Rwanda needs deeper reforms

FOES: Gen. Nyamwasa was once at par with former boss Kagame (R). FILE PHOTOS

What you need to know:

  • Gen. Nyamwasa, Former Rwandan Army Chief of Staff and Ambassador to India
  • Col. Karegeya, Former Chief of External Security Services
  • Dr Rudasingwa, Former Secretary General, RPF; Ambassador to the United States and Chief of Staff to the President
  • Mr Gahima, Former Prosecutor General of the Republic of Rwanda and Vice President of the Supreme Court

In a signed paper emailed to Sunday Monitor, co-authors Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, Col. Patrick Karegeya, Dr Theogene Rudasingwa and Gerald Gahima say progress in Rwanda needs to be buttressed by deeper democratic reforms. Excerpts.

In 1994, Rwanda suffered a tragedy that left over one million of its citizens dead as a result of war and genocide. The war and genocide resulted in immense suffering to millions more. The war and genocide have had far-reaching repercussions for both Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa as a whole.

Rwanda’s recovery from the ravages of war and genocide is generally regarded as a rare success story in post-conflict reconstruction. Visitors to the country are impressed by its economic growth, security situation and cleanliness, as well as the orderliness of its people and the efficiency with which its institutions conduct business. To its passionate friends, Rwanda is a shining example of democratisation, reformation, and an effective and efficient government.

Supporters of the Rwandan government largely attribute Rwanda’s success in post-war reconstruction to President Paul Kagame. The rebel general-turned-civilian politician cultivates a cult-image as the sole hero of the country’s achievements. President Kagame is perceived by most outsiders as both invincible and indispensable to national and regional stability.

RPF achievements
The Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) has registered many achievements since 1994. Its army is generally credited with having stopped the genocide, although there are genocide survivors who do not share this view. Its government re-established law and order, restored essential social services, repatriated and resettled millions of refugees and internally displaced persons, and established effective state institutions, that have rescued Rwanda from the brink of becoming a failed state.

The government has, with the often grudgingly acknowledged assistance of the international community, helped to spur economic recovery. President Kagame rightly deserves his share of credit for Rwanda’s progress in reconstruction after the war and genocide.

There is, however, more to Rwanda and Kagame than new buildings, clean streets, and efficient. Rwanda is essentially a hard-line, one-party, secretive police state with a façade of democracy. The ruling RPF has closed space for political participation. The RPF does not tolerate political opposition or open competition for power.

The government ensures its monopoly of power by means of draconian restrictions on the exercise of the fundamental human rights of citizens. The press, civil society and opposition parties are deprived of freedom to operate freely. President Kagame and the ruling party that he leads depend on repression to stay in power.

Rwanda has failed to transition to good governance and democracy. The RPF manipulated the transition process to entrench its monopoly of political and economic power. Rwanda is a one-party authoritarian state, controlled by President Kagame through a small clique of Tutsi military officers and civilian cadres of the RPF from behind the scenes.

Hutus excluded
The majority Hutu community remains excluded from a meaningful share of political power. State institutions are as effective as they are repressive. The government relies on severe repression to maintain its hold on power.

The situation that prevails raises serious questions about the country’s future. Are the country’s development achievements sustainable? Can Rwanda continue to be peaceful while the government continues to be repressive and many people consider the government illegitimate? How do we balance individual freedoms and the requirement for a stable community? How should citizens respond when rulers mistake the state to be their personal estate and deprive their subjects of their inalienable rights?

More questions
Should they resist peacefully or take up arms? If armed conflict is ill-advised, given its potential to cause human suffering, how else then can citizens reclaim their rights to hold the government accountable?
What strategies would help Rwanda avoid violent conflict that appears inevitable and to set it on the path towards peaceful resolution of the problems that drive conflict in Rwandan society?

The state of governance in Rwanda cannot be discussed in isolation from the character of the RPF and the quality of its leadership because of the very dominant role that the RPF in general and President Kagame have played in the politics of post-genocide Rwanda. The RPF assumed control of government at the end of the genocide and civil war because it was the only opposition group with the military capacity to take on the organisers and perpetuators of the genocide.

At the end of the genocide, the RPF briefly cohabited in a coalition government with other organisations that had opposed the Habyarimana dictatorship. Since late 1995, the RPF has progressively assumed exclusive control of the state.

