By: Jennifer Fierberg, MSW
The Rwanda Peoples Party-IMVURA (RPP-I) recently celebrated their one year anniversary as a political party vying for peaceful change in Rwanda. John Karuranga has been at the helm of the party since its inception and through his vision the party is moving forward and strongly requesting peace talks with Rwandan President Paul Kagame in order for the people of Rwanda to live in a peaceful and equal society where each voice is heard no matter their ethnicity.
In an interview from London, UK, Mr. Karuranga spoke with this reporter regarding many issues facing Rwanda at this critical time. Rwanda is fast approaching a crossroads of peace or disharmony and if change is not sought and accepted very soon fears are that Rwanda will go the way of many other African countries have gone in the last eight months.
The following is the Skype interview with Mr. Karuranga:
Q : Good afternoon Mr. Karuranga, as we sit here this afternoon there are numerous reports coming out of Libya of rebels having taken over Tripoli, Gadhafi’s sons being taken into custody and a fight for control of the airport continues. What lessons do you believe the world and African Leaders specifically should take away from this situation?
JK: The first lesson to the many dictators of Africa, especially the Rwandan President Paul Kagame, is that they should beware of what the people want in their own countries. There is a pattern of uprisings among the people in Africa and throughout the Middle East where the people will no longer stand for their dignity and freedoms being robbed from them by the dictatorial regimes. We are seeing this pattern moving one-by-one from Algeria, Egypt, and Libya and to Rwanda probably tomorrow if not today.
These dictators that use their armies to suppress their citizens will never have sanctuaries anywhere in the world. They need to know that the end of cold war had changed the games at which they used to surpass their own people during the times when socialism and capitalism blocks where competing and scrambling to maintain their status quo as one the global domination powers. Today, this game is over and I can assure you that President Kagame is no longer sleeping and is in total confusion as the nets are closing on him from all directions. The RPP today is in bold position than ever to change and re-write Rwanda’s political landscape with or without peace talks. Nothing will impede the RPP to re-write it even though Mr. Kagame is hoping that by appeasing and blackmailing the western power on Libya may help to loosen the rope that is already hanging over his neck.
Q: Rwanda has a long history of being a one party oppressive system. Democracy has not had any stronghold and the fear of democracy among the current ruling party under President Paul Kagame kept the election of 2010 to an unfair competition. Mr. Kagame won the election by 93% and the only opposing parties allowed on the day of the election had been appointed by Mr. Kagame himself. Prior to the elections most opposing parties had been disallowed to register for the vote, had been jailed or even murdered. In your view what is the prospect of the opposition to defeat President Kagame in the near future?
JK: Today, there is no credible opposition against Kagame because no one is there for the interest of Rwanda and Rwandan people rather they are serving their own personal interests. And as result that has hindered unified opposition groups walking together on the same pass of the road rather than get lost into the cross road. The President Kagame can only be defeated with a unified Rwandan opposition, not an ethnically divided Hutu, Tutsi and Twa situation as it is today. The ethnicities must unite and have a common goal and platform because power can no longer be based on ethnicity or nothing will change even if President Kagame is no longer in power. The problem of Rwanda is selfishness of Rwandan politicians that uses ethnicity for their own political agenda. Much like in Belgium, where the country may be divided by some politicians that are motivated to serve their selfish interest rather than that of Belgium as one nation and one people. A political ticket between Hutu and Tutsi is disastrous and will never work for our people and Rwanda as nation. Rwandan must move away from the notion of polarizing ethnicity in order to meet the challenges and expectations of Rwandan future generations. The hope for this lies in the future generations because they are the key that will continue to uphold the unity and togetherness of Rwanda as nation. We, as politicians, must provide them a solid and unshakable foundation in which their hopes and aspirations will continue to be built on. Currently there is no freedom of speech, poverty is extensive, houses are being demolished, and insecurity and poverty in the villages affects all Rwandans not just the separate ethnic groups.
We often discuss “what can we do to change the situation in our country.” After President Kagame is gone, then investigations can begin to look into the assassinations of Habyarimana, Rwigyema and the two invasions of the DRC. Ethnic disorganization and lack of focus on critical issues keeps Rwanda divided and in peril. The opposition groups should be united in the love for the country first, not ethnicity. The many political oppositiol groups cannot form a government because they are not united. Opposition, defined as anyone opposed to the RPF regime, need to come together but not based on ethnicity or sectarianism. These political groups in exile are not coming together because of the wall of fear and a fear of the unknown, insecurity and ethnicity. Many of these groups in exile are not there for Rwanda or for the benefit of the people of the Rwandan people.
