In an interview conducted with John V. Karuranga, President of the Rwanda Peoples Party, who lives in exile he expresses his current concerns for Rwanda and his vision of a peaceful and prosperous nation.
JF: Did the interview you recently did with a local online news outlet in Rwanda reach the intended audience and what was the reaction?
Yes, it reached the audience of the Rwandan government that we had been seeking all along. For example, the Rwandan Government recognized the existence of our party, the Rwanda Peoples Party, and that it can play an important role in the future of a new Rwanda.
JF: Have there been any negative effects or responses from the interview you gave?
No, I have not received any negative responses personally from the interview. The Ambassador did appear to discount the Rwanda Peoples Party (RPP). I believe he may have lost his mind and why he fought for peace and democracy in 1990 which continues to be the same situation facing Rwanda today. I agree with him that President Paul Kagame rules over one million people but these people have no freedoms and are imprisoned in their own country. Children are dying daily from starvation and what is being done to stop this? The RPP represents the future hopes of the Rwandan People. The RPP is urging President Kagame to engage in a dialogue in order to move Rwanda forward in to peace, democracy and freedom for all. A dialogue with the President does not mean harming the people of Rwanda in any way but only serves to improve the lives of the oppressed within and outside of Rwanda. No Rwandan should have to live in exile; we want to bring our children to a country where they would not live in fear as Rwandans do today. For example, over the New Year’s holiday in 2011-2012 many people died and more were injured but the Rwandan Government has not been able to tell the people what happened or where the people are now. Was it a grenade attack and by who? The ongoing grenade attacks are a sign that the Rwandan Government has lost control of its own security and people cannot protect themselves or rely on the government to do so. A government that cannot protect society is a government that does not deserve to be in charge of a developing nation.
JF: In this dialogue that you are requesting of President Kagame what are you asking for him to do?
The RPP is asking President Kagame to stop playing with people’s lives for his own personal gain. We want the opportunity to sit and have a peaceful discussion and not a war. The RPP does not believe in using force in any situation in Rwanda.
JF: In a response interview with the Ambassador to Uganda from Rwanda he said that you are welcome to come and dialogue in the annual National Dialogue. Is that an option you see as a possibility?
Let me emphasize this point, there is no national dialogue. A dialogue is a two sided discussion not just a one sided statement. Also, a dialogue cannot be held with only people whom you agree with and who agree with you. The annual dialogue is a bogus one, only RPF attend and agree with everything President Kagame says. It is simply window dressing for western donors in order to have the appearance of a democratic nation. When one listens to the dialogue you will hear that no one opposes the government in these discussions. Even Rwandans who have returned to Rwanda attend but do not ask pressing questions because they become a part of the oppressive system.
JF: In February 2012 Rwanda published a progress report on poverty in Rwanda. The report stated that one million people have been able to elevate their status and are no longer considered to live in poverty. Have you read this report and what are your thoughts?
Yes, I have read the report and believe it to be a falsified report. It was commissioned by corrupt people in order to confuse and prove to the international community that things are fine in Rwanda and progressing beyond expectations. While President Kagame was in New York at a hotel costing upwards of $20,000 USD per night fifteen children died in Rwanda from starvation. This information was from our supporters on the ground there.
JF: Without putting anyone in danger in Rwanda, can you tell me how many people you have on the ground in Rwanda that are members of the RPP?
We have more than 160,000 members trying to spread the political message of the RPP. Most of them are youth and some came over from the RPF to join the RPP and support its political ideologies.
JF: How are you able to get the message of the RPP to your supporters in Rwanda?
We rely on word of mouth. Our supporters go from village to village, hill to hill and shop to shop in order to spread the message of the RPP and democracy.
JF: Isn’t there a danger in speaking about the RPP in Rwanda?
That is the price we have to pay. No organization can campaign openly due to the laws and fear of retribution from the RPF. Our supporters talk to people about what needs to change in Rwanda and then explain about the RPP. Peaceful change is not dangerous.
JF: Mr. Karuranga, have you ever considered returning to Rwanda in order to run for parliament and make change from within?
Not really, we want peace talks with H.E. Paul Kagame. In parliament we would be joining a rubber stamp parliament and cannot make change in that way. We will return after peace talks only.
JF: President Kagame has made it clear that he does not want nor need to participate in peace talks so how do you see this request progressing?
