her 90-day legal stay in the country, which expires on April 24.

Gagnon was in Kigali the week of April 19 to try to meet Rwandan officials about this matter. Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch, sent a private letter to President Paul Kagame setting out in detail concerns at the handling of Tertsakian’s visa application and reiterating that all the documents submitted in the original and second application were authentic. Rwandan immigration officials did not respond to Gagnon’s requests for a meeting.

Human Rights Watch has been working on Rwanda since before the 1994 genocide. However, in the past two years, the Rwandan government has increasingly obstructed the work of the organization. In September and December 2008, it twice blocked the entry of the late Alison Des Forges, a renowned Rwanda expert and Human Rights Watch’s senior advisor on the Great Lakes region. In the last few weeks, Rwandan government rhetoric against human rights organizations has increased, with senior officials singling out Human Rights Watch for particularly fierce public criticism. There has also been an increase in articles hostile to Human Rights Watch in pro-government media.

Background

Rejection of work visa application

Carina Tertsakian, a British national, arrived in Rwanda on January 25, 2010, and was initially granted a work visa. On March 3, immigration officials questioned her on the paperwork relating to her visa application, pointing to a mistaken date and alleging differences in her colleagues’ signatures on the documents. They confiscated her passport. The following day, they summoned her again with a new set of questions, relating, once again, to dates and signatures.

On March 8, Tertsakian was formally summoned by the police Criminal Investigations Department (CID) to appear the following day. The police told her that she was suspected of using forged documents and questioned her on the same points as those raised by the immigration officials. By then, Human Rights Watch had submitted two letters from its headquarters, confirming that all the documents were authentic. The officials did not appear to take these letters into account.

On March 10, immigration officials returned Tertsakian’s passport, but had cancelled her work visa. The immigration officials refused to provide a written explanation for this cancellation; they told her she could submit a second visa application.

On March 16, Tertsakian submitted a second application, with a notarized affidavit from Human Rights Watch’s Legal Director attesting to the veracity and authenticity of all the documents. More than a month passed before there was any response to the second application – the usual turnaround time is three days. Rwandan immigration officials communicated their visa denial to Tertsakian on April 23, the day before her legal stay in Rwanda was due to expire.

Crackdown on freedom of expression

These developments take place against a backdrop of increasing intolerance of dissent and criticism in the run-up to presidential elections in August.

Members of opposition parties have been harassed, threatened, and intimidated. Two of the new opposition parties – the FDU-Inkingi and the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda – have been prevented from registering and have been repeatedly obstructed by the authorities. Meetings of the Democratic Green Party and the PS-Imberakuri (a third opposition party) have been disrupted several times, sometimes violently. The PS-Imberakuri eventually managed to register, but has since been hijacked by “dissident members” widely believed to have been manipulated by the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) to silence the party’s president, Bernard Ntaganda.  Ntaganda himself was summoned before the Senate at the end of 2009 on accusations of “genocide ideology.” He has not been charged, but in April 2010, members of the Senate’s political commission expressed their view that these accusations were well-founded.

Victoire Ingabire, leader of the FDU-Inkingi, has been questioned by the police on six occasions since February 2010 (she returned to Rwanda in January 2010 after many years in exile), effectively paralyzing her party’s activities. In March, police stopped her at the airport and prevented her from travelling. On April 21, she was arrested and charged with “genocide ideology,” “divisionism,” and collaboration with terrorist groups, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda  (Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda – FDLR), an armed group active in the Democratic Republic of Congo, composed in part of individuals who took part in the 1994 genocide. Ingabire was released on bail on April 22, but is not allowed to leave the country or to go outside the capital, Kigali. There has been an unrelenting public campaign against her in the pro-government media, relating primarily to public statements in which she criticized the government and called for justice for killings of Hutu by the RPF.

