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Posts from — August 2013

Dispatches: Rwanda’s Green Party registered at last – but what does it really mean?

Green Party Founding President Frank Habineza

Green Party Founding President Frank Habineza

Today is the deadline for political parties to submit their lists of candidates for Rwanda’s parliamentary elections in September. Late Friday afternoon, the Rwanda Governance Board, the state body responsible for licensing political parties, granted registration to the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, an opposition party which has been struggling to obtain this precious document for almost four years.

It’s good news, but with only a month left until polling day, how can the Green Party participate meaningfully in the elections?

Rwanda’s last three elections have all been characterized by a stark absence of opposition to the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The figures speak for themselves. President Paul Kagame won the 2003 presidential elections with a majority of more than 95 percent, and the 2010 elections with 93.08 percent. The RPF won the 2008 parliamentary elections with 78.76 percent of the vote, a figure that was reportedly revised downwards from around 98 percent to make the outcome look more credible.

The 2010 elections marked a low point, with a succession of attacks on opponents and critics. The Green Party’s vice-president, André Kagwa Rwisereka, was one of the victims. He was found dead, his body mutilated, on July 14, just weeks before the elections. Three years on, no one has been brought to justice for his murder. The party was devastated and effectively fell apart. It is only just beginning to get back on its feet again.

The leaders of two other opposition parties – Victoire Ingabire of the FDU-Inkingi and Bernard Ntaganda of the PS-Imberakuri – have been in prison since 2010. The FDU-Inkingi didn’t even manage to register. The PS-Imberakuri did, but was taken over by a faction favorable to the RPF. The faction loyal to Ntaganda has been paralysed by constant threats and intimidation.

Strictly speaking, the RPF is not the only party in Rwanda. Several others are represented in parliament and will be fielding candidates in next month’s elections. But these parties do not play the role of a political opposition. Not only do they not challenge the RPF, they actively support it. The upcoming elections appear to have generated little public interest in the country. Many Rwandans believe the outcome is a fait accompli.

If the Rwandan government wants to demonstrate its commitment to democracy, it will have to do more than register an already weakened party at the eleventh hour. When the state stops threatening, arresting and harassing opposition activists and putting administrative blocks in their way, then Rwandans can mark a victory for true democracy.

Source: Human Rights Watch

August 13, 2013   No Comments

Rwanda Says UN Ultimatum Threatened Congo Peace Talks

Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo gestures during an interview with The Associated Press at the Rwandan Embassy in Washington

Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo gestures during an interview

Rwanda said on Wednesday the decision by a U.N. intervention brigade to forcibly disarm people in a strategic zone of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo had surprised African leaders and risked jeopardizing peace talks.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission said on Tuesday it was setting up a security zone around Goma, which briefly fell into M23 hands last year, and would disarm, by force if needed, anyone carrying weapons after a 48-hour grace period.

“We’re worried that such a threat could have easily derailed the peace talks going on in Kampala,” Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told reporters at a regional summit, speaking in English.

Mushikiwabo, whose country is widely believed to support the M23 rebellion, said leaders at the summit in Nairobi expressed their strong support for negotiations held in Uganda between Democratic Republic of Congo and M23 rebels.

Some diplomats, however, said the talks have stalled.

Rwanda denies backing M23. It has also alleged that commanders of the newly deployed special force with a mandate to neutralize armed groups like M23 have met with Rwandan Hutu rebels camped in eastern Congo’s borderlands.

The M23 rebels began taking large swaths of Congo’s volatile east early last year, accusing the central government of failing to honor a previous peace deal, and dealt a serious blow to the image of the U.N. MONUSCO peacekeepers.

The brief fall of Goma to the rebels prompted the formation of a more robust intervention brigade within MONUSCO.

MONUSCO said on Wednesday the security zone operation would not amount to an offensive targeting a specific armed group.

“This zone is to protect civilians,” said Lieutenant Colonel Prosper Basse, MONUSCO’s military spokesman.

Another U.N. source told Reuters the operation would try to clear up small pockets of M23 fighters who remained near Goma after the rebels were pushed several kilometers further north during recent clashes.

The latest flare-up in fighting between Congolese government forces and M23 earlier this month raised tensions again with Rwanda after Congo accused Rwandan specialist units of aiding M23 in the fighting.

“The renewed fighting raises concern over the commitment of the parties to the [Kampala] talks,” Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told the summit. “We want them to resume and conclude quickly.”

The M23 rebels are demanding an amnesty and reintegration into the national army, as well as political concessions. Some delegates at the Nairobi summit said privately that a wide gulf still separated the two sides.

Rwanda on Tuesday dismissed U.S. charges it was supporting the rebellion, telling Reuters at the summit that leveling such accusations was unhelpful.

Congo’s foreign minister, Raymond Tshibanda, said, however, that the fact that the conflict was taking place in the east, far from the capital, “showed the importance of external factors to the conflict.”

Source: Reuters

August 1, 2013   1 Comment