Rwandan shootings, clampdown stir fears ahead of polls
The situation in Rwanda is increasingly alarming. Here is an analysis made by David Lewis in his article “ANALYSIS-Rwandan shootings, clampdown stir fears ahead of polls”.
* Rwanda in spotlight after attacks on journalist, general
* Formerly unflinching allies uneasy, fears of divisions
* Clamp-down seen ahead of election Kagame likely to win
By David Lewis
NAIROBI, July 2 (Reuters) – The shooting of an exiled dissident general and a journalist will embarrass Rwanda’s allies, ever more uncomfortable about political repression, but more worrying is the escalating risk of a violent fall-out from increasingly public divisions within the ruling elite.
President Paul Kagame — who ended Rwanda’s 1994 genocide by sweeping to power with his Tutsi-dominated rebel army, and has since been praised for restoring order and attracting investors — is sure to win re-election for another seven years in August.
But an attack on his former confidant and army chief in South Africa, and the slaying of a critical journalist at home are piling pressure on a government already accused of stifling political rivals and involved in highly charged legal case against a US lawyer accused of denying the 1994 genocide.
Four people have appeared in court, suspected of the attempted murder of Lieutenant-General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, while two others, including a former Rwandan intelligence officer, were freed. No nationalities were given.
South Africa has said it is not ready to comment further on the attack, but security sources suspect Rwandan involvement.
Rwanda says such accusations are preposterous, but links were anyway quickly made with killings in the 1990s of dissidents abroad, blamed then on Rwanda’s security services.
Theories of a bungled robbery have also been put in doubt by reports from Nyamwasa’s wife, who was with him, that the attackers targeted Nyamwasa, rather than valuables or their car.
Henri Boshoff, an analyst at the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies, said Pretoria was furious an attack had taken place, especially during the World Cup, and the incident left Kagame some tricky questions to answer.
But it has also left South Africa, a key Rwandan ally and business partner, with an awkward incident on its hands, he said.
Nyamwasa was serving as Kigali’s ambassador to India when he fled Rwanda during official meetings earlier this year. He, and another senior army officer also living in exile in South Africa, have been accused of corruption and involvement in a series of mysterious grenade attacks by Kagame’s government.
The pair deny the charges and say Kagame is abusing an anti-corruption drive to frame his opponents.
“RECONSIDER THE BLANK CHEQUE”
Rwanda and South Africa have been in talks over Kigali’s request to extradite Nyamwasa.
“(South Africa) can get out of this embarrassment by not agreeing to his extradition and making sure they follow the investigations to the end, even if it leads to Kigali,” said Carina Tertsakian, Rwanda researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Diplomatically, it could be tricky,” she said.
Last week, Jean Leonard Rugambage, an investigative journalist was killed in a hail of bullets outside his house. Ruganbage’s editor linked his death to a story blaming Rwandan intelligence for Nyamwasa’s death, a charge denied by Kigali.
Kagame has enjoyed a free hand in Rwanda, building up the army to assert his authority at home and abroad, as well as using anti-genocide legislation to clamp down on opponents.
Citing the world’s failure to stop the 1994 slaughter, he has often batted away foreign criticism. Rwanda was named the world’s top reformer in the Doing Business Report 2010.
But the mounting incidents are testing patience.
“Even Rwanda’s traditional allies like the U.S. and Britain are concerned, and more willing to say so publicly than at any point since the 1994 genocide,” said Philippe de Pontet, Africa analyst at Eurasia Group.
“There’s a sense that it may be time to reconsider the diplomatic blank check if the crackdown on dissent continues to intensify in coming weeks,” he added.
“COULD GET NASTY”
Earlier this year, the U.S. government, a steadfast Kigali ally, took the unprecedented step of registering its concerns about moves to stifle freedoms of the press and the opposition.
A further thorn in the relations between the two nations has been Kigali’s arrest of Peter Erlinder, a U.S. lawyer who went to Rwanda to defend Victoire Ingabire, the arrested opposition leader, and was swiftly accused of denying the genocide.
Eurasia’s de Pontet said investors would probably be less worried, given Rwanda’s overall business climate, high growth and an assumption Kagame would be around for seven more years.
But, given Rwanda’s history and the restrictions on dissent from either friends or foes, others are more nervous.
Nyamwasa was highly popular during his time in charge of the army and was closely connected to Congolese rebels that U.N. experts say Kigali once backed but has now alienated. One reason given for the row is Kagame’s fearing Nyamwasa was a threat.
His shooting also follows the arrest of two senior officers and a military reshuffle since the beginning of the year, leading to speculation of a rift between Kagame and top aides in the RPF political party and the army.
While crackdowns on opponents or splits within the RPF are not new, one Rwanda expert, who asked not to be named, said the current rumblings were unprecedented within the inner circle, where Kagame has seen discontent but never a serious rival.
“It is certainly possible that it could get nasty,” he said.