Journalists have also faced numerous problems in the course of their work. The two independent newspapers, Umuseso and Umuvugizi, have been sued for defamation, a criminal offense punishable with imprisonment. Both cases are currently at the appeal stage. On April 13, the Media High Council, a government-aligned body responsible for regulating the media, suspended the two newspapers for six months. Umuseso and Umuvugizi are among the few independent media left in Rwanda; both have published articles critical of the government.

More broadly, Human Rights Watch says many ordinary Rwandans feel unable to express their opinions openly. Those who voice criticism of the government or its policies risk being labelled opponents, accused of being in league with opposition parties or with people who allegedly want to topple the government, or accused of “genocide ideology” – a vaguely defined criminal offense which carries penalties of 10 to 25 years’ imprisonment.

After years of intimidation of civil society activists, there are very few independent human rights organizations left in Rwanda. Those who are still trying to document human rights abuses are facing constant threats and obstacles. For example, in the run-up to the 2008 parliamentary elections, the League for Human Rights in the Great Lakes Region (Ligue des droits de la personne dans la région des Grands Lacs – LDGL) was prevented from deploying its full election observer mission and was attacked by the National Electoral Commission before its report even came out. Members of the human rights organization LIPRODHOR have also faced serious threats over several years, causing many of their key members to leave the country for their own safety, and leaving the organization significantly weakened.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Rwanda, please visit:

http://www.hrw.org/africa/rwanda

For more information, please contact:

In New York, Georgette Gagnon (English): +1-917-535-0375 (mobile)

In Washington DC, Jon Elliott: (English, French): +1-202-612-4348; or +1-917-379-0713 (mobile)

From Gatsinzi to Kabarebe and now Umuseso, what exactly is Paul Kagame’s ultimate motive?

Anyone who has been following events in Rwanda over the last few weeks will agree with me that it is now clear what President Paul Kagame really wants. A safer Rwanda! A Rwanda, where there is no political upheaval, no opposition politics, no sentimental politicians, no old friends, no dissent and above all, no critical newspapers to report the prevailing ‘peace and tranquillity’.

Presidential elections will go ahead as planned in August and when the dust has settled in September, those still living will witness a sympathetic, loving and caring president, a head of state ready to forgive and forget as he embarks on another seven year term as head of state. How cool is that!.

Gen Marcel Gatsinzi will be hauled to court to answer the genocide charges that continue to linger around his back before being thrown into jail. Lt. Gen Charles Kayonga will be sent to Rwanda’s Pentagon and given a few challenging but less empowering tasks and Gen Kabarebe will most likely retire. Rwandans will have a newly elected leader and The New Times will struggle not to lead with a headline that reads: PK rigs to set new world record!

The High Council of the Press will come up with yet another silly document which Patrice Mulama, posing in front of cameras will read confirming that Umuseso and Umuvugizi newspapers have been reinstated. It will be business as usual and the international community will continue to pour money into Rwanda with the aim of ending poverty and fostering economic development.

Right path? Don’t ask me for I really don’t know. What is clear though is that Paul Kagame, having commanded the forces that he says ended the genocide and helped restore order in chaotic Rwanda, has embarked on a self destructing campaign. He will stop at nothing to make himself clear and louder to all that Rwanda belongs to him and only he knows what is good for the country. He does not even appear bothered by the idea of ruling the country as if it is some family ranch, because according to what he knows, he is popular, charismatic and knows his country’s history better than anyone else. And who are we to challenge him? What exactly do we know? To him we are rejects who should either shut up or put up with whatever nonsense being paraded as long as we rise up at the end of the day to toss to the monsieur- only this time, in English!

Make no mistake the president is in charge. When coup rumours went around a month ago he was very stern as he was precise in his assurances to his audience that Rwanda will never have a coup. “A coup in Rwanda, never…not here,” he said. If that was a statement that lacked the marrow, he made certain a few days ago with impromptu changes in the army. Gen Gatsinzi, the hitherto docile Defence Minister was dropped for a close friend (former friend some will argue) Gen. James Kabarebe.

