Thursday, October 14, 2010

Whose Genocide?

Since I posted last, I have received several not-so-friendly reactions about how my understanding and explanation of Rwandan history is "flawed", "self-interested" or "a crime against the humanity of survivors". Such statements are made anonymously, which weakens their impact. I mean, at least identify yourself so we can have a proper dialogue and debate! I would love to be wrong about the worrying trends I see on the ground in Rwanda. If I am correct, then people will die and this is the last thing I want....

At the same time, I have received many words of thanks and encouragement. For, "those of us that were there know what we saw". Because this is not a "Hutu" or a "Tutsi" issue, but rather one of individuals trying to have their experiences of genocide recognised so that they too can talk about them openly and without fear of repercussion, I am providing this excerpt from my own research on what I think happened during the genocide. For those of you that wrote to say I am a denier, I am not. I do not buy into recent debates that the RPF organised the genocide. I could be considered a revisionist as my account does differ from the official and accepted version of what the RPF says happened.

"Between April and July 1994, genocide engulfed Rwanda. Across the hills and in the valleys, in churches and homes, on narrow footpaths and in banana groves, in stadiums and schools, killers slaughtered at least 500,000 people, mainly ethnic Tutsi (Des Forges, 1999: 15). The genocide was carefully planned by a small élite group of powerful ethnic Hutu extremists who refused to share power under the conditions of the Arusha Accord. Through an orchestrated strategy to liquidate Tutsi and any politically moderate Hutu perceived as opposed to the Habyarimana regime, the extremists had one goal in mind: to maintain their monopoly on state power.

Unknown assailants shot down he plane carrying the Rwandan president as it approached Kigali airport; soon after the killing started in the capital during the night of 6-7 April 1994. Militias – the Interahamwe and the Impuzamugambi – led the killing with the help of the Presidential Guard, the army, and local government officials (African Rights, 1994; Des Forges, 1999; Prunier, 1995). Outside Kigali, ordinary Hutu men committed acts of genocide, often under the direction of militia or government soldiers, under the threat of loss of their own life or that of their loved ones if unwilling to participate (Straus, 2006: 122-152). Genocidal violence occurred at different times in different regions of the country (André and Platteau, 1998; Des Forges, 1999: 303-591; Guichaoua, 2005, 258-290; Straus, 2006: 53-60). In some instances, local political and business élites colluded to enlist ordinary Rwandans to genocide (Longman, 1995; Wagner, 1998). Social ties and local power dynamics often compelled ordinary Hutu to kill; others resisted participation. Some stood by while a few rescued, instead of killing intended victims (Fujii, 2008; Straus, 2006: 65-94). Not all Hutu participated, and not all participated to the same degree. Some killed enthusiastically; others killed a few (Prunier, 1995: 242-250). Some Tutsi men joined in the killing as a means to save themselves and their families (fieldnotes, 2006).

The RPF also committed widespread reprisal killings – between 10,000 and 50,000 Hutu died – while countless others of all ethnicities died as the RPF gave greater priority to military victory than to protecting Tutsi civilians (Des Forges, 1999: 16). An estimated 10,000 ethnic Twa were killed during the genocide (IRIN, 6 June 2001). At least 250,000 women – mostly Tutsi but some Hutu – were raped (HRW, 2004: 7). Some men also admit to being raped (fieldnotes, 2006). Countless others, men and women, young and old, healthy and infirm, were tortured or maimed.

The 1994 genocide is much more than a series of facts and figures about who killed, who died and who survived. Irrespective of ethnic category, ordinary Rwandans were caught up in the maelstrom. There are countless stories of survival, of friends and family who took extraordinary risks to protect Tutsi (African Rights, 2003f, 2003h; Rusesabagina, 2006; Umutesi, 2004). There are stories of Tutsi who put their own lives on the line to protect Hutu family and friends from the coercion and intimidation tactics that the killing squads used to goad ordinary Hutu into killing (African Rights, 2003b, 2003c; fieldnotes, 2006). Notorious killers protected Tutsi they knew personally, ushering them safely through roadblocks, warning them of the whereabouts of marauding groups, and even hiding them at their homes. Some individuals killed during the day, only to shelter Tutsi friends and relatives at night (fieldnotes, 2006). Many Tutsi survived because of the aid and succour of a Hutu family member, friend, colleague, neighbour, or stranger (Jefremovas, 1995). There are stories about Twa and Hutu who were killed in the genocide because of their “typical Tutsi features” (fieldnotes, 2006).

Instrumentalising the Genocide
Despite the complexity of the genocide, the RPF-led government presents it as a clear-cut affair: Hutu killed Tutsi because of ethnic divisions that were introduced during the colonial period (1890-1962) and hardened to the point of individual action during the postcolonial period (1962-1994). Ethnicity is a fiction created by colonial divide-and-rule policies. Ultimate blame for the 1994 genocide therefore lies with Rwanda’s colonial powers, who instituted policies that made the Hutu population hate Tutsi. Divisive politics grounded in decades of bad governance resulted in deep-rooted ethnic hatred of all Tutsi by all Hutu, causing the 1994 genocide (NURC, 2004a; Office of the President, 1999a). This simplistic interpretation of events forms the backbone of the programme of national unity and reconciliation, which is grounded in the need “to eradicate the devastating consequences of the policies of [ethnic] discrimination and exclusion” so that “the scourge of genocide never again happens in Rwanda” (NURC, 2004a: 19-20).

Straus (2006) identifies different motivations for different forms of killing in interviews with génocidaires. He writes, “motivation and participation were clearly heterogeneous” with different forms of killing with different motivations occurring simultaneously (Straus, 2006: 95). The forms of killing were: 1) killing, torture, rape, and mutilation perpetrated against civilians – mainly Tutsi but also politically moderate Hutu – by militias, Forces armées rwandaises (FAR) soldiers and willing ordinary people; 2) killing, torture, rape, and mutilation perpetrated against Tutsi by ordinary Hutu, typically under duress from local leaders; 3) intended killing of soldiers and collateral killing of civilians (Tutsi, Hutu and Twa) in the course of the conflict between the RPF and the FAR; 4) killings carried out by the RPF against civilians (Tutsi, Hutu and Twa); and 5) murder motivated by theft and looting as well as the settling of scores between ordinary people (Straus, 2006: 113-118; 135-140; 163-169). Ordinary Rwandans understand that all of these different types of killings took place during the genocide and they use the phrases “les événements de 1994” (the events of 1994) and “en 1994” (in 1994) to describe “everything that happened in 1994, not just the genocide” (fieldnotes, 2006).

Straus’s findings on individual motivations to kill are particularly instructive as they reveal the intentional simplification of the government in grounding its approach to post-genocide justice in the presumed ethnic hatred of all Hutu for all Tutsi. His research shows that “preexisting ethnic animosity, widespread prejudice, deeply held ideological beliefs, blind obedience, deprivation, or even greed” did not motivate individual Hutu to kill individual Tutsi (Straus, 2006: 96). Instead, Straus finds that “Rwandans’ motivations [for killing] were considerably more ordinary and routine than the extraordinary crimes they helped commit” (Straus, 2006: 96. See also, Fujii, 2008; Hatzfeld, 2005b; Longman 1995; Wagner 1998). Among ordinary Hutu, participation was driven by intra-ethnic pressure from others, usually more socially powerful Hutu, security fears in the context of civil war and genocide as well as opportunity for looting and score settling. Straus concludes that these factors “were salient in a context of national state orders to attack Tutsis [sic], war, dense local institutions, and close-knit settlements” (Straus, 2006: 97). The available evidence simply does not support Rwandan government claims that ethnic enmity drove the participation of ordinary Rwandans in the 1994 genocide. Officially, this ethnic enmity is called “genocide ideology”; much of the work of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission is concerned with identifying and eliminating the genocidal thoughts of ordinary Hutu to prepare them to engage in state-led reconciliation activities. In practice, as will be further analysed in the next chapter, accusing an individual of harbouring “genocide ideology” is a tool used against any individual or group that steps outside the accepted boundaries of government policy. Approaching post-genocide justice on the presumption of a criminal (adult male Hutu) population is a useful mechanism that the RPF strategically deploys to control political opponents, deflect criticism of its actions during the genocide and justify its continued military presence in Eastern Congo (Jordaan, 2007; Usborne and Penketh, 2008).

The programme of national unity and reconciliation legitimates the moral right of the RPF to rule post-genocide Rwanda. The programme is supported by a historical narrative about Rwanda’s past in an effort to shape the collective memory of the genocide, a narrative which eliminates the real social and economic inequality faced by most ordinary Rwandans under colonial and post-colonial rule. In particular, it reformulates the violence against Tutsi in 1959, 1962 and 1973 and during the 1994 genocide as strictly ethnic in origin, thereby ignoring important class and regional dimensions of those conflicts. Instead, the programme of national unity and reconciliation reframes certain aspects of the genocide, while completely misrepresenting other elements, notably in its premise that the violence was the result of “seething ethnic hatred” of Tutsi rather than fear or opportunity (interview with senior RPF official, 2006). For example, the narrative of national unity and reconciliation ignores the fact that the labels Hutu, Tutsi and Twa represented status differences in pre-colonial Rwanda and overlooks the ways in which these labels became politically significant during the colonial period. In addition, it overlooks the ways in which Tutsi élites participated in and benefited from colonial rule. The narrative of national unity and reconciliation also depicts the events of 1959 as a “practice genocide” when in fact it was a social revolution of Hutu against the Tutsi élites (Kinzer, 2008: 11).

