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SOS: Rwandan Ethnic Twa fading into oblivion

Rwanda’s rapidly dwindling Twa pygmies, considered the original inhabitants of this central African nation, now live on the fringes, facing squalor, discrimination and general exclusion.

A small community eking out a frugal living on the flank of an impossibly steep hill in Bwiza in the centre of the country embodies the problems they face in Rwanda.

Bwiza’s residents came to look for a field, having lost the land their families owned decades back.

They are plagued by alcoholism, lose up to two children for every one born, and have little or no access to health care.

“A lot of children die. I used to have nine, now I have three,” said Jowas Gasinzigwa, leaning on a crude walking stick.

There are 46 families and just 50 children in the hamlet, 15 of whom attend school. All this in a country where most women produce five or six children.

“I now have three and I used to have six,” said Celestin Uwimana, 38. “Many die of malaria because they don’t go to hospital when they have it. Others get meningitis.”

The nearest health centre is a two-hour walk away. The Twa live in leaf huts and respiratory diseases are a major scourge due to leaky roofs and damp.

Zephirin Kalimba, the head of an organisation that helps Twa communities through development projects, says they make up between 33,000 and 35,000 of Rwanda’s 10 million people.

Whereas the overall population of Rwanda is on the rise, the number of pygmies is declining, a development likely linked to their displacement from their original forest lands and the end of their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

Though Twa used to own land, more than 40 percent of Twa households in Rwanda are today landless. They were forced out of forests which were turned into natural parks. It was only after eviction from their ancestral land that they turned to farming in fits and starts.

In Bwiza, the men, in gumboots or plastic sandals, sit in the shade complaining. It is the women who hoe a nearby field belonging to a Twa widow who inherited it from her late non-Twa husband, babies strapped to their backs in the blazing sun.

Both groups occasionally burst into laughter, start dancing and make up a song as they go along: about how “the minister said the Twa need iron sheets for the roofs of their houses” and how “Rwanda has many doctors, but none near Twa villages”.

Kalimba said the community should be afforded the same benefits given to handicapped people or women in Rwanda. Instead, the Twa are excluded from government poverty alleviation measures, he claimed.

The pygmies even had to change the name of their organisation, the Community of Indigenous Rwandans, as the government claimed their identification along ethnic lines contributed to the 1994 genocide.

The first recorded reference to pygmies appears to be in a letter written in 2276 BC by the boy pharaoh Pepi II. More recently the French-American explorer Paul du Chaillu wrote at length about his encounter with pygmies in the rainforests of Gabon in 1867.

Present day Twa are forced to eke out a living from casual labour and pottery.

When the Twa, who are also found in neighbouring Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, can get work it, is usually on their neighbours’ land and the pay is a pittance.

They complain of persecution both at work and in school.

“If we go to look for labour where someone is building a house, they’ll only take us if there are no non-Twa workers,” Uwimana said.

“When we earn some money cultivating a communal field … and we try to put it into the bank, we go to the bank counter and they say, ‘Ha, you’re a Twa’ and refuse to open an account,” he added.

In despair, some of them have turned to drink.

Asked if the same holds true in schools, 14-year-old Justin Nzabandora said the main Twa children so often drop out of school is because “they get tired of having other children point to them saying ‘look it’s a Twa’.”


April 6, 2010   No Comments

Rwanda: RPF totalitarian regime revealed

On January 16, 2010, Mrs. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, a political opposition leader and Chairperson of UDF-Inkingi, returned to Rwanda after 16 years of exile in order to register her political party and participate in forthcoming presidential elections scheduled for August 2010.

The decision to return home, it should be recalled, was made after thorough analysis of the political context, challenges, and issues at stake, as well as different scenarios of political action and the risks associated with each action. It appeared for the UDF-Inkingi that accepting the challenge of utilizing a peaceful struggle for democracy was the best way to support UDF policies and build a hospitable country for all Rwandans.

This perspective was not only addressed to the people of Rwanda but also to its current leaders. We expected they would show good will, open up political space; allow open debate on different political programmes so that the Rwandan people can make an informed democratic choice during the elections. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Instead, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) regime gradually erected impassable obstacles, thus demonstrating, within less than two months, its totalitarian nature. Several examples clearly support this:

1. Refusal to grant passports to exiled members of UDF-Inkingi

Upon announcing their intention to return to Rwanda, a dozen prospective party members designated to lead the political struggle inside the country applied for passports. Their requests remaine unanswered until now except for two passports, including one for the UDF-Inkingi’s chairperson. This is incomprehensible since the Government of Rwanda allows operations by the UNHCR and other African countries that are hosting Rwandan refugees to repatriate them by force to Rwanda.