Lt. Gen Charles Kayonga, who many basing their conviction on local media reports thought was under house arrest, got in to replace Gen. Kabarebe. Some will argue this was a tactical move by the man in charge. Technically demote the popular Gen Kabarebe by making him defence minister and bring Kayonga closer in a more demanding position where he can be checked on and made very busy to even think of a coup.

Am not very knowledgeable about the finer intricacies of army changes but speculation has never been my speciality either. It is very plausible though that it is much easier to look after and maintain an eye on a chief of defence forces than it is to someone who is head of land forces. For the sake of the issue at hand, I will take what the official version is and leave the rest to you my readers. Fortunately, there is even no official version of the changes, just a routine reshuffle.

Political temperatures in Kigali continue to rise. Kagame continues to impress. He seems very popular with the wanainchi or at least looks so whenever he pays them visits. Opposition politics in Rwanda remains a far cry. Those who have dared to challenge the establishment now find themselves in limbo fearing not only for their lives but at the moment for their political parties as well.

Victoire Ingabire has been summoned to the Criminal Investigations Department  more times than she has been allowed to go to church unattended. She is religious but the government would rather she was not. Religious people get to meet others when they go to church. And when you don’t want someone to mix with others for fear that they will talk about their political agenda, you so wish they were pagans.

Frank Habineza, another of the political hopefuls, a former Rwandese Patriotic Front member who broke ranks to form the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda – a party whose registration seems to bother Kagame more than the poverty in the country – is not having it smooth either. He has on several occasions been in the news complaining about scary emails and intimidating phone calls from state agents who continue to threaten him unless he gets out of politics.

Bernard Ntaganda who until a week ago was party chairman for Rwanda’s only vocal political party PS-Imberakuri was successfully ousted by a party wrangle within his own party that many believe was orchestrated by the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front.

With these under control, in dissaray, under investigation or currently being accused of one or several offences, Kagame will definitely emerge as the one and only presidential candidate come August. He will achieve what he has set out to achieve – rule Rwanda – forever and as long as the elections are held at the hindsight of local and international observers, we will have no legal reason to believe that his victory was manipulated.

The media, which in such an environment would have provided credible evidence as to the real situation on the ground has been manipulated. Those like Umuseso, who have not been so keen at accepting government tokens have now been suspended. The six months suspension effectively rules out Umuseso in the media life of Rwandans until, well, after the elections. If that is not calculated then I stand to be corrected as to whether Kagame is not preparing himself as the father figure and self appointed Lord of Rwanda, he wishes and claims to be.

Why I do fear for Rwanda

Depending on how you look at it, Rwanda is a country in chaos. That is of course if like me, you define chaos to mean a state lacking order or predictability. The establishment in Kigali knows this but accepting it is a parody.

President Paul Kagame, the powerful aristocrat who we now know will win the August 2010 presidential election for yet another seven-year term knows this. His henchmen know this as well. They of course won’t tell you now but soon you will know because the writing is on the wall.

For 16 years, Kagame and his Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) have tried and successfully developed the country. The economy is booming, buoyed by constant aid from Western countries. Unity and reconciliation have become the ruling government’s catchphrases. For over 10 years, the government has drummed these two in the minds of Rwandese with the belief that one day, people will forgive and forget. Whether this has been successful, no one can realistically tell. It is a case that I will leave for another day.

What I do know is that Rwanda today, is a nation threatened not by a rampant genocide, but the side effects, of it.

For any nation, race or creed, history is important. It is through knowing one’s history that focus is derived. However, there is a marked difference between using this history for the better and using it to one’s advantage. Explaining this phenomenon in relation to Rwanda, is as hard as explaining the chaos theory itself.

Chaos Theorist will have you believe that when a butterfly flaps its wings on the North coast of Africa, there is going to be a monsoon in Uganda. Strange as it may seem, this is predictable and sometimes, it has happened. While science tries to explain such behaviour through the analysis of a chaotic mathematical model, politics does not. What politics does is give you the opportunity to see and predict.