The programme of national unity and reconciliation uses this re-interpretation of history as a tool to shape the collective memory of how the genocide happened and the role of the RPF in stopping it while limiting the boundaries of acceptable public speech on the causes and consequences of the 1994 genocide. Notably, it is taboo to discuss the atrocities committed by the RPF during the genocide or speak of the partial responsibility of the RPF in creating the necessary conditions of fear and insecurity that in part caused the 1994 genocide. Instead, the RPF portrays its invasion as a necessary but principled battle on behalf of all Rwandans against the excesses of the Habyarimana regime. Rather than engage in frank discussion on what happened during the genocide, the RPF opts instead for a discourse which purports to restore Rwanda to the “peaceful harmony of pre-colonial days” (NURC, 2004a: 21), through re-education camps (ingando) about “what it means to be a Rwandan and how we used to live before the seeds of division were thrown down by the Belgians” (Office of the President, 1999a: 76). This interpretation allows the RPF to paint Tutsi as innocent victims who passively waited for the ethnic enmity of Hutu to be enacted, which in turn allows it to capitalise on its ability to liberate Rwanda from an oppressive and genocidal political leadership. This interpretation of the genocide legitimates the repressive approach of the post-genocide government in three ways: First, it invokes the heroic status of the RPF in liberating Rwandans from “oppressive rulers” (NURC, 2004a: 9). Second, it provides the RPF with a virtual carte blanche with which it can reconstruct Rwanda and “reconcile” Rwandans according to its own “vision of how things should be done” (MINECOFIN, 2000: 12); and third, it allows the RPF to continue to elide the specificity of their role in the genocide, while evoking the genocide guilt card with international audiences.

Finally, the programme of national unity and reconciliation does not acknowledge the lived experiences of most Rwandans: Tutsi and Twa perpetrators, Hutu and Twa rescuers; Tutsi, Hutu and Twa resisters; as well as Hutu and Twa survivors. The words of a Hutu woman widowed during the genocide sum up the situation well:

'For me, the genocide is what happened after the killing stopped. I lost my husband and four of my children during the events. Now I suffer without hopes and dreams. My brother is in prison, and I have no one to take care of or to take care of me. I feel alone even when I am with other people. And then the government forces us to tell the truth about what we saw. I saw a lot of bodies but never did I see someone getting killed. I heard people dying but I did not see anything. How can I tell my truth when the government has told me what I have to say? I fear being sent to prison and I think now that my neighbours do not like that I live in [the same community as before the genocide]. Where can I go, what can I do? The government says Rwanda has been rebuilt but my life and home are still not repaired…. (interview with Scholastique, a 54-year-old umutindi Hutu woman, 2006)'.

In presenting a particular set of facts about the genocide, the RPF is wiping away the specificity of individual acts of genocide, the death after death after death that are the aggregated whole. Such an approach ignores how ordinary Rwandans were enticed or coerced to participate. Each act of violence – a killing, a rape, a threat, a looting – is different and took place within a specific set of circumstances as individuals made their choice to kill, hide, resist, or stand by. This is not to downplay the magnitude of the genocide, but is to point out that in assigning collective responsibility to all Hutu, many of whom did not commit acts of genocide, the programme of national unity and reconciliation does more than simply misinterpret the nature of the genocide. It is likely to recreate, given Rwanda’s history of ethnic conflict, the same conditions of ethnic inequality and political repression that it claims to undo.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rwanda's Response to the UN Mapping Report on the DRC

Yesterday, I received a copy of the Rwandan governments response to the Draft UN Mapping Report on the DRC. It is divided into five sections, all of which warrant reaction. I'll just make a few points as the Report is best read as a statement of the extent to which the RPF is losing international legitimacy.

Before going into some of the substance, I want to point out one consistent reaction from members of the Rwandan government. They do not deny that there its army killed civilians in the DRC, only that these killings do not constitute genocide. Indeed, the government's ineptitude at handling its response is uncharacteristic of its usual deft skill in "managing" bad press. It may be that so much negative yet accurate press has emerged in international sources the last year as the RPF cracks down on political opponents (both with its own party and outside challengers) human rights activists, journalists and other segments of civil society that there are serious cracks within the party machine. Time will tell.

There is a great deal in the government's rhetoric, both formally through the UN, and statements from government representatives in the regional and international media, that the fractures and fissures within the ruling RPF are becoming more apparent. At the same time, we see the lengths to which Kigali will go to defend its version of how the genocide happened, how the RPF stopped it and the successes of post-genocide reconstruction and reconciliation process.

I want to say too, that the RPF's emotive and excessive reaction to the UN Report seem to be the reaction of Kagame himself. He is known to be allergic to criticism while maintaining the moral authority of conviction (RPA were stopping genocide, not continuing it!) and insisting ad nauseum that his army was only doing what it had to do because of the inaction of the international community. I think the RPF's reaction is also reflective of a government that is losing its grip on power, and has little legitimacy among most Rwandans. The RPF is a party of factions, and only a few are reaping the benefits of power at the moment. This is the most worrying trend....

The Executive Summary of the Report says that its findings are unacceptable to the RPF, and that the allegations of mass murders are the result of the UN manipulating the true facts of the role of the RPF in eastern DRC. In particular, the Response notes that the publication of the Mapping Report might reignite conflict in Rwanda and in the Region. I think if any one actor is going to reignite conflict in the Region, it is the RPF itself.

The RPF's reaction to the historical context, and what happened during the 1994 genocide, are unoriginal. Anyone who has read Pottier (2002), Re-imaging Rwanda, particularly its chapter on how the RPF manages it public relations machinery will agree. The government has made similar assertions in public fora with interested audiences. It appears that the RPF is worried about losing face "in the court of public opinion" (para 5, p. 7). Yet its allegation that the UN leaked the Report out of spite (what it calls asymmetry) is false as it was a reporter with Le Monde that leaked the Report.

In the section The 1994 Rwandan Genocide is equally reactionary. First, there is sufficient empirical evidence to show that the RPA did not stop the genocide as early as it could of (para. 6, p. 7). Instead, it made calculated military moves to assure that it took power in Kigali while Tutsi (and Hutu and Twa) died. Two excellent books, Sibomana's Hope for Rwanda (1999) and Umutesi's Surviving the Slaughter (2004) provide sufficient counter-evidence to the RPF assertion that it directed all of its resources to stopping the genocide. Indeed, anyone aware of how the RPF acted in bad faith during the Arusha Accords will scoff as this section of the Response.

The section Mass Participation in the Genocide downplays the role of the RPF in helping to create the conditions for genocide. I want to make one thing clear. I do not buy into claims that have been circulating recently that the RPF organised the genocide. Instead, I take the argument of Straus (2006) in his The Order of Genocide that the civil war between the RPA and the FAR provided the necessary context of fear and insecurity that made the possibility of genocide by neighbours against neighbours possible, and indeed likely (as we now know with hindsight). I disagree with the assertion of the RPF that mostly young men committed acts of genocide. This is not a new assertion as the government's justice policy follows a logic of maximal prosecution (prosecution of all Hutu men of a particular age). This claim is, in my opinion, revisionist as it neglects the different motivations for killing as well as the strength of network and kinship ties in deciding who lived or died (Fujii, 2009, Webs of Violence).

The Response goes on for another 15 pages in which the RPF defends and justifies its actions in the DRC. I will end simply with this, the RPF doth protest too much.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The hierarchy of ethnicity

So the UN Mapping Report was released yesterday. There has been a barrage of reaction, much of revealing of the political positions of the various actors, including "Hutu" politicians and activists and "Tutsi" politicians and survivor activists. These reactions are certainly valid but they don't tell the whole story. While none of us knows the whole story because of the nuanced complexities of the violence committed against and by various groups and individuals, I remain concerned about the continued and undifferentiated use of "Hutu" and "Tutsi" (among other categories). The use of ethnic language is reflective of a major conundrum within Rwandan politics in particular, and politics in the GLR more broadly. Speaking of Hutu- and Tutsi- deaths continues the politics of othering that feeds the culture of impunity in the Region.

What I mean is that I sense of lack of commitment to human rights for ALL individuals, regardless of ethnicity, in the discourse and rhetoric of politicians and activists of all stripes. In other words, I have yet to hear any of the key actors in Rwanda and Congo talk about the importance of stopping the killing of poor, peasant people who are caught between armed groups, and who, more often than not, are caught up the violence and related circumstances (hunger, disease, displacement, etc) that they themselves do not create.

Instead, the rhetoric and action of powerful actors and decision-makers in the region continues to scapegoat peace in the language of ethnicity. The UN mapping report reveals the extent to which the politics of ethnic hierarchy (meaning that the lives of some are more valuable that others on the basis of ethnicity, and dare I say it, social and economic status) continues to dominate in Rwanda and the GLR. The RPF is skilled at claim a post-ethnic society when it facts its use of the language of ethnic unity creates difference and division on the basis of ethnicity.

So, for me, the UN Mapping Report does not represent an explosive exposee of what the RPF and other actors did on Congolese soil against resident populations. Nor does it present an alternative narrative. For me, and I assume others how follow political developments in the region, knowledge of what is contained in the Report is widely known. I see the politics of genocide manipulation that the RPF has followed since assuming power. I also see the ways in which opponents of the RPF manipulate its manipulation of the genocide for their own political gain. I recognise that suppression of UN and other reports on the excesses of the RPF against ordinary people because of other suppressed documentation like the Gersony report from late 1994. (See the excellent article by French and Gettlemen on Rwanda's relationship with the UN and its ability to craft a specific narrative of the genocide).