The RPF was originally established as a people’s movement whose goal was to bring together under one umbrella, individuals and groups of different political backgrounds and ideological beliefs that shared a minimum political platform to promote democracy in Rwanda. From its founding in 1979 as the Rwandese Alliance for National Union (RANU) to its capture of state power in 1994, the RPF professed a commitment to the vision of a free, democratic order under an accountable government.

The RPF is no longer the democratic, inclusive and principled organisation that its founders and early leaders and members intended it to be. The organisation has now become a caricature of its former self.
The party, like the rest of the country, is engulfed by fear, held hostage to President Kagame’s arbitrary and repressive rule.

The prime objective of the struggle of the RPF, as well other groups that rose up during the late 1980s and early 1990s to take on the challenge of opposing the Habyarimana dictatorship, was to establish democracy in Rwanda. The RPF’s management of the affairs of Rwanda since the genocide and civil war has led to reversing, rather than consolidating, the gains that the struggle for democracy had achieved prior to the genocide.
In practice, the RPF has progressively reduced the space for other political forces to operate in the country. The 1995 ousting of Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu and other critical ministers started a trend towards progressive consolidation of the RPF’s monopolistic control of the machinery of the state. The RPF has, since then, striven for unrivalled political supremacy in Rwanda.

It has achieved this political supremacy not through an open and free process of competition with other political forces, but through repressive laws, administrative practices and the use of the security services to frustrate the exercise of the civil and political rights of opponents. Not only is the opposition excluded from participating in government; it is effectively barred from undertaking any activities inside the country at all. The RPF enjoys unchallenged power in Rwanda. Rwanda is far less free now than it was prior to the genocide.

The political system of the Rwandan state lacks mechanisms of checks and balances that are essential for good governance and genuine democracy. The President has absolute control over the executive branch of government. The Executive, in turn, completely dominates other organs of government.

Re-defining sectarianism
The government passed legislation to punish sectarianism and discrimination. The government has, since 2003, used accusations of “sectarianism,” “divisionism,” and “spreading of genocide ideology” to curtail political opposition and civil society work, most specifically human rights work. These crimes are not properly defined in the relevant legislation.

The politics of ethnicity remain intractable in Rwanda. The majority of the Hutu middle-class that was ousted from power in 1994 remains in exile, un-reconciled to the new political order, biding time and hoping for a regime change. Some armed insurgents continue to wage war against the Rwandan state from their sanctuaries in the Democratic Republic of Congo, sixteen years after the genocide.

The externally-based unarmed opposition calls for dialogue on how to resolve the country’s continuing crisis, but the government says that the conflict has been resolved and there is no need for negotiation of a settlement.

Reconciliation wanting
There cannot be genuine reconciliation in Rwanda until the grievances of the Hutu community over the issues of political participation, as well as the guarantees for the minorities, equal citizenship before the law, access to resources and accountability for human rights abuses are addressed.

The hopes for a democratic, peaceful and stable Rwanda that the overthrow of the rump government that carried out the genocide once inspired have dissipated. The issues that have previously driven conflict in Rwanda remain unresolved. Rwanda is, by many accounts, again in grave risk of very violent conflict.

Such conflict is not inevitable, but neither is it easily avoidable. Whether Rwanda will again have to endure atrocious conflict or find a way to overcome the forces responsible for intractable conflict and transition to a peaceful, stable democracy will depend on the policies and actions of many players, including President Kagame himself, Rwandan society at large and, indeed, the international community.

We offer the following reflections on some of the steps that may need to be taken to avert a new catastrophe and set Rwanda on a path towards security, peace, democracy, genuine reconciliation, national healing, and sustainable development.

Promoting freedom as the foundation on which to build peace and shared prosperity for all Rwandans; Undertaking a genuine, inclusive, unconditional and comprehensive National dialogue on the nature and causes of the country’s major problems, and on a compact on the future of the country; Establishing a New National Partnership Government to lead Rwanda through the transition to democracy; and Engaging the international community including, in particular, Rwanda’s neighbours, to support Rwanda’s reform agenda.

Looming crisis
The people of Rwanda, together with rest of the international community, have a moral duty to work to end this repressive system of government. Rwanda is literally again on the brink of an abyss.

The complicity of collusion and silence that contributed to making the 1994 genocide possible ought not to be repeated. The manner in which the international community has engaged the government of Rwanda to date clearly indicates that the lessons that ought to have been drawn from the 1994 genocide have not been learnt.

The next priority is to ensure that Rwanda changes its laws on political participation.