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Rwanda: General Paul Kagame is painting a grim picture of democracy

by Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza.

I was surprised to read in your August 19, 2010 the apology of the so-called Rwandan democracy by General Paul Kagame in his “Rwanda’s democracy is still the model for Africa” (see Anxious General Kagame on the defensive). This irony is exactly what Franz Neumann said some time ago: “If the concepts ‘enemy’ and ‘fear’ constitute the ‘energetic principles’ of politics, a democratic political system is impossible, whether the fear is produced from within or without. If freedom is absence of restraints, the restraints to be removed are many, but the psychological restraint of fear ranks first.

We are all aware of the tragic recent history of Rwanda, the war and the genocide. The reconstruction of the society is not a secret of a one man’s rule. In Rwanda, the alternance in power has been bumpy and bloody, therefore an all inclusive dialogue between all stakeholders is a must to set equal access regardless of their origins and ethnic backgrounds.
Democracy is a universal value with quality content, tools and necessities of ordinary life that the state must protect. It is not just an expression shaped according to the ruler, his interests and his understanding of the recent history.
General Paul Kagame does not really need to invent or advocate his kind of democracy. There is no need to invent a “counter-genocide concept” of democracy. There is Democracy, Free State or not. This is a process but all the time the need to level the playing field, the opening of the political space, the protection of freedoms should remain the guiding hallmarks.
We should all enjoy equal rights and accept the diversity of ideas. You can’t just promote your own type of democracy and shy away any meaningful free and fair competition. It is just a pretext to keep power.

Another serious issue is the confusion between a leader and the country or the population. For example, when the author of the article says “Rwanda is one of the countries that have chosen to apply unconventional mechanisms to solve daunting challenges”, it is clear that the demarcation line between the incumbent and the country has shrunk to exhaustion. Rwanda existed centuries and centuries before him, and it will exist after him.

His apology or argument are not from the democracy theories in known modern dictatorships where in many cases the military leaders or other “strong men”, “the saviors of the nation” impose their own values of democracy. For international consumption, they organize expensive polls with the highest colourful turnouts and are lauded as living-gods loved and adored by all the population, at least 90%, criticized only by blind or short-sighted people.
We have all heard about Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Joseph Stalin (USSR), Nicolae Ceausescu (Romania) or Marshal Presidents Idi Amin Dada (Uganda) and Jean Beder Bokassa (Central Africa Republic). We all know the turnout in their elections or the results. Yes, they speak volume.

What is strange enough is to belittle the whole African continent up to this unthinkable extent that “Rwanda’s democracy is still the model for Africa”! In general, the essential process that characterizes representative democracies is the ability to hold competitive elections that are free and fair both substantively and procedurally. Unfortunately, this value was crucially lacking during the 2010 Rwandan election. The whole world questioned a series of disturbing events that characterized the period leading up to the election. These include the assassination of a key opposition leader, the murder of a journalist, the suspension of two independent newspapers, the expulsion of a human rights researcher, the barring of three real opposition parties from taking part in the election, and the arrest of journalists and political opponents.

One may boast for massive attendance at campaign rallies, huge turnouts, Rwanda’s economic success, and country’s apparent stability, but the reality on the ground is that Paul Kagame is a more ambiguous figure. How does it feel to enjoy such a Stalinist popularity and keep the opposition leaders in jail?

Whatever today’s level of Rwanda’s economic recovery, reconciliation and stability, it would be hard to sustain them in coming years with current political environment.
If Paul Kagame really cares about a better future for all Rwandans, he should without delay release all political prisoners, restore censured independent newspapers, register all political parties and allow without any further delay a free and fair competition. Otherwise his so much acclaimed landslide victory will keep Rwanda on the brink of chaos.

The author, Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, is chair of political party FDU-Inkingi.

August 26, 2010   4 Comments

“Push Kagame Harder”, Activists Tell Obama

Washington – A nation-wide coalition of US activists is calling on President Barack Obama to go beyond recent White House criticism and intensify pressure on the government of newly re-elected Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

On Friday, August 13, a White House spokesperson, the National Security Council’s Mike Hammer, expressed the Obama Administration’s unhappiness about events in Rwanda. Hammer focused his ire on the repressive circumstances and the less-than-credible results of Rwanda’s presidential elections on August 9.

