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.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

On Nyamwasa and Kagame

It has been a busy week in Rwandan politics.

There is much chatter, both domestically and among the disaspora, about the journey into exile of ex-army chief Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa.

President Kagame laid down a coup challenge, daring his detractors to raise a coup.

There were simultaneous bombs on Thursday evening in Kigali.

Let's contextualise this recent political activity.

First Nyamwasa is one of a long list of members of Kagame's inner circle to have fallen out of favour with him. Nyamwasa's interview with Kampala's Monitor is revealing for a few reasons.

The interview suggests, although Nyamwasa does not say so openly, that there an organised internal (within the RPF) opposition to Kagame's highly centralised and personal rule. It also raises unanswered questions about who is behind the recent bombings in Kigali....

Second, it reveals the extent to which Kagame seeks to control the political space. Dissent of any sort is not allowed; even Ambassadors are not safe. Those who challenge Kagame, or question his commitment to peace, reconciliation or democracy, are eliminated from the political realm.

Of course, there is much missing from the interview, including why Kagame is nervous about Nyamwasa's willingness to testify in a court of law about what he did, as a commander in the RPF, before, during and after the 1994 genocide. This includes Nyamwasa's willingness to speak out about the events surrounding the downing of former President Habyarimana's plane (the event that launched the 1994 genocide). Nyamwasa was indicted by French judge Brugiere, and was found guilty of war crimes.

Kagame reveals his great nervousness about a man who speaks out about his politics (even when they differ from Kagame's) and is willing to testify in a court of law, when he issues a coup challenge to anyone who might question Kagame's power and authority. In an ackward display of political power, Kagame urged his detractors, Nyamwasa among them, to try to take power from him.

Not only do such threat indicate the instability of Kagame's power based in Kigali, it also shows the extent to which Kagame views himself as the only legitimate source of power. This is unfortunate for all Rwandans, elite and ordinary folk alike.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Rwanda tops the list of number of women in parliament

As the world prepares to celebrate International Women's Day (8 March), Rwanda has once again in the spotlight as a country to emulate because of the country's commitment to women in government. This clip from the Sydney (Australia) Herald is representative.

I can see why many outsiders praise Rwanda. Only 16 years after the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has risen from the ashes to become a gender-equality trailblazer. Women enjoy many rights previously denied to them, including the right to own land, to open a bank account and to start a business. The government see women as critical partners to alleviate rural poverty and diversify the economy, moving from dependence on agriculture to a more knowledge-based one. To promote the role of women in politics, the constitution reserves 30% of the seats in parliament for women. The ruling party (Rwandan Patriotic Front, RPF) placed many women at the top of its lists of candidates. It has also appointed numerous women to senior government posts.

Yet, a few words of caution are in order even as women's visibility in politics is at an all-time high, their ability to shape the future of the country, ironically, has not improved. Rwanda's parliament has limited influence. Power is heavily concentrated in the hands of President Kagame and his close advisors. Parliamentarians – be they male or female – actually have very little power to legislate on behalf of their constituents. They have little room to develop policy or even to debate openly; space for free and open political expression is limited.

Female political representation and more progressive laws have not translated into a significant improvement in the lives of the poor. Some 90% of Rwandan women are peasants who rely on subsistence agriculture. Few have benefited from the country's progressive gender policies or relatively high rates of economic growth. The gap between the living standards of some wealthy urbanites and most rural dwellers is actually increasing. Post-genocide policies favour the urban elite, many of whom are (Anglophone) Tutsi who returned to live in Rwanda after the genocide. The vast majority of Rwandan women (and men) who survived the genocide remain extremely poor, politically marginal and, in many cases, traumatised by what they lived through. Increasing levels of authoritarianism actually stifle any attempts to address growing inequalities.

This leads to a final point: female parliamentarians and cabinet ministers do not function independently of party politics. They do not, by virtue of their sex, automatically prioritise gender equality over the ruling party's political agenda. Rwanda's post-genocide government understandably seeks to maintain peace and security. It does so in part through a policy of national unity and reconciliation. It has banned references to ethnicity from public discourse: Rwanda is a land of all Rwandans and there no longer are any Hutu, Tutsi or Twa. Though these are arguably laudable objectives, the government uses this policy as a tool to suppress dissent and silence criticism. The RPF expects parliamentarians and other public figures to toe the party line. Those who do not are accused of "ethnic divisionism" or promoting "an ideology of genocide" and relegated to the sidelines or worse, jailed or "disappeared". Even aid donors are loth to criticise the government, which does not hesitate to play the genocide guilt card against them.

We should not confuse the largely symbolic achievements of gender equality with concrete progress in most women's lives, nor allow a gender lens to obscure recognition of the growing social and political inequalities in Rwanda under an often authoritarian and repressive government.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sarkozy and Kagame, part II

I guess that France's President Sarkozy did not raise issues of democratic freedom, human rights and social justice with President Kagame.

It is a good thing that the wife of the former President of Rwanda Habyariama has been arrested. See the BBC article here. It is also a sad commentary on how diplomatic relations work and speaks to the colonial legacy of how France does business in Africa.

I hope there was some democratic carrot with this stick of justice.

The question now is whether Mrs. Habyarimana will be extradited to Rwanda. We'll all have to wait and see....