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Oxford University’s business school faces protests over visit from Rwanda president Paul Kagame

President Paul Kagame

President Paul Kagame

Oxford University’s prestigious business school has been dragged into a row over plans to present the president of Rwanda with a student award for his country’s economic development despite continuing controversy over his regime’s human rights record.

Paul Kagame, the one-time poster boy of development whose reputation has been dulled by accusations of authoritarianism and fomenting conflict in Congo, will be greeted by protesters when he attends the Said Business School tomorrow to give a keynote conference speech.

A coalition of campaigners, including Congolese refugees and a prominent Oxford academic, are backing calls for the university to cancel the invitation, saying it amounts to a vote of confidence in Mr Kagame at a time when he is under pressure over human rights violations.

The clash is the latest controversy to surround the Rwandan leader, who last year saw Britain suspend £16m of direct budgetary support to his government over “credible” reports that it was supporting the M23 rebel group responsible for atrocities in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

The continuing dispute has done little to dent enthusiasm in financial and political circles for Rwanda’s continued economic growth, which will reach eight per cent this year. The country’s first ever sale of Eurobonds this month, securing $400m in funding for infrastructure and investment projects, was over-subscribed.

In a sign of thawing relations with Britain, which remains Rwanda’s largest single aid donor, the country’s foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, met the foreign secretary William Hague on Thursday as part of the visit to London by a sizable Rwandan delegation.

But critics said the decision by the Oxford Business Network for Africa, a student organisation within the business school, to make Mr Kagame the first recipient of its Distinction of Honour for African Growth risked tainting the university.

A petition calling on the student group and the business school to cancel the award had yesterday reached nearly 5,500 signatures. A counter-petition, applauding the award, had collected 2,300 signatures.

In a letter to the dean of the school, Professor Barbara Harrell-Bond, the founding director of the university’s respected Refugee Studies Centre, said: “Bestowing any honour upon Mr Kagame at a time when he and his government are becoming increasingly isolated in the face of mounting evidence of their gross human rights violations represents a serious error of judgment.

“It positions the conference organizers and the University of Oxford against international efforts to pressure Mr Kagame to end his abuses and play a more constructive role in the achievement of African peace and development.”

A spokesman for a coalition of Congolese and Rwandan opposition groups, including Liberation, a Congolese women’s rights group, added: “It would be a disgrace for any university of Oxford’s calibre to ignore all the information in the public domain about Kagame’s crimes both on his people and abroad, and roll out a red carpet for him.”

The business school, ranked in the top ten outside the United States, underlined that the award was the decision of the student group but said it was allowing today’s event to go ahead because of its commitment to freedom of speech.

In a statement, the school said: “We prize open discussion and … we have not sought to prevent the students from extending this invitation. President Kagame’s presence in the Saïd Business School does not imply any endorsement by the school or the university of his views or actions. We are aware that President Kagame is considered by some to be a controversial figure.”

The student group defended its award, saying it was “in recognition of [Mr Kagame’s] work in opening and developing Rwanda’s economy” and there would be an opportunity for those critical of his government to raise questions.

The Rwandan High Commission in London did not respond to requests from The Independent to comment on the criticisms of Mr Kagame, who will also attend a Rwanda Day celebration for hundreds of members of the Rwandan diaspora while in London.

Rwanda has strongly denied any involvement in M23 and condemned a United Nations report chronicling links between the group and senior members of the Rwandan military. Critics have also accused Mr Kagame of trampling on media and political freedoms, maintaining a hostile environment for opposition politicians.

The Independent revealed that Scotland Yard also served notices on two UK-based dissidents in 2011 warning them of “reliable intelligence” that their lives were under threat from assassins sent by the Rwandan authorities.

Britain earlier this year reinstated aid to Rwanda after halting direct budgetary support to the country last November because of the activities of M23. The £16m will be distributed in the form of direct payments to impoverished Rwandans and textbooks for schoolchildren.

The Independent understands there are no immediate plans to reinstate direct aid payments to the Rwandan government.

Source: The Independent

May 19, 2013   No Comments

The new Rwandan law on political parties is meant to permanently seal off the political space

By Dr. Emmanuel Mwiseneza, FDU-Inkingi Commissioner for Information and Communication

Rwandan parliament building

Rwandan parliament building

In anticipation of legislative elections in August-September 2013, the Kigali regime has changed the law on political parties so that it may permanently seal off the political space.

It was believed that in Rwanda, institutions and draconian laws had reached the bottom and that it was unimaginable that the Rwandan regime could still seal off the political space. Well, no, the Rwandan dictatorship knows no bottom. Indeed, a new institution, the Rwanda Governance Board, created in 2011, and the new law on political parties recently adopted by the Senate Chamber, will be responsible for continuing to push the system into an abysmal hole.

With regard to the registration and the recognition of political parties, the responsibilities have been transferred to a nebula called Rwanda Governance Board mentioned above whose independence is highly questionable and dubious given the fact that its creation and performance contract depend on the discretion of the Government.

While under the previous law, political parties used to only announce their participation in the elections, under the new law which is meant to keep out political parties of the opposition, political parties are required to apply for the authorization to participate in the elections and hold public meetings. It just boggles the mind.

The prohibitions against political parties (Articles 20 to 39) are based on criteria that are vague and unclear such as: divisive acts, information that can incite division, acts that lend a hand to the enemy, telling the truth during the election campaign, avoiding false litigation, tarnishing the image of Rwanda, statements that may cause any kind of discrimination and division, acts that may cause war, having a genocidal ideology, and so on. This means that for anything a political party may be unfairly penalized, suspended or simply prohibited.

Even though the requirements for registration set forth in Articles 9, 10 and 11 can be met, any political party may arbitrarily be denied registration without possibility to appeal against the decision of the Rwanda Governance Board. To make it even worse, this institution is not required to justify its decision.

It is also important to point out a large propensity of the judiciary to interfere in matters relating to the internal management of political parties.

Finally, even though we appreciate the voluntary participation in the forum of political parties, the recognition of political parties of the opposition is not yet acquired.

He who still doubted the willingness of the current regime in Rwanda to monopolize alone the public life and to occupy all of the political space together with its satellite parties, should he keep his eyes opened, here is the evidence.

In conclusion, the political party FDU-Inkingi condemns this wicked law which was adopted without consultation with the sole purpose to prevent political parties of the opposition from registration and competition for the suffrage of citizens.

Having already been denied the authorization to hold its founding congress for its registration as a legally constituted political party, with a law on political parties in the context of an obvious democratic backsliding and a new institution, the Rwanda Governance Board, that is under the total control of the Rwandan regime, the political party FDU-Inkingi is watching the closure of the final curtain of the democratic pluralism in Rwanda. With all legal means, the political party FDU-Inkingi will continue to request the opening of political space inRwanda. It therefore calls upon all Rwandans to remain mobilized to reclaim their basic rights.

Done in Paris, on May 13, 2013

Source: FDU-Inkingi

May 19, 2013   1 Comment