The key question, for me at least, is what now? Will the shine come off RPF rule? Will the Report expose its excesses in Congo and Rwanda against its opponents (of all political stripes and ethnicities)? Will international actors begin to push Kigali to open up political space? If so, to what effect? Indeed, significant in Kigali's reaction to the Report are the thinly veiled threats of renewed violence against those who challenge its version of history about how it stopped the genocide and restored peace and security to Rwanda (see the remarks of both Kagame and Mushikiwabo). How far can international actors reasonably push Kagame before he begins to react against his opponents? The list of questions goes on...

I'd like to see the international community -- policy makers, academics, journalists, activists and other -- begin to push Kagame and his RPF to open up to criticism of its actions and policy. Take a carrots and sticks approach that includes discussion of respect for all in region, regardless of ethnicity.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Rwanda's real challenge

As predicted by friends and foes alike, Paul Kagame has been re-elected by a landslide. This is no surprise as the opposition was silenced. Some critics assume that because Kagame and his RPF did not allow the opposition to register as formal political parties that the major crisis facing Rwanda is its weak political opposition. I have never thought this was a major consideration as there is very little chance of political power to pass democratically. The opposition is divided, has no meaningful or even distinct platform, and likely has little support among elites and peasant folks alike (we don't actually know because no one has asked Rwandans themselves what they think).

The real issue now that the elections are over is the undeniable emergence of a power struggle within the ruling RPF. This has not been reported upon in any meaningful way. Partly, I'm sure, because critical academics and journalists have yet to interview the main actors. We are working with newspaper interviews, and Kagame's reaction to these public offerings in campaign speeches and during his monthly meeting with journalists based in Kigali.

What we do know is that since the RPF took power in 1994, it has continued to consolidate power in its own hands. We don't know the political intentions or power base of those that have fallen out with Kagame.

Most significant is Kagame's sidelining of much of the RPFs military elite. These include several senior officers who were in the bush with Kagame, and who arguably had a role in forming the then-rebel RPF. These include, among others, General Sam Kaka and General Frank Rusagara. In 2001, General Kayumba Nyamwasa also fell out with Kagame, as well, and in 2005 the head of external intelligence Colonel Patrick Karegeya was arrested on allegations of insubordination.

This much is widely known. The divisions with the RPF came to a head when General Kayumba fled into exile in South Africa. In addition, two other generals (Karake and Muhire) were arrested, accused of masterminding the grenade attacks that happened in the spring. In sum, most of the senior RPF military brass from 1994 have fled into exile or have been arrested (a few have retired and have been relieved of their duties).

There are two possible explanations -- one from the government camp, and the other from the dissidents themselves. First, senior government officials are on the record saying that senior military officers have been pushed to the sidelines because they do not share Kagame's development vision. Senior bureaucrats, in keeping with the party line, explain the divisions as the result of the moral weakness of these generals. They are not interested in a peaceful, stable and secure Rwanda like Kagame; instead they are interested in only their own wealth and political power. This explanation is hardly rocket science to analysts as each of these generals have been marginalized on accusations of corruption, embezzlement or insubordination (to Kagame himself, I suppose).

The explanation from the dissidents is that their grievances are political. Kagame has consolidated power in his hands to such an extent that even a whisper of disagreement is considered treason. Both Nyamwasa and Karegeya say that Kagame is incapable of listening to their opinions.

The truth probably lies somewhere in between. One thing is more certain: the power struggle among the RPFs inner circle could signal the end of Kagame's reign. It would also like happen at the end of a gun rather than through the ballot box.

For those of that care about peace and security in Rwanda, the question now becomes does Kagame command the respect of his peers within the RPF? If he doesn't, under what conditions will Kagame begin to loosen his presumed grip on political power?

In addition, can those senior military officials that have fled the country mount a real threat to Kagame's power?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Kagame will win the elections. Then what?

This post was originally published by the website Op-Ed News on 3 August 2010.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has called upon Rwandan President Paul Kagame to investigate the politically motivated killings of opposition politicians and critical journalists in the run-up to the country's 9 August election. American Secretary of State Clinton recently encouraged the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front not to act against opposition politicians. These calls, however, are too little too late, as Kagame will handily win.

This raises the question of how international actors can work with the incumbent President knowing that he is a predator of political and press freedoms. It is now opportune for Western donors to revisit their support for Kagame as well as their role in Rwanda's reconstruction and reconciliation processes.

Rwanda's donors, including the US, the UK, the European Union and the UN, must continue to nudge the RPF towards a real democratic opening. This must include more than investigations to the RPFs pre-election campaign of intimidation and harassment of its opposition and calls for free and fair elections. Rwanda's donors must press Kagame to create space for national dialogue, meaning an open and safe space where Rwandans of all ethnicities and from all walks of life can meet to discuss what happened to whom during the genocide, and to strategize ways forward from the hurt of the past. The donor community must encourage Kagame to adopt inclusive policies that will create a common future of economic security and political stability for all Rwandans. Such a space could be framed in patriotic terms of being Rwandan -- rather than in the language of ethnic unity as is currently the case - as love of country is more salient for many of the Rwandans I've consulted over the years.

There are three things that western donors can do to encourage President Kagame to create a more open and peaceful political culture once he is re-elected.

First is to question the government's ability to manage Rwanda's natural resources -- its people and its land. The US State Department estimates that by 2020, Rwanda will be home to some 13 million people. This gives Rwanda the highest population density in Africa with 225 people per square mile. Some 90% of Rwandans seek out their existence as subsistence farmers and are the first to suffer when the central government is unable to respond to their daily needs. The government requires rural farmers to grow coffee and tea instead of the crops needed to feed their families. A new land policy has decreased peasant holdings to less than a half-acre. The RPF does not allow peasant farmers to voice their concerns with its agriculture and the inequitable distribution of land into the hands of government loyalists.

There is no room for debate on appropriate technologies to build sustainable agriculture in the country. An underfed and disaffected local population is hardly the way forward to sustainable peace and democracy. Donors must continue to work with the RPF to ensure their agriculture and land policies are aimed at developing long-term peace and security, not quick gains for party loyalists.

Second is to encourage open dialogue and a culture of constructive criticism and debate about government policies amongst the political class. Foreigners write most of the academic and policy literature on Rwanda. Why? Because Kagame does not allow for thoughtful analysis that strays from the RPF's official rhetoric that only Tutsi died during the 1994 genocide. This may appear counter-intuitive to those donors who have visited Rwanda's universities -- indeed they are flourishing thanks to foreign aid dollars. Donors can use their already existing relationship with Rwanda's Ministry of Education and other institutions of higher learning to sponsor intellectuals whose ideas differ from those of the government as a way to spur openness and dialogue.

Third is to encourage Kagame to engage the diverse political views of the Rwandan Diaspora. This is not to suggest that he engage the extremist views of those that advocate the thesis that the RPF organized and implemented the genocide and other negative views. Instead, he needs to acknowledge that such negative opinion exists along side with the positive involvement of the Diaspora in Rwanda's economic development. Because the Diaspora contributed almost $130 million to Rwanda's economy in 2008 (second only to tourist receipts), Western donors have failed to seriously push Kagame to engage dissident opinion within the Diaspora. Fueled by the internet, sincere dissidents who criticize RPF policy exist alongside political extremists such as the FDLR (Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda) rebel group, making it easy for Kagame to justify not including them in the Rwandan political sphere. Western donors must encourage Kagame to engage with all sectors of the Diaspora, good and bad, as part of the broader strategy of political openness and dialogue.

Paul Kagame will be Rwanda's next President. Now is the time to reassess donor policy in the country to push for meaningful democratic.

Take action -- click here to contact your local newspaper or congress people:
Push for Political Openness in Rwanda

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Whither International Responsibility in Rwanda?

(This post is written by a colleague, and she asked me to post it here.)

Slightly under two years ago, an expert roundtable was convened by the International Peace Institute, the UN Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, and InterAfrica Group to revitalise the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and the Prevention of Genocide in Africa. R2P is an ambitious set of principles that aims to prevent genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. It came about after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda once it was clear the international community failed so tremendously in adhering to the ideal of “never again” that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan asked: when do we become responsible?

It seems as if we still don’t know the answer.

This past April, as Rwanda commemorated 16 years since approximately 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were murdered in less than 100 days, the Special Adviser with a focus on R2P restated the world’s commitment to preventing mass atrocity. Speaking on behalf of current UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, he said: “We can and must do better in the 21st century... Complacency is our enemy, and vigilance our friend”. Yet a cursory look at the lead-in to Rwanda’s upcoming presidential elections indicates that just as in 1994, with tensions climbing and violence on the rise, the international community is choosing to look the other way.

In Rwanda, survivors and perpetrators of genocide comprise the majority of the population. Ethnicity remains deeply politicized and ethnic conflict is a living memory. However, since the last presidential elections in 2003, people have been required to eliminate public forms and expressions of ethnic identification. The RPF government, which controls most state institutions, has prohibited claims for ethnic representation in politics, education, and the economic sector in the name of preventing “divisionism” and “genocide ideology.” Those who criticize or question the government’s policies are arrested, killed or disappeared. President Kagame and the RPF regime justify such actions as necessary for preventing another genocide, but what sort of peace is built on a foundation of repression? If Rwanda’s history indicates anything, it is that long-simmering inequalities do not go away on their own; rather, they burn at slow pace until the cauldron bursts and violence erupts.