The NSC statement made clear the White House view that today’s Rwanda is not a democracy and then went further to dismiss the “development first, democracy later” argument often used to excuse Mr. Kagame’s iron-fisted rule. “Rwanda’s stability and growing prosperity, however, will be difficult to sustain in the absence of broad political debate and open political participation,” Hammer said.

While welcoming Friday’s NSC statement, the advocacy coalition is demanding much tougher action against the Kagame government.
Several members specified the tougher policies they want to see in Obama’s policy toward Rwanda.

Claude Gatebuke, a Rwandan genocide survivor and a leader in the coalition, linked American aid to improved democratization in Rwanda. He said the group wants President Obama to immediately terminate all military assistance and cooperation and also to freeze the $240 million that the US is scheduled to soon give Mr. Kagame.
American aid to Rwanda must be nonmilitary. And that nonmilitary American taxpayer money should be unfrozen if, and only if, Mr. Kagame meets two conditions,” Gatebuke said.
He outlined the first condition as “immediately widening Rwanda’s democratic space which includes: completely freeing all political opponents, critics and the media; scrapping repressive laws; and engaging in good-faith discussions with all stakeholders about the way forward in Rwanda.”

Rwanda’s behavior inside the Congo emerged as the coalition’s second condition. Kambale Musavuli, spokesperson for Friends of the Congo, outlined that condition, “In addition to allowing democracy inside Rwanda, General Kagame must be held accountable for his destabilization and looting of the Congo. President Obama must implement the bill he passed as Senator into law, PL 109-456 The Democratic Republic of Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act. That law clearly requires the US government to withhold aid to neighboring countries that destabilize the Congo.

Jacques Bahati of Africa Faith and Justice Network questions Washington’s cozy relations with President Kagame, “It is both mind-boggling and inexplicable how much The Congress and The Obama Administration have coddled the dictatorship in Kigali. Real American interests in Africa are hurt by this embarrassing relationship.”
Experts in Washington say past actions by the coalition on behalf of the Rwandan people have seen results. They point to two taken earlier this year.

On April 30, group members organized demonstrations against President Kagame during his Oklahoma Christian University visit. Some reports claimed that the president was forced to use a side entrance.
And three weeks ago, on August 3, the activists organized a packed press briefing at the prestigious National Press Club, a mere stone’s throw from the White House. Unconvinced after hearing out Rwandan Ambassador James Kimonyo, the activists called on President Obama to denounce the August 9 Rwanda elections as sham.

The experts say that the NSC statement is therefore a shot in the arm for the Rwandan people and their struggle for democracy.
Observers also find it significant that both President Obama personally and the NSC statement have pointedly failed to congratulate Mr. Kagame on his electoral victory–something done routinely when Washington is pleased with an ally.

Still some coalition members remain skeptical. They question if the NSC criticism means President Obama is finally moving to add substance to his 2009 Ghana speech when he pledged to support strong institutions in Africa, not strongmen.
Maurice Carney, Executive Director of Friends of the Congo is among the unconvinced. He notes “There is no better litmus test for President Obama keeping his word than how he responds to the quintessential strongman of Central Africa, Paul Kagame. Will the president continue the carte blanche support for Paul Kagame despite his own 2009 rhetoric in Ghana? Or will Mr. Obama engineer a bold shift, from a half century of US support for strongmen, dictators and despots, to assisting and encouraging non-violent, pro-democratic forces and strong institutions?

? Kitty Kurth, Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation 312-617-7288
? Friends of the Congo 202-584-6512
? Africa Faith and Justice Network 202-884-9780
Email: [email protected]

August 26, 2010   1 Comment

Plot to kill Rwandan general Kayumba Nyamwasa in hospital uncovered

by Khethiwe Chelemu, Times Live.

Fugitive Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa, accused of crimes against humanity

Gen. Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa – shot in Johannesburg in June 2010.

When former Rwandan Army chief Faustin Nyamwasa survived an assassination attempt, a plan was hatched to finish him off as he lay in critical condition at Sandton’s Morningside Hospital, a Johannesburg court heard on Wednesday as the suspects appeared.

