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.

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Push for Political Openness in Rwanda