Many praise Rwanda for its social and developmental achievements without recognizing that the proceeds of economic gain are largely serving to further the interests of Kagame’s elite, English-speaking Tutsi minority, most of who grew up in neighboring Uganda. Secretary Clinton described Rwanda as “a beacon of hope for other African nations” and Philip Gourevitch, in a recent New Yorker article, wrote that in Rwanda, “The reconciliation defies expectations.” Further, in the last two years, President Kagame has been named one of Financial Times’ 50 greatest leaders of the past decade, a Time Magazine Man of the Year, winner of the Clinton Global Citizens Award for Leadership in Public Service, and winner of the International Medal of Peace. Rwanda was the World Bank’s top reformer of 2009 and was accepted in to the Commonwealth last November.

How is it that diplomats and journalists alike are continuing to ignore the tragic realities of life for the average Rwandan? While Kigali is gleaming, 90 percent of the population is mired in poverty; mostly these are Hutu, but Tutsi not connected to the RPF regime suffer tremendously as well. However, to challenge a system that perpetuates such inequalities means almost-certain imprisonment, if not death. Rwanda, following closely behind the US and Russia, has the third largest incarceration rate in the world. Where is our vigilance? When will we speak out for those who unable to speak for themselves?

It is clear that violence is increasing as we near this summer’s elections: in the last month alone, there was an attempted assassination of Lt General Nyamwasa in South Africa who, along with several other senior military officials, had fled Rwanda after disagreements with President Kagame. Almost immediately afterward, the newspaper editor who called for an investigation in to the General’s death was gunned down in front of his home in Kigali. Another editor in Rwanda was arrested on charges of defaming the president and espousing genocide ideology one week later.

Yet the voices quashed are not just those of the Rwandan media: A Human Rights Watch researcher was recently expelled, American law professor Peter Erlinder was arrested in May while preparing a case for charges of genocide denial against opposition presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire, and she herself, in addition to other serious contenders for president and their supporters, was charged with genocide ideology and banned from registering her candidacy. Two weeks ago, Green Party candidate Andre Kagwa Rwisereka was found nearly decapitated in South Rwanda, his body dumped on the side of the road. Still Kagame, with US and UN support, maintains that the story of Rwanda since the genocide is one of success and prosperity.

Whither our responsibility?

Certainly, there is no easy solution; it would be wrong for the US and UN to push open the doors of democracy and force Rwanda to hold free and fair elections. It is also too late to even try; such an act would be dangerous not only for American interests in East Africa (a whole other quagmire) but for average Rwandans who continue to suffer under a regime that manipulates the worst of its history to further oppression in the present. We should not, however, stand idly by, either. Those who care about “never again” should at least begin by advocating for political dialogue in Rwanda, pressing for open economic opportunities, and supporting freedom of speech and conscience in a country where talking politics in a way the government does not approve means that your life is at risk. Indeed, if we are not vigilant about our responsibility to protect, another round of mass political violence in Rwanda will be the shame of us all.

To get involved in this important issue, contact the office of Senator Russ Feingold, chairman of the Subcommittee on African Affairs (

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Collateral Damage: First published in the Mail & Guardian

Rwandans will soon go to the polls to elect a president. The incumbent, Paul Kagame, head of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, continues to exert total control over the country's election process.

Kagame, who came to power as the leader of a rebel army, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), that ended the 1994 genocide, legitimised his rule in 2003 when he won the presidential elections with 95% of the vote. Anywhere else in Africa, and indeed the world, such a result would indicate that Kagame was hardly elected in free and fair elections. Despite the fact that Amnesty International, the European Union, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations found serious irregularities and widespread oppression in the elections, Kagame won praise from major donors such as the United States and the United Kingdom for his thoughtful and benevolent leadership of Rwanda's rebirth as a model recipient of international aid.

In advance of the upcoming presidential elections, many within the international community have remained supportive of Rwanda's so-called "democratic transition". They seem to ignore the widespread arrests of journalists and opposition politicians, the closing of independent Rwandan newspapers, ejection of a Human Rights Watch researcher, an assassination attempt against exiled General Kayumba Nyamasa who had a falling out with Kagame, and the killing of journalist Jean-Leonard Rugambage who attempted to report on the assassination attempt in the online version of a Rwandan newspaper whose print edition had been closed down by the government.

'No government is perfect'
While diplomats and policymakers from some countries, like Sweden and The Netherlands, have cut their aid, others like the United States and the United Kingdom continue to publicly support Kagame. As an American diplomat currently based in Kigali said, "Of course this government is not perfect. But no government is. The position of many in the diplomatic corps is to gently nudge the RPF towards democracy." In other words, key donors like the US and the UK view the continued harassment and intimidation of political opponents and critical journalists as par for the course in the transition from civil war and genocide to democracy.

While diplomats quietly acknowledge this repression of elites, there is no public acknowledgement of the impact of the elections on average Rwandans.

In Rwanda, politics is the preserve of elite actors, who represent about 10% of the population. Average Rwandans such as rural farmers, teachers, nurses, low level civil servants, traders, or soldiers who make up the remaining 90% of the population have virtually no say in politics. In November 2009 a group of rural farmers resident in southern Rwanda sought to register a new political party to put forward their own presidential candidate. Several of them were arrested without charge, and the presumed organisers remain in prison; the rest fled to neighbouring Burundi. Indeed, average Rwandans are the first to suffer when elites use all available tactics to gain political power. As the Swahili proverb goes, "When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers".

Silencing critical voices
A climate of fear and insecurity predominates in the everyday life of average Rwandans. Anyone who questions RPF policies or its treatment of its opposition and critics can be beaten, harrassed or intimidated into submission. Those who are perceived as sympathetic to the political opposition can be arrested, "disappeared", or like Rugambage, murdered. The number of political prisoners as well as those who have disappeared is unknown. Human Rights Watch reports that repression of political freedoms in a strategy of the RPF to "silence critical voices and independent reporting before the elections".

The strategy of repression means that none of the three main opposition parties -- Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, FDU-Inkingi and PS-Imberakuri -- are able to take part in the elections. Distant family members of opposition politicians and critical journalists find themselves under constant surveillance. As a result, the vast majority of the population waits silently and anxiously for the elections, hoping that they are perceived as model citizens so as to avoid attracting unwanted attention from government loyalists.

Rwandans are more than skeptical about the government's commitment to democracy. They recognise the upcoming presidential elections as a form of social control to ensure they vote for the right party (meaning Kagame's RPF). As an aide to the minister of local government said, "In 2010, the people will also vote as we instruct them. This means that those who vote against us understand that they can be left behind. To embrace democracy is to embrace the development ideas of President Kagame".

Average Rwandans interpret democracy as a form of repression. A male university student told me, "Oh, we understand that voting is not something done freely. Since the middle of 2009, students are told to take an oath of loyalty to the RPF. This means that we have to join the RPF -- if we don't we don't have any opportunities to get a job or get married or have any kind of life really. In Rwanda, democracy means to understand that the power of the RPF is absolute." A rural woman who lost her husband in the 1994 genocide told me a similar tale, "Democracy is something the government says we need when they fear losing their power. We heard this before the genocide, and we hear it now. Democracy would be OK if regular people like me could actually participate rather than being told whom to vote for and when."

For average Rwandans, democracy is the domain of the elite, who intimidate and harass the rural population into parroting the so-called democratic ideals of the RPF. This democracy is an alienating and oppressive daily reality -- something which could crystallise into violence in early August 2010 when Rwandans go to the polls again. The words of a Rwandan colleague are emblematic, "Anyone who has the means to do so is getting out of the country. For those of us who can't , we just hope the elections are without violence. When the government can imprison or kill anyone they please, we are all nervous because it means none of us is safe ...".

Susan Thomson is a Five Colleges Professor, funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation at Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts. She has been researching state-society relations in Rwanda since 1996 and is the author of numerous publications on the country.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Rwanda's Sham Elections: First published in The Mark

As voting time approaches, President Paul Kagame's RPF continues to practise zero-sum politics that could lead to more political violence.

(Co-authored by a Rwandan academic based in the U.S. who survived the 1994 genocide and wishes to remain anonymous. The authors of this piece run the blog The Cry for Freedom in Rwanda.)

For many western observers – Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, and Bill Gates among them – Rwanda’s economic growth is the foundation of its democratic transition. Yet, as Rwandans head to the polls next month to elect a president, Paul Kagame’s ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) has perverted the very democratic ideals it claims to uphold.

Kagame’s RPF emerged victorious from and gained credit for ending the 1994 genocide in which ethnic Hutu killed at least 500,000 ethnic Tutsi. Foreign leaders, feeling guilty for not having done enough to end the genocide or for having a direct role in the massacres, pumped money into Rwanda in the hope of rebuilding a new society – a society free from ethnic division. From ashes, the Rwandan people quickly started showing signs of recovery. Still, the RPF continues to practice zero-sum politics that could return the country to the abyss of 1994.

Over the last 16 years, the RPF has centralized power into a one-man dictatorship. A tiny English-speaking Tutsi elite, most of whom grew up as refugees in neighbouring Uganda, surrounds the dictator, Paul Kagame. The politics of exclusion that marked the pre-genocide years remains intact despite the official policy of ethnic unity. The Hutu community, making up some 85 per cent of the population, is largely excluded from most positions of power. Even more insulting, politics, business, and the civil service are all dominated by military personnel or former members of the RPF.