2. Remote reports aimed at falsely accusing the politicalopposition

On November 23, 2009, a UN report was published on the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel group operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Without providing any evidence, i.e. the content of conversations, the report accused some leaders of the UDF-Inkingi of collaboration with this armed opposition group. The Chairperson of UDF-Inkingi was accused of meeting some leaders of the FDLR in Spain in 2006. The report fails to mention that government officials and several survivors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda also attended the same meeting, which was devoted to promoting peace in Rwanda and was facilitated by the Foundation Solivar.

The timing of the publication and of the said report with the announcement coinciding of the decision of UDF-Inkingi to participate in the Rwandan presidential elections of August 2010 is very suspect because of: the lightness of evidence against the political organization, the immediate use of this report by the Rwandan government to prevent the Chairperson of UDF-Inkingi to exercise her political rights, quickly made people suspect the interference of the RPF regime in the creation of this report. It should also be recalled that allegations in the UN report were categorically rejected by all the countries of the African Great Lakes region, including Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania.

3. Media lynching by the public and private media under the yoke of the regime in power

On January 16, 2010, the day of her return to Rwanda, the Chairperson of FDU-Inkingi visited the genocide memorial in Gisozi. Answering a question from a journalist, she reminded the Rwandan people that unity and reconciliation will only be fully achieved when all those who are guilty of taking part in the genocide against the Tutsis and those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Hutus are brought to justice. The day after her statement, the pro-government daily newspaper “The New Times” launched a campaign of hatred and dehumanization against Mrs. Ingabire, who was falsely accused of genocide denial. This campaign of media lynching was echoed by other newspapers and state media, including state radio and national television. The highest authorities of the state, including ministers and heads of political parties allied with the RPF, took part in this lynching and called for punishment against the Chairperson of UDF-Inkingi. This intimidation campaign reached its climax when the President of the Republic himself ordered the judicial system to prosecute Ms. Ingabire.

4. Physical assaults, another form of intimidation

When Mrs. Ingabire and her assistant went to the Administrative Office of Kinyinya sector following a phone call by the Executive Secretary of the sector asking her to collect administrative documents, they were brutally attacked inside the office of public administration by a juvenile mob likely prepared for the attack. The assailant mob snatched Mrs. Ingabire’s handbag which contained her identity papers and personal belongings. No investigation has been conducted to find and punish the culprits.

5. Police and judicial investigations, another strategy to criminalize opposition

Following orders given by the President of the Republic, the Criminal Investigation Department of the Rwandan police almost instantly summoned UDF-Inkingi’s Chairperson to inform her about the charges against her. They include a security breach of state, divisionism, genocide ideology, minimalization of the genocide of the Tutsi, collaboration with the FDLR, and the icing on the cake, the disturbance of public security by grenade attacks and collaboration in a plan to overthrow the RPF government. It must be recalled that another opposition politician, Mr. Deogratias Mushayidi as well as senior Rwandan military officers, dissidents with the regime, are also accused of the same offenses.

These accusations were followed by police summons and interviews which have become repetitive in order to break the morale of Mrs. Ingabire. Some of these interviews have lasted up to 10 hours straight.

6. Prohibition to hold the constituent congress of the party

By virtue of the fact that Mrs. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza has not been convicted by any court, she is automatically entitled to a presumption of innocence. But it was a big surprise when the Mayor of Nyarugenge, after using all kinds of tricks in previous requests, refused to grant her permission to hold a public meeting on the pretext that Mrs. Ingabire was under police investigation. This prohibition is also justified, according to the Mayor, by the fact that the administration did not know the message the UDF-Inkingi’s chairperson might deliver to the public, thereby confirming that only those who speak the same language as the RPF have the right to political space in Rwanda. This position was repeated and confirmed by the Minister in charge of the political parties and local government, all of which is in blatant violation of all applicable laws.

7. Action of formenting coups and divisions within the opposition parties

The three opposition parties, namely the PS-Imberakuri (the only opposition party approved to date), the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda and UDF-Inkingi, two organizations that are still trying to register, have created a Permanent Consultative Council of Opposition Parties in Rwanda to mutually reinforce each other by sharing some political and diplomatic actions. The Council therefore become a headache for the regime and they decided to step up a notch to block its path. While non-legal barriers were erected before the political opposition in order to prevent them from holding their meeting, it is disconcerting to see how docile dissidents obtained easily the necessary permits to hold their extraordinary congress to oust the legal and legitimate Chairperson of PS-Imberakuri, Mr. Bernard Ntaganda. Mr. Bernard Ntaganda has also been prevented on several occasions to install the statutory offices of his party in the provinces.

