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US groups urge Obama to reject a Kagame win

By Kevin J. Kelley
(August 9, 2010).

The United States’ alignment with Rwanda contradicts President Obama’s assertion last year in Ghana that “Africa doesn’t need strongmen; it needs strong institutions.”

Africa advocates in the United States have joined Rwandans critical of President Paul Kagame in calling on President Obama to reject the results of what they say will be a “sham election” on August 9.

The scheduled vote will be neither free nor fair, said Claude Gatebuke, a US-based Rwandan activist taking part in a press conference in Washington last week.

Mr Gatebuke cited the recent killings of an opposition leader and an independent journalist as well as the arrests of several of Kagame’s critics and the suspension of news media not aligned with the government.

American attorney Peter Erlinder, who was held for three weeks in Rwanda in connection with his defence of an opposition politician, charged that President Kagame presides over a “police state” supported by the United States.

Through its aid to Rwanda’s military, the Obama administration is indirectly “financing the invasion and resource extraction by Uganda and Rwanda” in eastern Congo, Mr Erlinder said.

“I’m very sorry my country is responsible for much of the violence and deaths in Central Africa,” Mr Erlinder added.

Rwandan and Ugandan forces entered parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo several years ago in pursuit of Rwandan rebel forces based there.

The two countries have been accused by the United Nations of using their military occupation to pillage the DRC’s mineral riches.

It is estimated that some 5 million people have died in the eastern DRC as a result of the fighting and chaos there.

In a dramatic intervention at the Washington news conference, Rwanda’s ambassador to the United States James Kimonyo dismissed the critics’ depiction of Mr Kagame’s government, accusing them of taking part in a “conspiracy” in support of Rwandan rebels operating in the DRC.

Mr Kimonyo was permitted by conference organisers to take the podium to defend the policies implemented by Rwanda since President Kagame seized power following the 1994 genocide.

Transparency International recently ranked Rwanda as the least corrupt country in East Africa, Mr Kimonyo noted.

He also cited the World Bank’s description of Rwanda as a top economic reformer.

The country has already achieved some of the United Nations’ poverty-reduction goals for 2015, the envoy added.

He accused a Kagame critic who was not present at the news conference of transferring money to a rebel group in eastern Congo that includes remnants of the Hutu forces that took part in the genocide.

In response to the envoy’s remarks, Mr Erlinder acknowledged that Rwanda had made gains in some areas.

But that is mainly because “many in Rwanda are so fearful of change in government as to make the prospect seem beyond consideration,” Mr Erlinder said.

President Kagame is expected to be re-elected on August 9 by a wide margin.

Human Rights Watch has recounted instances of “intimidation” against opposition groups in recent months.

Johnnie Carson, the Obama administration’s top Africa official, has also expressed concern about the Rwandan government’s moves to “restrict freedom of expression.”

But the United States remains a close ally of Rwanda, having provided it with a total of about $1 billion in aid over the past decade.

Washington is also closely linked to Kigali through the US Africa Command.

“The Rwandan government is to be complimented on its commitment to peacekeeping efforts, not only in Darfur but in other parts of Africa,” Mr Carson told a committee of the US Congress in May. “They have a very skilled and professional army. And their soldiers have turned out to be very able peacekeepers.”

Other members of the coalition sponsoring last week’s press conference said the United States’ alignment with Rwanda contradicts President Obama’s assertion last year in Ghana that “Africa doesn’t need strongmen; it needs strong institutions.”

[The East African]

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