In advance of the upcoming presidential elections, many “friends” of Rwanda have remained supportive of its so-called “democratic transition.” They ignore the repeated arrests of journalists and opposition politicians, the closing of independent local newspapers, the ejection of a Human Rights Watch researcher, an assassination attempt against exiled general Kayumba Nyamasa, who fell out with President Kagame earlier this year, the murder of journalist Jean-Leonard Rugambage, who attempted to report on Nyamasa’s assassination attempt in the online version of a Rwandan newspaper the print edition of which the government closed down, and the murder of Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, vice-president of the opposition Democratic Green party. While diplomats from some countries, such as Sweden and the Netherlands, have cut their aid, the U.S. and the U.K. continue to publicly support Kagame. Canada’s position is vague as it encourages Rwanda to adopt policies that promote a pluralist society.

Under the watch of a sympathetic and supportive international community, Kagame has done everything within his power to ensure that the August elections consolidate his political power.

First, he appointed all the members of the National Electoral Commission, staffing it with former and current members of the RPF. Although members of the political opposition have protested, Kagame shows no sign of accepting reform. Such an arrangement will make it possible for him to manipulate, rig, and control the elections.

Second, the RPF revised the constitution in 2003. Many of its provisions endanger democracy. The most damning is the ill-defined law on genocide ideology. Its official purpose is to identify individuals who wish to kill ethnic Tutsi. In practice, the law is invoked against political opponents or critics of the government who question its reconstruction or reconciliation policies or who suggest that the RPF committed war crimes before, during, and after the genocide. Instead of erasing the ethnic hatred that the RPF believes lives in the hearts and minds of some Rwandans, the genocide ideology law is crystallizing dissent among some sections of the military while weakening the opposition and journalists who criticize the government’s application of the law.

Lastly, Kagame abolished real opposition and manufactured a shadow opposition that serves only to sing the praises of the RPF. This “opposition” is active only during election season and is otherwise unknown to the general public. None of the three actual opposition parties – the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, FDU-Inkingi, and PS-Imberakuri – can take part in the elections because their respective leaders are either in prison or banned from registering their candidates on allegations of harbouring genocide ideology.

While much of the diplomatic community acknowledges these democratic shortcomings, most western donors continue to highlight Rwanda’s economic growth as the necessary stimulant to inch the country towards democracy. What these actors overlook is the fact that the benefits of economic growth accrue largely to urban elites. The post-genocide policies of the RPF neglect the rural peasantry, which comprise 90 per cent of the population.

The international community widely praises Kagame’s liberal economic policies without due regard to the restrictions they have placed on what peasants produce and how they sell it. The government requires rural farmers to grow coffee and tea instead of the crops needed to feed their families. A new land policy has decreased peasant holdings to less than a half-acre. This means that few families are able to grow enough to subsist, let alone take any excess to market. The United Nations Development Programme reported in 2008 that Rwanda’s Gini coefficient has increased since the RPF came to office, and that the socio-economic disparity had increased from its 1990 levels. As one rural farmer in Northern Province lamented, “If the RPF doesn’t allow us to trade freely, we will join the FDLR rebel group … otherwise, how will we feed our children?”

The suppression of democratic ideals under President Kagame cannot guarantee continued economic growth in Rwanda. The latest attacks on basic human freedoms could be but the tip of the iceberg. Before Rwandans go to the polls next month, western friends of Rwanda – the diplomats, policy-makers and academics that extol the country's democratic virtues – must press for meaningful democratic change by encouraging free speech and political dialogue with a viable opposition. Without meaningful change, the country could be headed for another round of mass political violence.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Antoine: "The regime does not tolerate anyone who honours the Hutu killed by the RPF"

Antoine’s story is emblematic of many Rwandans who have fled the country since the 1994 genocide. An educated and thoughtful man, he studied at the National University of Rwanda in the late 1990s. A Tutsi survivor of the genocide, Antoine embraced the ethnic unity that is the basis of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front’s reconciliation policy. He fell in love with Claire, a Hutu woman that he met during his studies.

Group fear shapes individual choice
Many of Antoine’s Tutsi relatives and friends did support his intended marriage to Claire. Her father was a prominent diplomat during the Habyarimana regime. Antoine’s relatives recognized because of his ranking position in the genocidal regime of Habyrimana that Claire’s father could very well be one of the organizers of the 1994 genocide. Claire’s family also had their doubts that she could marry into a Tutsi family, now that the current government, the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), seeks to limit the participation of ethnic Hutu in government and civil society circles. Claire’s father was executed by the Rwandan military in July 1994? And her family did not want her to marry into a band of killers.

Allegations of minimising the genocide
Despite the opposition of family, Antoine and Claire married in Rwanda in 2003. Four years after, Antoine went to start his Master’s degree in North America, leaving Claire behind. In 2008, Claire’s family organized a prayer vigil to honour her father. Agents from the government’s Department of Military Intelligence (DMI) knew of the vigil, and detained Claire for more than six hours at a police station in Kigali. DMI interpreted the vigil as a sign that her Hutu family was minimising the genocide because, lamented Antoine, "the regime does not tolerate anyone who honours the Hutu killed by the RPF". Indeed, the RPF does not recognize have deliberately killed the Hutu. A foreign journalist friend of Claire’s family also attended the vigil. When DMI agents learned of this, they accused Claire of inviting the journalist to spread the false truth about the RPF in foreign papers. She was ordered to stop interacting with the journalist; if she did not, she would be arrested.

Move to exile
Shortly after DMI agents visited Claire, Antoine mobilized to bring his family in North-America where they have applied for asylum.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

"Am I not a survivor of some kind too?"

“When the genocide started, we all ran for our lives. We [peasants] didn’t know that Tutsis were the ones getting killed until the second night. Because we all feared government militias, I helped my Tutsi family and friends hide before returning to my village. That is one thing this new government doesn’t recognize; that all Hutu did not kill. Some of us even lost our lives trying to save Tutsi…!

Joseph has been in prison since July 2001 when his neighbour accused him of committing acts of genocide against Tutsi in 1994. He proclaims his innocence, saying that he was wrongly accused because of his land holdings. Since the genocide, Joseph has worked hard to rebuild his life and livelihood. His Tutsi wife and three of their six children were killed shortly after the genocide began in April 1994. Since September 1996 when he was able to begin working his almost one acre of land, Joseph has lived with the suspicions of individuals who returned to Rwanda after the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) stopped the genocide in July 1994.

Many newly arrived returnees sought to occupy homes and land that had been abandoned during the genocide. Joseph did not abandon his land, choosing to hide out in Rwanda instead of following most of his countrymen into neighbouring Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo). Joseph says bluntly, “Any hardworking or honest Hutu runs the risk of being denounced as some one who killed during the genocide? Why? Because we might say that this government is not as peace loving as it says it is. To be Rwandan is to be quiet. To be Hutu is to be invisible. This is the new Rwanda….”

The “New” Rwanda
Since taking office in July 1994, the ruling RPF has instituted a variety of policies to eliminate the ethnic hatred that Hutu have for Tutsi. In creating one Rwanda for all Rwandans, a new Rwandan citizenship will be created. According to the government, an ethnically unified Rwanda is the key to sustaining present and future peace and is the foundation of democracy in the country.

“Not all Hutu killed”
A key RPF mechanism to ensure that Hutu reconcile with Tutsi is the policy of national unity and reconciliation. Hutu are encouraged to tell the truth of what they did during the genocide, and Tutsi to forgive and forget what happened to them during the genocide. For men like Joseph, who shared their lives with Tutsi friends and family, the official policy of truth telling means that the government does not recognize the different types of killing that took place during the genocide. The official and only acceptable version of events is that Hutu killed, and Tutsi died. Joseph says, “It is almost like this government doesn’t want any Hutu to declare themselves Rwandan! If you are in prison, you cannot participate in life. You lose your family and your land. But I did not kill, even though I stand accused of killing Tutsi from my community. When I saw my wife die, I ran with my remaining kids into the hills. We hid until it was safe to come out. Am I not a survivor of some kind, too? But we are not allowed to talk about that. There is no discussing Hutu who saved Tutsi. Not all of us killed. Some did, some didn’t . That is what war is like….”

Hutu need recognition too
Because Joseph is in prison, he feels comfortable speaking out about the lack of official government recognition for Hutu survivors of the genocide. Yet, as he speaks, the heaviness in his heart is palpable. His shoulders are rounded in a posture of defeat. He fears for his sons, who he has not seen since being arrested in 2001. He laments, “How is it justice for a peasant like me to rot in this prison? Okay, I did not survive genocide like the government says because I am not Tutsi. I acknowledge this. But did I not risk my life to save my family. I live with the knowledge that my wife and daughters died before my eyes. Now my sons are living as orphans because I am guilty of what? Not telling my truth? I told the government my truth but it was not recognized as true. I will rot the rest of my days in this prison.”

Monday, July 5, 2010

“Besides being hungry, survivors like me feel empty inside”

In the past week or so, I have been thinking a lot about the stories that are missing from our current knowledge on Rwanda's election process. What is missing are the voices of average, everyday Rwandans, and the impact of the increasingly tense political climate in Rwanda at the moment.

So, I am going to start writing the stories of average Rwandans and how they are weathering the elections process. I am also working on a few opinion pieces to begin to spread the word among western audiences about daily realities in Rwanda at the moment. There is more going on than a few arrests and the odd assassination as the country prepares to go to the polls....