Yes, he has stated that in many speeches but Rwanda is not President Kagame and President Kagame is not Rwanda. He cannot continue to tell his countrymen, who have no rights that he will not engage in these talks. If he does not want peace talks then what does he want? A war? The people of Rwanda want peace and if President Kagame does not embrace this process then the people of Rwanda will tell him to go.
JF: President Kagame was voted back into office by 93% in August of 2010. How will they tell him to ‘go’ if they are willing to keep him in office at such a high percentage in an election process?
If someone does not want peace then what do they want?
JF: Many have called the Rwandan Parliament a “rubberstamp parliament.” Why is that and how do you define a rubberstamp parliament?
The Rwandan Parliament is ‘rubberstamp’ because they do nothing. They earn money and fool the international community into having a democratic process when that does not exist. The Senate is catastrophic to the Rwandan people as well. Rwanda does not need two chambers of government for such a small and poor country. Parliament is enough for this nation and the Senate is appointed by President Kagame and must remain loyal at all costs. An average senator earns 2M RWF yearly, which equals just over $3,200 USD per month. If the RPP were to be in office the upper chamber would be abolished for these reasons.
JF: There is much talk and praise from the International Community about the amount of women who are in Parliament in Rwanda. What are your thoughts on this?
Issue of gender is very sensitive. Due to the nature of the entire parliament, men and women, none are able to make an informed choice. The women in parliament are not raising any issues that women and children are facing in Rwanda such as education, health; hunger and planning for their future are never brought up. The amount of women is commendable but is really a façade to blind the international community into thinking they have equal opportunities. Rwanda needs women in parliament who are empowered and can make informed choices and contributions to the social, political and economic issues of the country. I am not against the number of women at all; I am against the rubberstamp procedure.
JF: Hypothetically speaking, if the RPP was to take office in Rwanda tomorrow how would the government be arranged?
First we would conduct an International Delegation inviting all parties to sit and discuss what is best for our country. The RPP does not believe President Kagame has done all bad and we do want to cement on what he has done good. We also want to change the bad things he has done for our country. The RPP would also set up a separation of power while decreasing the power of the presidency to better serve the country and not ourselves. We intend to also reduce presidential term limits to two total terms 4.5 years. The RPP also would seek to protect the interests of the people by asking parliament to pass a law protecting all citizens to not be expelled from their jobs due to political affiliations. Further, we would ensure that when a change in power occurs it affects the executive but not the local people. We want the people to give their view on what kind of changes they want for their country. Our plan is to also draw up a new constitution while also giving power to the people of Rwanda to use the power of a free and fair ballot in all elections. Anyone in power, should it be the RPP or another group, must ensure that all Rwandese be brought back in the country unconditionally. We would also seek to end the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and petition the EAC to allow North and South Sudan as well as DRC in to the EAC.
JF: The rural population of Rwanda reportedly continues to struggle to meet their daily needs while the capitol city is developing rapidly. What would you do to change this so the rural population could also benefit from the growing development?
First we need to address the economic aspect of the rural population. They mostly survive on agricultural subsistence and we would encourage them to grow and trade what they grow while saving the surplus for their own consumption. Secondly, land reform is essential for these farmers. The people need to be given back the land through a buyback program for social and economic development. The people need to be encouraged to be a part of the economic community and not simply a spectator. Third, the rural population needs to be well positioned politically and economically. They are a very innovative and hardworking group of resilient people. Building industries all over the country then use the raw materials for export to neighbors and for their own consumption. We would enforce a freeze on all economic development in Kigali and focus those efforts into the rural areas. New slums are being created while only Kigali is being developed. People are moving into the developed areas for economic opportunities but cannot stay in their own communities to spread development there. Rwandans must be able to remain in their own areas to spread the economic development. Jobs must be created for all Rwandans.
JF: In your opinion why it is that development is only focused in Kigali and not the rural areas?
I believe it is about corruption. The development in Kigali is to impress the international community and invite them to visit so they will take pictures, return to their homelands and publish about how far Rwanda has progressed since the genocide in 1994. The government buys foreign media with pictures to help further the façade of development. The needs of Rwandans cannot be measured by the international community but only by the Rwandan people alone.
JF: Why does the International community seem to not be paying attention to what is really going on in Rwanda today?
I believe the international community is paying attention but where it serves them best. For example, Rwanda has peace keeping troops in Darfur on behalf of the international community regardless of killing his own people. President Kagame is believed to have sent assassins abroad, South Africa, UK, and Uganda to kill dissident voices. So, as long as President Kagame does the job for the international community they will cover him. The responsibility to change power in Rwanda lies in the hands of the Rwandans and not the international community.
