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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.


1 Bizimungu { 08.27.10 at 1:38 am }

Naba nawe sha yabashije guha umutekano abanyarwanda, harya wari mu Burayi mama, ubwo abanyarwanda bahotorwaga bunyamaswa, igihugu gicura imiborogo. None ndabona usenya ibyo yakoze, abanyarwanda turabizi twe ntitwabyibagirwa. None se wowe icyo wakoreye u Rwanda harya twakwibukiraho ni iki? Tuzi ibyo muba murimo ko ari ugusebanya gusa, ibyo ariko nta cyo bizabagezaho, abanyarwanda ni twe tuzi uko tubayeho, ayo magambo mujye muyabeshya abandi!

2 Timothy { 08.27.10 at 2:49 pm }

Bwana Bizimungu:
Ndabona warafashe amasomo neza ya shobuja Kagame. Ikintu atekereza cyose icyitirira abanyarwanda. Nawe uti nangwa nawe yabashije guha umutekano abanyarwanda. Kuki utavuga ko yaguhaye umutekano wowe mufatanyije guhonyora abatavuga rumwe n’ubutegetsi bwanyu ahubwo ukihutira kuvugira n’abandi banyarwanda ibyo batagutumye. Waruzi se ahubwo ko igihe kigeze cyo kwitaba urukiko mpuzamahanga kuli jenoside namwe mwakoreye abahutu bo mu Rwanda no muli Congo? Raport ya ONU yaje ali simusiga.

3 Charles { 09.02.10 at 3:16 pm }

Paul kagame nuwambere peee! Mwebwe muba muhagira kubanyarwanda leave us .

4 john { 11.19.10 at 9:07 am }

When will this lady ever understand. We are all tired of all that nonsense that democracy solves all the problems. Its a great luxury to have when one can afford it, but can be detrimental when enforced to a nation that has a complex and/or tragic past. I must say that am impressed with her ability to quote philosophical statement, but fails miserably or maybe forgets what one of the greatest contemporary ethics and fairness philosophers, John Bentham warned about democracy, ‘THE WRATH OF THE MAJORITY’. Least to say, that was one of the primary factors that genocide.
This leaves me to wonder is she an opportunist, attempting to capitalize on her ethnical background? Or rather a blinded idealogue who is out of touch with reality? I personally do not know the answer, but according to facts, this is the lady who stood beside the grave of Dominique Mbonyumutwa, who could be percieved as post independence fanners of the genocide

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