If you have stories you would like to share, please email me and I will try to raise awareness with international organisations and journalists.

“Besides being hungry, survivors like me feel empty inside”

Jeanne is a Tutsi widow of the 1994 Rwandan genocide whose Hutu husband died in 1996 of disease in the refugee camps in neighbouring Zaire. All of her children also died in late 1994, after the genocide officially ended. She works part-time as a seamstress and is able to barter with friends and neighbours for food and shelter. “I am too old to work the fields but have made arrangements that seem to be working out well enough”. Jeanne does not think democracy is possible among Rwandans who lived through the genocide: “This government doesn’t understand how those of us who hid to survive suffer everyday. Besides being hungry, survivors like me feel empty inside. There is little hope for us. We have seen too much to ever recover….”

Jeanne recounts the adversity see faces in her daily life since the genocide. Before 1994, she and her family lived a relatively simple existence. Everyday activities were centred on weekly trips to market to earn enough money to send her children to school. The government did not interfere much in her daily life. She says, “I was free to plant what I needed to take care of my family and raise some extra money. My husband drove a taxi-motorbike. Together, we had a nice life together; we did not get involved in politics. But since the genocide, everything is political. If your hearts and stomachs are empty, then that is politics.”

Jeanne suffers more than the emotional and physical loss of her family, friends and relatives. She suffers the demands of being forced to forgive and forget what she experienced during the genocide. “This government only cares about itself; we survivors are a burden to them. They promise assistance but it never arrives. Survivors are walking dead. On top of this, we are expected to forgive those who killed? Someone needs to wake up this government….”

Not easy to complain
Jeanne considers herself an old woman, and is comfortable speaking to local officials and other government authorities. She says, “it not easy to complain because I sometimes get harassed or put in prison for my views. But I am an old woman and I need to speak against this government’s forgive and forget rule so that the next generation doesn’t suffer like we did. I speak out despite the hardships because who else can?”

Survivors “don’t matter”

Many survivors feel that the government has manipulated their experiences of surviving the genocide for its own political gain. The feeling among rural peasants and educated urbanites alike is that ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front presents itself to international audiences as the saviours and guardians of Tutsi survivors, only to then turn around and implement policy that leaves survivors economically marginal and emotionally traumatized. “This government doesn’t care what happens to survivors. They say they stopped the genocide to save Tutsi lives. Then they say that we can’t talk about our experience of living through the genocide. Many of us were raped; many of us lost our relatives. Many of us have no family to take care of us as we age. We don’t matter to this government.”

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Please help raise awareness about the political situation in Rwanda

As many of you likely already know, Rwanda is holding Presidential elections this August. In the run up to the elections, the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, has done everything in its power to suppress the opposition. The situation is very tense. And is growing more tense by the day as dissent within the military increases, and the government opts for assassination as a viable option to control its opposition and critics. Of course, as the Swahili proverb goes, "When the elephants fight, it is the grass the suffers...", meaning of course that ordinary people are caught in the crossfire.

There are some very easy and powerful things you can do to raise awareness about the likelihood of election-related violence in Rwanda.

1. Call your Member of Parliament (Canada) or your Senator (America) to tell them you are concerned about reports of violent repression in Rwanda. Simply google your "Member of Parliament" and your city of residence in Canada and just the name of your state in the US. You'll get direct numbers and email addresses there. In Canada, call Paul Dewer's office, as he is the head of the All-Parliamentary Committee on the Prevention of Genocide (613-946-8682 or; or call the office of Senator Dallaire (613-995-4191 or 1-800-267-7362 or In the US, contact the office of Senator Russ Feingold, chairman of the Subcommittee on African Affairs (

2. Worried that you don't know enough about the political situation in Rwanda to call? If so, call anyway and ask your representative what the policy of her/her office on Rwandans upcoming elections is. If you think a simple phone call is not effective, public policy scholars have found that in Canada that politicians equate one phone call from a concerned citizen with the opinions of at least 250 constituents. In the US, similar studies show that elected officials consider one phone call to equate the viewpoint of as many as 750 constituents. So your phone call could indeed make a difference!

3. Get talking about politics in Rwanda. You can easily educate yourself with online resources like the Rwanda page on the BBC Africa homepage. Write letters to the editor, blog, repost this message on your facebook page. Watch Hotel Rwanda with your friends. Do something!

4. Share the idea of raising awareness with your networks and with journalists. We all know people who care about social justice issues both at home and abroad. Stand up and let folks in your network know that this is a pressing issue.

5. Still have questions? Get in touch with researchers like me (; 413.835.0156). I will share all my knowledge with you, and can put you in touch with other academics, human rights advocates, and other like-minded individuals who can share their thoughts and opinions on the current situation.

Please consider acting on this important issue. Studies have shown that one of the main reasons that the international community did not intervene early enough to stop the Rwandan genocide of 1994 was the lack of alarm. The issues simply did not matter to enough Westerners for their governments to act....

Friday, June 25, 2010

Plus ca change: Advocating for Rwanda

Oh my, it has been an intense few weeks in Rwandan politics. The attempted assassination of Gen. Nyamwasa, the murder of Jean Leonard Rugambage (acting editor of Umuvugizi newspaper), the continued detention, harassment and intimidation of the political opposition and critics of the government, including dissent within the military. It is equally tense in the countryside as government policy has led to an increase of almost 30% in the cost of staple foods, the short rains were too short, and the government continues to deploy its security personnel to all corners of the country to ensure that peasants "vote for the right party".

There are parallels with the pre-genocide period -- the elimination of opposition and opponents, harassment and intimidation of elites and peasants alike, and the constant threat of loss of life. A key difference is that the violence of the pre-genocide period took place in the broader context of civil war. The key similarity is that the violence is driven by elites in pursuit of political power.

All this raises the question of what can we do to raise the alarm about what is going on in Rwanda right now. Some positives have emerged. For better or for worse, the assassination attempt of Gen. Nyamwasa in South Africa has not only focused attention on Rwanda right now. Prominent publications like the New York Times, the Huffington Post, the Globe and Mail and the Guardian have begun to publish critical pieces on Rwanda. In addition, American attorney Peter Erlinder has been released from custody in Rwanda, and I hope that his story will slink into the background. His story is a perfect example of raising the wrong kind of attention about Rwanda. His is a story that feeds into Western assumptions about politics in African countries like Rwanda as ethnically motivated and grounded in atavistic hatreds rather than complex and nuanced calculations to gain, or maintain, political power (and all the spoils that go with it....)

So what can people like you and me, who care about Rwanda, and Rwandans from all walks of life? My position has always been, no more loss of life in Rwanda, and the GLR, by any party. One's ethnicity, social status or economic class must not determine the value of one's life. I want to push Rwandan society to a place where ethnic politics no longer determine one's lost in life....

First, consider all sides of the story. Get educated. Mis- and Dis-information has long characterised political life in Rwanda (as is the case in all authoritarian states...). It is easy to make emotional pleas that pass as analysis.

Second, talk to as many people as possible about what is going on in Rwanda. We need to make more people care about what goes on in a tiny central African country. There is more to Rwanda than the politics of Kagame and his crew. There are peasant people who live their lives in chronic adversity that should feature in our analysis and commentary, but rarely do. Bringing in their voices not only provides a human face to what is going on in Rwanda, it shifts the analysis away from power politics to human lives. Both narratives are important, but elite politics must not sublimate peasant realities.

Third, call your political representative and tell them about your concern about current events in Rwanda. Tell them to get involved and active at the level of policy. Lobby and educate as many decision-makers as you can.

Fourth, if you are so inclined, write. Open debate and dialogue. Share your concerns and analysis with a broader audience.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Erlinder case, con'td.

The case of detained American Peter Erlinder continues to muddle the real issues in Rwanda. (See this representative article). While Western supporters have come to his aid and succour, the remains the very real issue of what will become of the Rwandan opposition when his case is resolved and he leaves the country.

Does anyone have any information on Ingabire's decision to hire Erlinder to defend her? He is far from the best choice given the political dynamic in Rwanda. Surely she is more politically astute than this? Aligning herself with someone who believes that the RPF organised and implemented the genocide belittles her broader (and significant) argument that Rwandans of all ethnicities were killed in 1994.

Oh, and the argument of Erlinder's supporters that, as an American citizen, he should be released because of the amount American donor aid to Rwanda smacks of more than colonialism (something that feeds into the RPF government's narrative about sovereignty). It also suggests that Erlinder's life is worth more because he is American. Rwandans deserve better than that.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Erlinder detention

The recent arrest and detention of Peter Erlinder provides important insight on how the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front will run the August elections.

While I don't believe much of what Erlinder writes (his work is decontextualised and comes off as agenda-driven), it is a travesty of justice and democratic ideals to allow him to be imprisoned. It is also not a unique situation; Rwandans from all walks of life are treated in the same way on a regular basis. The message is the same: do not mess with the official narrative of the RPF as arbiters of peace, security and justice in Rwanda and the GLR.

THe US, the UN, the EU and others that care about peace for all must condemn the arrest. If someone of Erlinder's status and privilege can be arrested, imagine how it must be for regular people resident in Rwanda and subject on a daily basis to its oppressive policies and politics.

