Rwanda’s Democracy in Danger
Kigali – Last week a Rwandan opposition figure was found murdered, his head nearly severed from his body. Late last month, the editor of a suspended local-language publication was gunned down in front of his home.
Also last month, a former Rwandan army general who had worked with President Paul Kagame to end the 1994 genocide narrowly survived an assassination attempt in Johannesburg. The general had fled to South Africa after Rwanda began investigating him for allegations that include terrorism.
All this comes weeks ahead of Rwanda’s presidential elections, in which Mr. Kagame will face three challengers in his bid for a (presumably) final seven-year term, none of whom appear to pose a serious threat to Mr. Kagame’s re-election.
Critics both inside Rwanda and abroad say these candidates are all stooges of the government, put on the ballot to lend a skein of unearned legitimacy to the coming elections.
The Kagame government fiercely denies any involvement in the recent violence. And in each case, it has a story to explain away any possible political motive for the attacks. “We certainly might not be a model government for a lot of people, but we’re not a stupid government, and we will not try to kill three people in a row right before [an] election,” Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told the AP this week, adding: “Who benefits from instability and fear in Rwanda? Certainly not this government and certainly not Paul Kagame.”
But those explanations become harder to credit every time a critic of the government drops dead or lands in jail.
All the more so since the recent murders follow the arrest in April of presidential challenger Victoire Ingabire on charges of spreading “genocide ideology,” and the subsequent arrest of American attorney Peter Erlinder when he arrived in the country to defend her.
Ms. Ingabire is out on bail, and Mr. Erlinger has been returned to the U.S. But their treatment by the authorities fits a pattern.
All this is especially worrisome for Rwanda, not only because the wounds from the 1994 genocide are still raw, but because for a while it seemed that Mr. Kagame would not pattern his presidency on the model of so many of his African counterparts—onetime national saviors who ultimately turn to thuggery.
In recent days Rwandan authorities have arrested suspects in two of the murder cases, one of whom has offered a confession that appears to clear the government of any involvement. But the trials of these men need to be thorough, scrupulous and transparent to have any credibility.
More broadly, Mr. Kagame needs to demonstrate that his critics needn’t fear for their lives in a supposedly “new” Rwanda. Anything short of that will relegate him to the tinpot dictator status shared by all too many other African presidents.
[The Wall Street Journal]