The idea, that a government should tightly guard against public rallying, suppress and stifle its population out of the basic freedoms like association, speech and press, all in the name of avoiding a repugnant history is one that I struggle to understand. History has shown that people will always move on, whatever the circumstances, as long as the issues that matter to them, are duly resolved and addressed.

If as a pastor, I spent 17 years preaching to my congregation to turn to God and they looked like they never care after those years, I certainly would consider doing something else. Either, my preaching is bad or am not the best man for the job. It is not a formula; it is simply, how things are done.

From the day Rwanda announced it was going multiparty, something seemed odd. The question on many people’s minds was, how do you effectively go multi-party with a society like Rwanda’s and at the same time avoid harming the basic fundamental human rights?

From the word go, Kagame’s government was torn between letting go and effectively crushing dissent. But because they had to appear all encompassing, they opted for accommodative politics. First Faustin Twagiramungu became Prime Minister, Pasteur Bizimungu was made president. A host of other names who many would have doubted to feature in the RPF government made it to the A-list. The idea was to look accommodating while laying the foundation for a successful real RPF take over. Behind the scenes of Bizimungu’s presidency was a powerful general called Paul Kagame. To accommodate his ego, Rwanda had to even go against its constitutional provisions and create the post of Vice President, which mind you had never existed before and does not exist anymore.

As pressure mounted on Bizimungu to rule as he was being asked to, Rwanda’s strong man saw an opening. Bizimungu was implicated in a corruption case, accused of inciting violence and promoting divisionism through his Ubuyanja Party and later, jailed.

I was there in 2007 when Pasteur Bizimungu stepped out of Kigali’s 1930 Central Prison. I like all present journalists tried hard to get to speak to him in vain. Not even were we allowed to take pictures of him coming out of the prison doors! Why deny journalists a chance to get an action picture of a former president stepping out of a prison where he could very easily have spent the rest of his life?

But that is not the point. Bizimungu was rushed into the prison chief’s main office where he was debriefed by then Internal Security minister Musa Fazil Harelimana. He only spoke to express his gratitude to president Kagame for the presidential pardon and quickly claimed he was too tired and in need of rest. He was whisked away in a waiting white Land Rover and no one has heard from him since. Is he happy, well and free? I will get back to this.

Four years later, life goes on. Rwanda is still the same country. A nation on course of a well treaded development path, some will argue. The locals still go on about their usual business and poor women are still fighting running battles with police and local defence personnel in the city centre as they (poor women) try to sell fruits and vegetables to make ends meet. Rwanda continues to get aid cash but poverty levels are still the same. More than 60 percent of the population, according to the UN, are still illiterate. Spells chaos? I don’t think so.  Just predictable.

Reading the other day that Bernard Ntaganda, the leader of the PS- Imberakuri, had been ousted as party leader, made me think of two things. Who is Ntaganda and why the fuss about him? Mr. Ntaganda, Kigali has made us believe, is an accomplice in the recent bomb attacks in the country’s capital. He has previously, government claims, met with Deo Mushayidi (the gentleman being held over the grenade attacks) and therefore, predictably, was a dangerous fellow.

Now, unless you are a student of mathematics, any one with a notion of what politics is all about will know that Ntaganda, as leader of a registered political party which did not necessarily subscribe to the values or the ruling RPF was bound by circumstances to be meeting with other political parties or members of the opposition. It is normal. Even America’s top leadership was in the days after Sept 11, reported to have met with the country’s enemy number one, Osama bin Laden.

While this does not suffice in condoning the association of Ntaganda and  Mushayidi – if at all there is one – it should be no reason whatsoever to force a resignation and persecution of a leader of the only registered political party so far, that has expressed interest in contesting the August presidential election. What it does prove however, is that in Rwanda, the presumption of innocence exists only in theory. In Rwanda, a suspect is an outright criminal unless of course that suspect is a beloved government official and the arrest warrant from France or Spain.