While I have never met Erlinder I also don't believe government allegations that he tried to commit suicide. This is a long-standing tradition within the RPF to discredit its opponents and silence dissent. It targets individuals (witness the recent HRW expulsion) then works to discredit them through various personal attacks. Mental illness, trauma, sexual immorality, etc. This is likely what they are doing in this case. It must stop; hopefully, Erlinder will be released soon and his arrest will highlight to international audiences the deep-rooted authoritarianism of the current Rwandan government.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

But you can't get blood from a stone

In advance of August's presidential elections, the ruling RPF is bragging about its fiscal and monetary policy. One of the key factors that keeps international donors giving the necessary funds to keep Rwanda moving economically forward is the government's management of the economy. (Note however there are few critical voices. Witness this recent policy statement from the US Department of State).

This recent posting from on the further decentralisation of the Rwandan Revenue Authority begs the question, how do you get blood from a stone?

Most Rwandans are more poor under the leadership of the RPF. True, Kigali gleams with new buildings, shiny streets and internet cafes. But some 87% of Rwandans are peasants. They own less land than they did before the genocide because of new agricultural and land policies put in place in the name of economic growth. Starvation is up, even as Rwanda reports bump crops. Bumper crops of coffee and tea do not feed people! The same people that the RPF bases its legitimacy upon and who are being told (in sensitisation speeches, radio announcements and presidential pronouncements) "to vote for the right ones this time".

Democracy without a citizenry is not democracy at all....

Monday, May 17, 2010

settling into a democratic culture?

In 1998, noted historian of the Great Lakes Region, Gerard Prunier wrote that by 1993 Rwanda had "settled into a war culture" (p. 108). Prunier means that violence became the accepted way of doing politics in the run-up to the 1994 genocide. (Prunier was writing in reaction to the failed implementation of the Arusha Accords by Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), Habyarimana's National Revolutionary Development Movement (Mouvement Revolutionaire National pour le Developpement, MRND) and the internal political opposition made up of newly created political parties).

I think Prunier's words remain timely with the recent grenade attacks in Kigali (one or two dead and at least 18 injured, depending on which news source you consult). The ruling RPF has argued in The Huffington Post, in an article by Presidential advisor Jean-Paul Kimonyo, that Rwanda is not yet ready for democracy. Kimonyo furthered his argument in a 12 May article asking Who Qualifies to Judge Rwanda?.

This time, President Kagame has no senior military officials to blame; they've fled the country. Why? We don't actually know. No one is speaking out in a meaningful way.

As for the current and still only potential opposition, I don't believe that Victoire Ingabire is a serious threat to Kagame, so he has no real reason to continue arresting and harassing here. I believe that Kagame is projecting onto the current opposition what his RPF (and other political actors) did before the genocide. Use the cover the politics to foment violence. Political authorities loyal to Habyarimana organised rallies and sensitisation meetings to convince ordinary Rwandans to remain loyal to the political "family" (the ruling MRND). The RPF has done the same, asserting an oath-of-oneness that adherents are forced to swear on a sword. Those that do not uphold their loyalty to the RPF "family" can die by that same sword.

Such actions are first steps towards creating a democratic deficit rather and a culture of war that normalises violence in everyday life. We already know that this has led to mass violence and genocide in Rwanda.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Presidential results announced before the vote?

A reader of this blog sent me this morning a government of Rwanda publication on the electoral schedule for rolling out the vote.

Note that the results of the election are scheduled to be announced prior to the vote ...!

A misprint, or not?

Global Integrity is looking for critical voices in Rwanda

Last year, I worked with Global Integrity on its 2009 country report for Rwanda.

They are now asking for the names of academics, journalists and other stakeholders in the fight against corruption in Rwanda for a May 2010 meeting with Rwanda's Governance Advisory Council. You can learn more about their workshops at:

I question the timing of the workshop, and the implicit support it provides to the government when it should be disciplined for its continued (and heightened) repression. Nonetheless, it is still going to happen.

Can anyone recommend interested and critical voices that would be willing to attend such a workshop in Kigali? Given that the government is allergic to criticism and any academic, journalist, etc that you would like to talk to is likely living abroad.

I ask anyway, in hopes that some "ibipinga" might step forward!

It's not oppression, it's the rules!

I am increasingly worried about the type of information that is flowing out of the mouths of Rwandan political elites these days. This recent East African piece from the former Minister of Information and current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, is emblematic of government spin-doctoring on its oppressive behaviour. Academics, journalists and others who care about peace in Rwanda and the region need to challenge the misinformation of the government in advance of the August elections.

I would provide my views on the attached article as anyone who reads this blog (or my academic work) that the piece is absurd. Read it for yourself and let me know what you think. Perhaps we can have a dialogue on that....

I would much rather hear from Nyamwasa and others who recently fled (quit?) their senior military posts.

I also wish I had time to survey Kagame's speeches from 1999 until present more closely. My sense is that the rhetoric is hardening subtlety and creatively over time. Does anyone have a student or colleague working on such a project?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Two senior military officials arrested

I interpret the arrest of both Lieutenant General Charles Muhire and Major General Emmanuel Karenzi Karake on allegations of corruption and immorality, respectively, as cracks in the facade of RPF power. See the BBC article here.

In his speech in commemoration of the 16th anniversary of the genocide, President Kagame issued a thinly veiled threat against his political opponents, saying that there would be "chaos" if they continued to call for democracy in the language of genocide ideology. It is not at all clear that they are using the language of genocide ideology, not only because the law is unclear and arbitrarily applied, but also because the opposition is choosing its words carefully, in efforts to respect the law. Kagame is using the word "chaos" as a substitute for violence, that the RPF would be perpetrating. Anyone who represents a challenge to Kagame's power in seen as a threat, and must be dealt with harshly.

Muhire and Karake are two long-standing, loyal and senior military men. Is their arrest a sign of a coup? I don't think so; but it does call into question the extent to which Kagame is willing to go to protect his political power, and is perhaps even a sign of unrest in the military.

There is at present not enough information at present to assess accurately the situation on the ground.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Substance please....

For those of you who send personal attacks, mostly about my intellect, to my account because of what I write on this blog, I am asking you to please stop.

I am more than happy to engage substantive comments, and ask that you make them publicly on the "comments" page of this blog. I will not respond to personal attacks received on this blog or in my inbox.

Instead, let's debate and discuss. If you think I am wrong about this fact or that fact, or I've misinterpreted this piece of evidence or that one, please say so. And tell me why so I can evaluate what you've contributed to our discussion. I will not be bullied or kowtowed into believing that the RPF is prioritising democracy, peace and security over its own grip on political power.

My criticism of the RPF is not to be interpreted as being pro-opposition or anti-Tutsi. I am against all forms of oppression.

My position is, always has been, and always will be, no more loss of life in Rwanda, and neighbouring countries, by any party, ever. The killing must stop.

For the record, I still believe about Rwanda's reconciliation process being a false one as I wrote in The Mark in January 2010.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Most wanted genocide suspect arrested in Kampala

This is a good thing.

The Rwandan government, to the best of my knowledge, has yet to call for Nizeyimana to be transferred to Kigali. This is not a statement of support for the ICTR. Instead, I think his arrest is potentially good for ending the culture of impunity in the GLR. However, he should not be tried in Kigali due to lack of judicial independence.

Nizeyimana's might bring to light the lack of judicial independence in Rwanda to broader international audience....

This is not a good thing. The idea the Interahamwe did not train as a militia in Kigali is absurd. It also feeds into the rhetoric of genocide deniers and revisionist, giving the appearance of credibility to the RPF's claims that it must rule Rwanda with an iron-fist, lest ethnic divisionism rear its ugly head again.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

more tightening of government control: media censorship

The Rwandan government is after the media again, this time without linking the suspension of two Kinyarwanda-language papers to any specific article or journalist.

Yesterday, Rwanda's Media High Council (MHC) suspended Umuseso and Umuvugizi for six months. This means that both papers will be unable to comment on the upcoming August presidential elections. THe MHC accused Umuseso of insulting President Kagame, inciting the army and policy to insubordination and for fear mongering among the population. There is no substantive evidence to support these accusations, nor were the charges linked to a specific published article. The government-controlled MHC suspended Umuvugizi without citing any reasons for the suspension.

Under Rwanda's new media law, passed into law in August 2009, media outlets cannot be suspended for more than two weeks.

More critically, there is no alternate source of media in Rwanda at the moment. The New Times, Rwanda's English-language daily, is the most prominent publication. It is widely believed to operate at the behest of the RPF as editorial policy is set in coordination with the MHC.

Another point for authoritarianism in post-genocide Rwanda....

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Politicising Memory

Instead of commemorating lives lost in Rwanda in 1994, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, launched into a negative attack on political freedoms and opposition politics. I remain concerned about the levels of hypocrisy exhibited by the ruling RPF and its agents. They want to call the genocide the "genocide of Tutsi" but then outlaw ethnicity so what happened in 1994 cannot be openly discussed. They want to claim (to international and domestic audiences alike) that the country is democratising, but then claim that democracy leads to genocide.

This article, which summarises Kagame's memorial day speech in Kigali, is reflective of elite hypocrisy....

"Foreigners imposing 'hooligans' like Ingabire on Rwanda"
by Chief Editor

In a 45-minute tirade, President Kagame fired at Ingabire, the west and the
Generals. "They call me Hitler... but I'm not bothered"

Kigali - President Paul Kagame on Wednesday accused foreign critics of trying to
impose values on Rwanda as well as preferring 'hooligans' to govern the country -
categorically singling-out opposition politician Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, RNA

In a fierry 45-minute address to mark the 16th anniversary of the 1994 Tutsi
Genocide, Mr. Kagame accused the opposition - specifically naming Ms. Ingabire in
person, of "political hooliganism". The President also accused the critics of
"abusing me" in the name of freedom of expression, but said he is "not bothered at

"Some people here want to encouraging political hooliganism," he said in English,
before going into a tirade of attacks on Ingabire, as the crowd behind him was in
constant applause.