Wealthy Rwandan businessman Pascal Kanyandekwe, 29, is alleged to be the mastermind of the hospital plot which was to take place in the next days after the shooting, according to details from the brief court appearance.

The hospital plot failed. Police found out about it and arrested the gunmen on their way there.

Kanyandekwe, who owns an aviation company in his country and is allegedly on the Rwandan government’s payroll, appeared briefly at the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court yesterday.

Nyamwasa was shot in the stomach in the drive of his Athol Mews home when he returned from a shopping trip with his wife, Rosette, in June. The driver was stopped by a man on foot, who asked him to open his window and fired on Nyamwasa. His wife has blamed Rwandan President Paul Kagame for the attack.

Nyamwasa, an outspoken critic of Kagame, fled from Kigali with his family in February. Since then, they have not had any peace.

Kanyandekwe allegedly paid Nyamwasa’s driver, Somalian Ahmed Ali, 26, for information on their target. Judgment on Ali’s bail application will be handed down on September 2.

The two men, the latest to be arrested, appeared with three co-accused. They are yet to plead to charges of attempted murder, incitement to commit murder, and possession of stolen property.

The case against the five men was postponed to September 8.

[Times Live]

August 26, 2010   No Comments

Tensions emerge between Rwanda and Western backers

By Linda Slattery and Ann Talbot.

Tensions began to emerge between President Paul Kagame and his Western backers in the course of the recent elections. Media reports criticised the exclusion of opposition parties from the poll and physical attacks on Kagame’s opponents.

Kagame has received extraordinarily high levels of aid from the West since he came to power in 1994 and has previously been virtually immune from criticism in the press. The shift in attitude can best be traced to the welcome that Kagame has extended to China’s growing investment in Africa. A warning is being delivered to Kagame’s regime that the tolerance he has enjoyed to date will not continue if he aligns himself with interests hostile to those of the United States and other Western powers.

Writing in the Financial Times on August 19, Kagame acknowledged the changing attitude that emerged in the course of the election and defended his brand of politics, claiming that it was essential if Rwanda was to be stable:

“Some in the media and the international community seem uninterested in fact-checking, and simply invented stories that play to damaging historic prejudices. It is a shame that some so casually disregard the views of the majority of Rwandans and prefer to elevate the dangerous opinions of fly-by-night individuals, which in turn threaten to reverse our hard-earned stability”.

Rwanda has become the gateway through which the strategic mineral resources of the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo reach the international market. A United Nations Panel of Experts found that Rwanda was responsible for the illegal trafficking of gold, coltan and cassiterite from areas of the DRC controlled by Rwandan-backed militias. All these minerals are vital for mobile phones and other modern electronic devices.

In the year 2000 alone, the Rwandan army is thought to have made $250 million out of this trade. Despite the evidence that the civilian population of the Congo has been abused, the US has made no criticism of Rwanda’s role in the DRC. The Congo Conflict Minerals Act passed by Congress in 2009 with the ostensible aim of putting an end to the looting makes no mention of Rwanda.

Following Kagame’s re-election, however, the National Security Council (NSC) failed to congratulate him on his victory and issued a press statement expressing concern about “disturbing events” that had preceded the election. “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”, it declared.

Democracy is about more than holding elections”, said Mike Hammer, spokesman for the NSC. “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”.

Kagame’s response came in the Financial Times. He rejected the US criticism of his election and insisted that he was pursuing a form of government suited to Rwandan cultural traditions.

For decades, one-size-fits-all development and democratic prescriptions have been imposed on Africa, with unsatisfactory, sometimes tragic, results”, he wrote. “Yet to break from the cycle of underdevelopment we must seek innovative, home-grown solutions. Rwanda is one of the countries that have chosen to apply unconventional mechanisms to solve daunting challenges. And it is working”.

Hinting at Rwanda’s importance for the export of minerals, Kagame said that those who accepted his methods would reap the economic benefits. He knows that he has the support of the major mining companies and can look to China as an alternative source of aid. In January 2009 Kagame signed a new trade deal with China, and a new Chinese embassy was opened in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

Speaking to the German business paper Handelsblatt, Kagame praised the role of China in bringing investment in infrastructure to Africa. He recognised the potential for playing off one potential investor or donor against another. “There are new players, developing countries like China, India, Brazil and Russia”, he said. “That opens new possibilities for new relationships. Suddenly, the Americans and Europeans discover that they don’t want to be left out”.