It is very easy to have predicted from the events leading to Ntaganda’s disappearance that his political future was already cut out. With Victoire Ingabire, the FDU-Inkingi party leader and Frank Habineza of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda all fighting for their registration and having to put up with all sorts of intimidation from authorities, what was easily predictable is that in the event of a total failure to register, the two promising parties, would then most likely back PS-Imberakuri’s Ntaganda. And Kigali was not about to take a gamble on him, he had to be framed. Kagame is fine with Christine Mukabunane because unlike her predecessor, she is less known and will heed to RPF’s political pressure more easily unlike Ntaganda.

The notion of predictability even comes further into fore when one considers the recent events in Kigali regarding an FDU-Inkingi party delegates meeting that was meant to take place on March 13. Kagame is a keen political strategist. He made a mistake underestimating the strength of Victoire Ingabire when she arrived in Rwanda from Netherlands by letting her in. She has since risen as a force to reckon with. No wonder Kagame’s government using the police force, survivors associations and rogue writers in government publications has ben involved in a tarnishing campaign against her.

The police case against Ingabire will drag on and on until well August. During this time, Ingabire cannot hold a party conference, hold a meeting or even get her party registered. That is more like mission accomplished for then Kagame can go unopposed or if indeed someone comes out to stand against him it will be some stooge with a very compromised ideology. The West will pass the elections as having been democratic despite a few hurdles and complaints, and Kagame the dictator, will get another cool seven year mandate. As for Ingabire, the government is now going to keep insisting, sorry we cant help or allow you hold a conference because you are a subject of a police investigation. Ridiculous but effective!

This is even hopeless if you consider that the same government a year ago, bitterly complained when Spanish and French judges issued arrest warrants to members of the regime in Kigali. But that is not chaos, it is what should be but sadly, never gets predicted. It is a case of “Kyenkola Banange Sagala Bakinkole”. The West wont even squeak because as long as the dictator in question belongs to the good dictators, everything should be just about ok.

If division-ism or inciting violence is the case that Ingabire is being accused of,  or if associating with FDLR is what is making her go through all the delays, the government should come clean here and expedite her trial. If it can’t, they should clear her name and allow her register FDU-Inkingi.

A friend of mine Keith Harmon Snow the other day leaked a secret document from the Rwandan Ministry of Foreign Affairs detailing names of Kigali critics both foreign and national to be eliminated. It gives a clear picture of what Kagame’s government is all about.  Question is, why plot the assassination of your critics if you know everything is in tune?

Murder they will but the idea that by killing Keith, Annie Garrison, Rusesabagina and a few others will eliminate criticism is equivalent to believing the impossible. What Kagame should do is be fair to all and address the underlying issues that have so long characterised fall outs between him, old friends and all those under his leadership.

And yes, the Rwanda Media Fraternity has disowned Godwin Agaba. This is what amuses me. First the association of Rwanda journalists claims Agaba is not and has never been a journalist. Then suddenly they publish a story in The New Times that he has been disowned by them. How is possible to disown someone who has never been part of you?

Unless disowning means something else other than to refuse to acknowledge or accept as ones own. Agaba has and will always be a Rwandan journalist. Am glad to hear he is safe and sound wherever he is. I can only wish him the best of luck.

According to The New Times, March 18, Umuseso, a Kinyarwanda newspaper published a photograph of Agaba Godwin in its December 31, 2006 to January 6, 2007 issue, warning the public not to transact any business with him on their behalf. In the same message, it was indicated that Godwin Agaba had been sacked for extortion and warned that he was still masquerading as their employee.

Then in in 2007, (exactly 6 days after Agaba’s photo had appeared in Umuseso newspaper as alleged) Agaba joined The New Times newspaper. Give me a break. Why would The New Times want to hire a thief and an extortionist whose picture had been flashed on the front page of a rival newspaper unless they trusted him or wanted something out of him?

Over to you my little monsters!