JF: In a country where oppression and fear rule daily life for most people how will the people rise up and tell the leader is no longer wanted, if that is what they want?
No one wants to be enslaved forever. One cannot suppress people forever; maybe in the short-term but not forever. That suppression can be disastrous. Time is ticking and increased pressure on the people will cause and explosion despite the laws preventing public demonstrations. We have seen this in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and other countries that are on the brink of this explosion. Under Habyarimana regime people ivied in fear as they are now under the RPF and we saw what happened when people had enough of living under that fear.
JF: A few weeks back there was a horrific plane crash in DRC where President Kabila’s closes advisor was killed. Do you see this incident effecting relations with Rwanda in any way?
Relations with Rwanda are not wanted by the DRC government because the relations are at the expense of the DRC people. Unfortunately Rwanda is pressing the Congolese government for these relations. At this point it remains to be seen if there are any changes to the two government’s relations but I would not be surprised if there was a change. On behalf of my party I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the families, government and to the deceased.
JF: If the DRC does not want relations with Rwanda then why cease the relationship and remove the Rwandan troops from Eastern Congo?
The DRC government has said they want lasting peace for their nation. In the round table talks we are asking for we want to ensure that the DRC has democracy and is and trust the integrity of them as a sovereign nation. We are urging Rwanda to bring the troops home as well as the FDLR to leave the Congolese territory to the Congolese people. Let them decide their progress and maintain their borders while we maintain ours. As the RPP we want to partner with the DRC to revive Habyarimana economic policy to work together and for both nations to have their own economic integrity based on mutual agreement of the two countries. We also want to allow for DRC, Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda currencies to be used freely with the Rwf. Rwanda should be made a trans-shipment trade center for all of the EAC.
JF: In your opinion why do the Rwandan troops remain in the DRC?
They remain there to serve the Government of Rwanda interests. If no troops were there then a change of government would be able to occur peacefully. President Kagame is deceiving the Rwandan people that the troops are there to protect them from the Interahamwe. The RPP wants to protect the people of Rwanda by bringing enemies to discuss and hear what their views are and what they want. Pushing them away is not working. Rwandan troops are there to serve their own interests and are not there on a protecting mission. It is a fear tactic on the part of the Rwandan government.
JF: What positive strides has President Kagame made that you would like to continue if the RPP were to be in power in Rwanda?
We would continue with the return of the Rwandan refugees and have the return of the King Kigeli V as well. He is living in the USA and he should be at home in Rwanda as all Rwandans who want to be should be. Everyday 300 people leave Rwanda for Tanzania, Uganda and Eastern Congo to seek a better life. President Kagame failed 27,000 Rwandans who disappeared; they were prisoners and their whereabouts is unknown to this day. Their families want to know where they are. We will call upon the Government of Rwanda to tell the relatives where they are. They are no long on the records of prisoners held in Rwanda in any prison. They have simply vanished. This information was reported in The Chronicles on their new website in Rwanda. According to the report they all went missing at once. On January 3rd 2012 there was another grenade attack in Kigali; to the knowledge of the public there has been no arrest, no investigation and no justice for the victims or assurances to the Rwandan people that they will be protected from such acts.
JF: Earlier this year four of Kagame’s Generals were arrested. Do you have any opinion on that? Also what is your opinion on the status of the political prisoners currently incarcerated?
No one is above the law. The rule of law must be ingrained for any society to have order. That said the generals should get a free and fair trial with access to their families and a fair presentation in court. They should also be able to defend themselves against all allegations and be treated humanely. The lesson here is that regardless of one’s status the law will come for you. All members of society must be law abiding citizens.
JF: In closing is there anything you would like to say that I have not asked you about?
I wish to thank our supporters and encourage them to stay true. The Road to Rwanda is a difficult journey but we will soon reach our destination. Also I would like to urge the different political parties to understand that we are not enemies of each other and should respect each other’s views despite our differences. That we all have a right to contribute and have a say in what is best for Rwanda, especially the Rwandans living daily within the country. Finally, we call upon President Kagame to behave bravely and engage in peace talks with members of the opposition in order to best serve Rwanda. We have no grudge against him and nothing done politically is personal. The opposition groups are not enemies of the country.
By: Jennifer Fierberg, MSW