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…

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.