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U.S. expresses concern about Rwanda election

The United States expressed concern on Friday about “disturbing events” surrounding this week’s presidential election in Rwanda in which incumbent Paul Kagame drew 93 percent of the votes.

The White House National Security Council said in a statement that progress has been in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

“We remain concerned, however, about a series of disturbing events prior to the election, including the suspension of two newspapers, the expulsion of a human rights researcher, the barring of two opposition parties from taking part in the election, and the arrest of journalists,” National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement.

The land-locked African country’s stability and prosperity will be difficult to sustain without broad political debate and open political participation, Hammer said.

Critics say the Rwandan election campaign was marred by government repression. Human rights groups pointed to mounting violence during the run-up to the election after the fatal shooting of a local journalist and the killing of an opposition official who was found nearly beheaded in July. The government denied involvement.

“Democracy is about more than holding elections,” Hammer added. “A democracy reflects the will of the people, where minority voices are heard and respected, where opposition candidates run on the issues without threat or intimidation, where freedom of expression and freedom of the press are protected.”

The White House statement does not congratulate Kagame for his re-election in Monday’s voting.

Kagame’s nearest rival, Jean Damascene Ntawukuliryayo of the Social Democratic Party, won 5 percent of the vote, according to final election results released on Wednesday.

“We have expressed our concerns to the government of Rwanda, and we hope the leadership will take steps toward more democratic governance, increased respect for minority and opposition views, and continued peace,” Hammer said.


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1 comment

1 Rutwe { 08.31.10 at 10:02 am }

The US NSC Spokesman was ‘congratulating’ Rwandans rather than expressing his “concerns”

After reading the above article and compared it to Hammer’s Statement, I was shocked by the interpretation made out of the statement by the US National Security Council Spokesman, Mike Hammer, that you deliberately change its main message just to shape your audience’s opinion. That’s why I took the liberty to clarify its true interpretation before coming to those so-called “concerns” that you want your readers to focus on.

The interpretation you make is simply taken out of the main context which was clearly stated in its starting sentence: “We congratulate the people of Rwanda on their national election”. Besides, there can be no ‘concerns’ over ‘election results’ since Rwanda’s recent presidential elections have never been contested by any of the candidates as was the case elsewhere. People simply read what they want to read. Others fail to extract the main message through a statement. In this particular case, the NSC spokesman congratulated Rwandans as is clearly stated in his first sentence. He even stresses later in his statement that “No one should underestimate the enormous challenges born of the genocide in 1994” and acknowledges that “Rwanda’s progress in the face of these challenges has been remarkable”.

As for ‘concerns’, which actually come in the statement after a ‘however’, are expressed as minor “disturbing events prior to election” since everything cannot be in rose in the world. But in Rwanda, at least they tried their best. Which ‘impressed’ many observers: “we have been extremely impressed by what we saw. We observed that Rwandans had actually exercised their democratic rights in their millions under relatively calm and almost jovial atmosphere as opposed to confrontational scenes witnessed in other countries”, Dr Salim, the head of Commonwealth Observer Group, observed before adding that this “was something that can be said to be somehow unique”. The British minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham concurred that “these elections represent another important stage in the country’s development”. Stephen Kinzer, the most knowledgeable author on Rwanda also dismissed on VOA of August 16 criticisms leveled against Rwanda as “coming just during election time” adding that “people tend to forget so many positive things Rwanda has recently achieved”

Regarding the very ‘concerns’, they are actually justified in US, not in Rwanda. Given its turbulent and dark past, Rwanda will never tolerate opportunistic parties that simply want to play an ethnic card to gain power, nor journalists who exhort Rwandan citizens to bring out their machetes again. Besides, Human Rights organizations like HRW that only criticize after genocide and were no where to be seen before it happened, have no lessons to teach to Rwandans; let alone to those who stopped the genocide that the whole world had shied away with! After all, there is no bigger rights violation than genocide, and to understand the closure of newspapers and arrest of critics, you have to remember that “memories of the genocide will never fade – and neither will fears of a relapse” as Alex Perry rightly observed.

Alex Rutwe, EAC political Analyst

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