"Some people just come from nowhere...useless people...I see every time in pictures
some lady who had her deputy - a Genocide criminal, talking about 'there is Genocide
but there is another'...that is politics...and the world is also saying 'the
opposition leader'..."

The President was referring to Mr. Joseph Ntawangundi, the aide to Ms. Ingabire who
was recently sentenced to 17 years for Genocide.

"They call me Hitler"
In a culmination with loud applause and clapping from the audience, President added:
"To that we say a big no. And if anybody wants a fight, then we will give them a

The President dismissed the notion of free expression as promoted by his foreign
critics such as campaign groups, saying Rwandans know what freedom means more than
anybody else can teach them. He also attacked those he described as "constantly
meddling in our politics" by propagating and making up "lies" about his government.
The President warned his critics of hiding behind freedom of express to "abuse me"
but also added that he does not "give a damn".

"They break tool, they call me not bothered at all...I just hold them in
contempt," he said amid more applause. He wondered how his critics attack him and
"at the same time complain about press freedom?"

"You are even free to abuse people, you have no respect for anything...and you turn
around to complain that you have no freedom to express yourself? ...What more do you
want to express about yourself or about others?"

"Ni watu gani awo?"
Mr. Kagame said "bad national politics converged with bad international politics" to
cause what was being commemorated at today April 07 for the next three months.
"Who are these giving anyone here lessons honestly? ...Ni watu gani awo? ...who are
these? ...are these Rwandans complaining? ...or have they sent you to complain on
their behalf? ..." he wondered in a mixture of English, Kinyarwanda and Swahili,
amid applause.

He added: "These Rwandans you see here and elsewhere are as free, as happy [and] as
proud of themselves, like they have never been in their lives."

The President accused the west of preferring to criticize his government but do not
want to be held responsible for their role in the Genocide. He also said the west
was undermining "our dignity", "our values" and "our pride", arguing that democracy
took time to get to the current level in their countries.

"They wake up in the morning, distort [the] situation, tell lies about they are responsible for many of the things that put here today to
commemorate this Genocide...," he said.

"...yet when they talk about freedom of expression, they don't want you to express
yourself about their responsibility in this Genocide...What freedoms are you
teaching me if you cant take responsibility for the politics that killed one million
people in Rwanda."

The Generals
He added: "I know those who say it and support that, know it is wrong. But [it] is
an expression of contempt these people have for Rwandans and for Africans...that
they think Africans deserve to be led by these hooligans."

Turning his guns on the government officials who are fleeing the country apparently
complaining about "no political space", the President accused them of "running away
from accountability".

"These Generals fleeing the country should not be taken seriously," he said, in
apparent reference to ex-army chief Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, who has political asylum
in South Africa.

Earlier, Sports and Culture Minister Joseph Habineza also attacked the man behind
the Hollywood movie 'Hotel Rwanda'. Mr. Habineza did not name Mr. Paul Rusesabagina
but was clearly referring to him.

Using poetic speech, the Minister also fired at the vocal opposition causing
laughter in the otherwise somber occasion, saying they are blocking the
reconciliation among Rwandans.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dear International Community who support peace in Rwanda,

Dear members of the international donor and diplomatic community who think you are supporting democracy and peace in Rwanda,

I know you are all busy, and much more important that academics and other analysts of Rwanda like me. I'll get straight to the point: Paul Kagame and his RPF are employing the same mechanisms and tactics of social and political control and ethnic exclusion that Habyarimana's regime did before the genocide. There is little new about Kagame's "new" Rwanda that you support both morally and financially. You have a collective chance to intervene now that the Rwandan police have once again detained the leader of the main opposition party, Victoire Inagbire. See this report from AFP on her detention.

She has been summarily and systematically detained without cause since she returned to the country in January 2010.

I urge you to use your diplomatic resources to compare Kagame's speeches in English (incendiary againt the opposition but generally respecting Ingabire's right to be a politician) and Kinyarwanda. In his speeches for Rwandans are broadcast on Radio Rwanda in Kinyarwanda. The broad conclusion is that he uses the memory of the 1994 genocide to intimidate people. He also uses inflammatory ethnic language; the same language he accuses Ingabire and other opposition politicians of using to incite violence in Rwanda. I am not saying he is purposefully inciting violence, but he is actively promoting a climate of fear and insecurity that is contrary to the content of his English language speeches, which presumably are made for our (international audiences) consumption.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Kagame and Amanpour

On Monday night, Rwandan President Paul Kagame agreed to be interviewed by CNN journalist Amanpour. You can download the entire interview on ITunes.

Among the broader public relations machine that is the Kagame presidency, I only have this comment. He appears very nervous and basically admits that he is losing control of the country. This is a man who has total disdain for peasant Rwandans (his policies benefit urban elites, not rural peasants) ; to now invoke them in the name of his oppressive tactics is disingenuous. The reason why no journalist, human rights activist or academic has been able to talk to ordinary people is because Kagame's regime makes it all but impossible. There is no freedom of action or thought at the moment.

This is very serious for all Rwandans -- urban, rural, elite, peasant alike. I hope that the international community will begin to encourage Kagame to allow the political opposition to register and campaign. There is no outlet for popular frustration and anger in the country and that is exceedingly worrying....

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Rhetoric and the politics of genocide

It has again been a very intense few weeks in Rwandan politics. I have been on the road for various speaking and research engagements and have had little time to reflect on all that is going on, and what has been published.

One piece that I wanted to recommend is Geoffrey York's piece in Canada's Globe and Mail. He writes about the political manipulation of Rwanda's blood soaked history. His article is exceptionally well done as it strikes to the politics of manipulation of the history of the genocide and the ideology of genocide that characterises RPF rule at the moment. It is also critically important because York responds to the government's claim that democracy leads to genocide. Presidential advisor Jean-Paul Kimonyo is the mouthpiece for this line of thinking and is what I want to respond to in this post. Kimonyo writes in The Huffington Post in a fashion that is typical of the PR machine of the current regime.

A few points of context and analysis bear comment:

First, Kimonyo's assertion that the 1994 genocide is in part a product of "long-term economic, social and political bankruptcy" is nothing more than political rhetoric designed to justify and legitimise the oppressive rule of the RPF. Analysts and observers who understand that the genocide is not the starting point (either forward to current forms of repression or backward to explaining events in 1959) to understand contemporary Rwanda. The mechanisms of power of the RPF are virtually identical to the forms of power that pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial government's have used to control the Rwandan political landscape. There is little "new" about the new Rwanda (meaning Rwanda under RPF rule).

Kimonyo situates the backward policies of the previous regime to imply that these unequal policies had a role in precipitating the genocide. I don't think this is an accurate depiction of the root causes of the genocide. The RPF government itself lacks the rural legitimacy (which makes up almost 90% of the population) that the Habyarimana government enjoyed. That rural legitimacy meant that when the order to commit acts of genocide came down from the highest levels of the Hutu Power state in 1994, it found resonance in the hearts and minds of ordinary Hutu. They understood that this was a kill or be killed situation Many chose to kill, some because of hatred, others because of fear, some for score-settling... Kagame does not enjoy this rural legitimacy, and that means he cannot accurately predict that Rwandans will voluntarily consent to policies. This explains in part his great nervousness about the presence of opposition politician Victoire Ingabire in the country. Kagame needs to eliminate her as a political opponent lest rural and urban ordinary Rwandan vote for her as a vote against Kagame himself.

Second, Kimonyo writes that the RPF has allowed for consensus democracy. This is misleading to the average reader because the RPF has not allowed for any form of plural politics. Instead, Rwandan 'democracy' operates at the behest of President Kagame, and is subject to his personal whims. True political power exists in the hands of a few elite politicians who are loyal to Kagame. He rules with an iron-fist and is allergic to criticism. Political allies and opponents alike, journalist and human rights activists who question or challenge Kagame's rhetoric are dealt with harshly. The most recent example is Godwin Agaba. See also York's article on Didas Gasana and the stresses and strains of independent reporting in contemporary Rwanda.

We also need to hear more about the possible arrests of senior military officers, including General Karenzi Karake, General Nzaramba and Col. Zigira. Kagame is systemically removing any possible, real or perceived, threat to his authoritarian rule. Political opponents continue to be harassed and intimidated. The most recent example is the case of Deogratias Mushayidi who was brought into policy custody on 5 March. As far as I know, he is being detained without charge. This is not, as Kimonyo asserts, the basis for a consensual democracy.

When the RPF government can possibly eliminate political opponents from within its own military and harangue opposition politicians, this sends a message to the population that fear and insecurity is the order of the day. This has been reinforced with recent bombings in Kigali. The available evidence points to the RPF as the organisers of these attacks. Such incidences of insecurity feed into the rhetoric of senior RPF officials and President Kagame himself that the country is not ready for democracy.

Indeed, it may not be. But not because of Rwandans are not ready to engage pluralist politics (evidenced, according to Kimonyo, in mass political violence and genocide when the country seeks democracy) but because elites (whether Hutu or Tutsi) manipulate the local population to engage in violence as the sole option as power politics (and elite claims to political power) shape their everyday lives.