At the China-Africa summit Kagame pointed out that trade between Rwanda and China had quadrupled over the previous four years.

Kagame has been sharply critical of the new US Dodd-Frank Wall Street and Consumer Protection Act, which contains a clause obliging companies to demonstrate that their minerals have not come from the DRC. Major electronics companies such as IBM, Motorola, Hewlett Packard, Intel and Apple will be hit by this provision. Kagame may hope to bypass this legislation by turning to the Asian market and Asian electronic companies.

Kagame supposedly won 93 percent of the votes in the election on August 9. International observers reported no overt sign of violence or voter intimidation, but all the opposition candidates were former allies of Kagame. Three potential candidates were barred from standing. Leading oppositionist Andre Kagwa Rwisereka of the Democratic Green Party was found dead shortly before the election. The party is linked to Lt. Gen. Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, who is in intensive care in South Africa after being shot. Nyamwasa fled to South Africa earlier this year after accusing Kagame of using an anti-corruption campaign to frame his political opponents.

Reporters have been subject to intimidation. Jean Leonard Rugambage was gunned down in Kigali after his paper Umuvugizi was closed by the government. Its editor Jean Bosco Gasasira had already fled to Uganda.

In June, American lawyer Peter Erlinder, who is representing defendants at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on trial for their alleged part in the genocide, was arrested. He was accused of denying the 1994 genocide on the basis of remarks he made at the tribunal, although the defence lawyers are supposed to be protected by diplomatic immunity. Other lawyers at the ICTR responded to Erlinder’s arrest by asking for postponements until their safety could be guaranteed.

These are the “disturbing events” that have caused concern in Washington. But they are hardly new.

In 1995 the journalist Manesse Mugabo disappeared in Kigali, followed in 1996 by the first post-genocide Minister of the Interior Seth Sendashonga and businessman Augustin Bugirimfura, who was shot dead in Nairobi. In 1998 journalist Emmanuel Munyemanzi disappeared from Kigali, and Theoneste Lizinde, MP and government intelligence chief before the genocide, was assassinated in Nairobi. In the year 2000, first post-genocide President Pasteur Bizimungu’s adviser, Asiel Kabera, was shot dead in Kigali. In 2003 top judge Augustin Cyiza and magistrate Eliezar Runyaruka disappeared from Kigali, as did opposition MP Leonard Hitimana.

The US has been prepared to turn a blind eye to Kagame’s record of repression until now because it has been useful to American interests. The Financial Times Africa editor William Wallis acknowledged the impact that the presence of China has had on Western influence in Rwanda. But he also blamed the West for the lack of democracy in Rwanda.

“With one hand the US”, Wallis wrote, “the [European Union] and other donors encourage and finance elections. With the other, they routinely accept the outcome regardless of how dubious the manner in which it is achieved”.

The process of formally democratic elections merely added a semblance of legitimacy to “a contemporary form of one-party rule, in which incumbents use patronage, oppression and control of electoral machinery to maintain power”.

Rwanda will receive an estimated $208 million in aid from the US this year. This includes the cost of military aid—the Rwanda army is US trained. Britain contributes £46 million, or $73 million, in humanitarian aid. Unusually for a country that does not have a history as a British colony, Rwanda joined the British Commonwealth this year. Membership will allow Rwanda to play a more prominent role in East Africa, where most of the large states are former British colonies and give its political and business elite access to the English-language education that is vital for the global market.

Kagame has been advised by ex-President Bill Clinton, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and has developed close relations with Bill Gates. UN chief Ban Ki-Moon even appointed Kagame to co-chair a committee of “superheroes to defeat poverty” to help push for progress in achieving the UN’s Millennium Development goals. Activists from the British Conservative Party regularly visit Rwanda to take part in aid projects. The country has been held up as a role model for other African countries to follow.

Despite the massive influx of aid into Rwanda, more than half of its 9.7 million population live on about 43 cents a day. Malnutrition is endemic. Almost half its children are malnourished, according to the World Food Programme. Rwanda is one of the poorest countries in the world and ranks 167 out of 182 countries on the UN Human Development Index.


August 26, 2010   5 Comments