Time to Turn the Heat On President Kagame
The Monitor (Kampala)
June 8, 2003
Posted to the web June 10, 2003
As elections approach in Rwanda, international donors need to decide
whether or not to lend their financial support.
Yet donors should recognise that under present circumstances, the
just concluded referendum on the constitution, coupled with the
legislative and presidential elections slated for later this year, are
meaningless and potentially dangerous.
By taking this public position, we hope to incite the European
Commission, its sponsors and other governments to confront the
reality - head on. For a long time, a number of academics, journalists
and NGOs have expressed grave concern over events in Rwanda. They
have good reason to be worried: the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF),
the all-powerful party of Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame whose tenure of
office will soon clock ten years, constantly stifles any opposition
within the country.
It is important to highlight the flagrant contradiction between
preaching democratisation and national reconciliation on one hand,
and engaging in actions which intimidate and effectively eliminate all
opposition on the other. The Government of Rwanda has stifled all
criticism and strictly controls its population.
Since RPF's ascension to power in 1994, the regime has not ceased to
harden, particularly during the last few years. Repression has reached
great heights, as political instability has increased across the country
and within the army.
Political parties in Rwanda assure the regime a democratic facade,
while the RPF is concentrating power at all levels and is ready to
discard all potential competitors in the planned referendum. All
journalists, who dare step out of bounds permitted by the regime, are
constantly harassed and live in a daily climate of fear and repression.
The political opposition is confined to exile or clandestine activities.
Dozens of people suspected of having a link with the opposition, have
been forced to keep quiet, simply killed or reported missing.
In this context, we must ask whether it is wise to give unconditional
support to the agenda of the current Rwandan regime. Are elections
of any value in a country where all dissident voices are systematically
subdued and silenced? What goal will elections serve, other than
encouraging further control of the country by RPF under Maj. Gen.
What are the alternatives? For a start, there should be the immediate
re-establishment of the right to association and expression and the
immediate release of all political prisoners.
Moreover, it is no longer acceptable to marginalise external political
opposition. The external opposition must be supported, before other
challengers try to take over by military means. It is certainly
necessary to exclude those whose racist ideologies led to the
genocide of the Tutsi and moderate Hutus in 1994. But there exists
today a legitimate Rwandese political opposition with a political
platform that is broadly representative of different communities and
This political class is made up of responsible men and women who are
ready to return to Rwanda and engage in the debates within their
country. If it is willing to do so, the European Union has the ability to
push for more political openness in Rwanda. East Africa can also
influence the current government in Kigali and can give the democratic
opposition the weight it deserves.
Finally, Maj. Gen. Kagame should be continually reminded that anyone,
within his regime, who commits crimes, would sooner or later be
brought to justice.
The regime has sent some positive signals. The recent contact
between the opposition and the Embassy of Rwanda in Brussels is a
Last October, the withdrawal of troops from Congo, even though it
was incomplete, was another positive signal.
But, these actions do not reflect a real willingness on the part of the
regime to open-up political space. Rather, they point to the fact that
currently, the only counter-balance to the power in Rwanda is that of
the international community. May they not forget this.
*The author is a Political Scientist and Researcher at the Centre for
the Study of the Great Lakes Region of Africa at the University of