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.


  1. Is it possible that the government of Kenya keeps harassing an opposition candidate, who you say is not a threat politically, because they are genuinely concerned about unrest and tensions that her - you have to admit - inflammatory speeches inspire?

  2. Susan,

    While I agree in overall agreement with your analysis, I fail to understand why you keep stating that "Victoire Ingabire is [not] a serious threat to Kagame."

    I think it is important to point out that the "war culture" is largely driven by irrational political ambitions. That violence is an instrument of maintaining power. The leaders, who fear and loath a transparent democratic system, prefer to use violence against their opponents.

    Lastly, there must be a reason why political violence increases as the regime approaches elections...

  3. Thanks Susan for the analysis.

    For sure, Mrs Ingabire represents the greatest threat to Kagame's regime.

    This is why Kagame and his acolytes keep tarnishing Mrs. Ingabire's image using the media in order to disqualify her from running for president.

    In his speeches Kagame attacks this courageous lady because he fears so much her efficiency and determination.