8. Obstacles to the freedom to travel within Rwanda and abroad

After more than 16 years of exile, Mrs. Ingabire sought to explore her country. But all her movements were monitored with a magnifying glass to prevent contact with the population, which was beginning to show some enthusiasm to her encouragement to let go of living in fear and she lavished on them the idea of a peaceful change of government. On March 23, 2010, while Mrs. Ingabire was not subject to judicial review forcing her to remain in Rwanda, she was prevented from boarding a plane at Kanombe International Airport. She was travelling to visit her family in Europe.


The obstacles that the regime mounts against its political opponents, obstacles that the UDF-Inkingi’s entry on the Rwandan political scene has openly exposed, reveal the nature of a power that seeks to interpret the law and procedures at will, which has enormous difficulties tolerating open debate, is experiencing serious difficulties in accepting political opposition and is considering the use of force as the only argument that counts in the management of power. All of these actions are the hallmarks of a totalitarian power that must be seriously monitored as they may derail the political process under way for presidential elections in August 2010.

This exposure of the RPF’s totalitarian nature occured surprisingly quickly and shows once again that it is high time the regime understand that democracy is inevitable and it will come about sooner or later. With much more noticeable people’s determination nothing will stop it.

Kigali, March 31, 2010,

The United Democratic Forces-Inkingi

April 6, 2010   No Comments

Rwanda: Paul Kagame accuses opposition of contempt

Paul Kagame

Paul Kagame

Kigali – President Paul Kagame on Monday slammed three emerging opposition parties that plan to run against him in August elections and said they had been formed by people with contempt for Rwandans.

The three parties — Social Party Imberakuri (PS-Imberakuri) and two unregistered parties, the Democratic Green Party (DGP) and the United Democratic Forces (UDF), said in February they had formed a forum to discuss common problems.

They say they face harassment, intimidation and legal and administrative barriers to registration, and may form one party to oppose Kagame’s ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

Bernard Ntaganda from the PS-Imberakuri and Victoire Ingabire, head of the UDF, are being investigated for remarks which authorities, lawmakers and genocide survivors have called divisive.

“These yet to be registered political parties are just a creation of people who have contempt for us. It is up to us to decide whether we should be held in that kind of contempt,” Kagame told reporters at State House in the capital, Kigali.

“What do they represent? If Rwanda held a referendum … I don’t think Rwandans would exactly know what these people represent.”

Rights groups have criticised Rwanda for holding the elections without a meaningful opposition, but Kagame said he expected to see more divergent political opinions as the vote drew closer.

“We are not likely to have violence, destruction and killings that we have witnessed in our country in the past,” Kagame said.

“As we understand it, multi-party politics is about competition based on ideas and this will happen in an environment where people are free to express their views and be able to compete.”

Rwandan authorities are sensitive to discussion of ethnicity because the country is still recovering from the 1994 slaughter in which 800,000 Rwandans died.

Ingabire returned to the central African nation from the Netherlands in January to start a bid for the presidency.

Genocide survivor groups and the government accuse her of using tribal rivalries and the 100-day massacre as campaign tools ahead of August’s election.

Ingabire denies this and says outstanding ethnic issues must be addressed to forge true reconciliation and lasting stability.


April 6, 2010   No Comments

Rwanda, April 2010 : Future is now

Dear compatriots, dear friends,

In April 1994, Rwanda has endured the genocide. The stains, scars, memories of it are still alive in our heads and hearts. It is a terrible thing to carry but how else can it be?

What should be remembered, in April is our families, our lives and our strength in going through this and rebuilding our hearts, minds and cities. And we know that the old feelings, the disagreements and conflicts are always lingering not too far at this painful time of the year ; but allowing them to come in is defeating the purpose.

Let’s remember in peace and dignity and let’s not allow our deaths to become a charity business and a lucrative slogan of a minority whose actions are not quite in touch with the reality of survivors.

Rebuilding a new Rwanda is a task that must welcome each and everyone or it will be like making new ruins right in place of the old ones…

Know our history and move forward,the future is now.

Agnes Murebwayire

April 6, 2010   No Comments