There is an air of barriers of distrust that needs to be overcome. This distrust comes from the Rwandan government and is now gradually intoxicating the opposition groups. They harass people at their homes so much that husbands don’t talk to their wives, children do not talk to teachers and no one trusts anyone. Instead they fear each other which is a fear based on speaking out against the government with a fear of being poisoned. The Mr. Kagame knows there is nothing that can be done to dismantle his brutality when the opposition cannot be organized. Fear is a dangerous disease which leads to isolation, depression, paranoia, heart attack, suicide, mental detention and self-destruction. We need to remove the barriers of distrust and wall of fear.
Q: Mr. Karuranga, what do you believe are the prospect of peace talks with President Kagame?
JK: The only way to remove him is to unite as Rwandans for peace. The people of Rwanda have gone beyond sectarian issues to face many important issues that affect their day-to-day lives. He has been given a choice to negotiate peace and to be a part of the new Rwanda we all want to build. Whether or not Peace talks occur is unknown at this point with Mr. Kagame. We hope he will answer the call for peace talks and we believe that only cowards would never engage in a peaceful progress for the betterment of their people. We hope Mr. Kagame is not one of them. Brutal dictators don’t learn lesson even though they end up in miserable circumstances, look at Mubarak, Gaddafi and many others who had refused to talk peace with their fellow countrymen. Where are they now? Jennifer, let me tell you this, Mr. Kagame is the greatest liar of the 21st century. He is lying to himself that Rwanda can’t be there without him, he lies to himself that the so called the “Friends of Rwanda” are there to protect and die for him in bid to continue to suffocate the popular uprising of his own people. At the same time, he doesn’t even believe that he destroys himself by killing and enslaving his fellow Rwandan. The window of opportunity for talks has a limited period and it is up to him to accept our offer or leave it. I believe if he is a clever man, who caring love and passion for his country and people, he will engage in peace talks with his fellow Rwandans; however the disunity among the opposition is only focused on ethnicity and genocide ideology and will, thus may hold back the talk.
Q: Do you see any similarities between what has happened to Gaddafi possibly happening to President Kagame?
JK: Yes, I see that what has happened to Gaddafi can happen to Mr. Kagame but it depends on how the opposition could organize the popular masses. Yet, the barriers of fear and distrust must be removed. I don’t see President Kagame in the next two years still at the helm in Rwanda. When people come together no one can break their conviction.
The Algerians, Egyptians and Libyans made it because they were united together to shape their destiny and this is what the Rwandan opposition need to do today. We are hoping for talks to take place in March/April of next year with the Rwanda government. During these talks we want to give Mr. Kagame a safe exit and not humiliate him after a peaceful electoral process can be put in place. We want him to feel free to live in Rwanda and work there. We don’t want him to be killed or in prison because we want to start a new Rwanda, hoping he will answer the call positively.
Q: What about the war crimes and human rights violations that Mr. Kagame is believed to have committed since 1994? Should he stand trial for those crimes?
JK: I believe he should be absolved of his human rights violations since 1994 if any. Everything in the world has a price. Many people believe that President Kagame is responsible for the 1994 genocide. I totally disagree with that accusation. Kagame is not responsible for the 1990 civil war nor is he responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide and he is not even responsible for the death of President Habyarimana. The people of Rwanda should be willing to search their hearts and give President Kagame space and forgiveness in order to move forward into a peaceful and ethnically unified country. I don’t see Mr. Kagame feeling sorry for liberating his country? I think whatever, happened in 1994 should be the responsibility of the previous regime shaming and disgracefully preventing the children of Rwanda to return to their home country. It is responsible for 1994 genocide but not Mr. Kagame; however, we agree that Mr. Kagame and all his top military commanders should be held accountable for the death of Rwandan refugees in the DRC. The same case the FAR and the Interahamwe militias should continue to be held accountable for the 1994 genocide.
The RPP is open for peace talks. We want to work out peace for the country and we are willing to negotiate what is best for Rwanda and the Rwandan people, and who stays in power will depends on negotiation and the will of the people in a free and fair election. Sometime, you may let it go for the interest of the nation and or to allow the country to move-on.
Q: As the President of the RPP, what are the future plans for your organization and if President Kagame were to engage in the peace talks?
JK: We plan to continue to mobilize the people of Rwanda for change through peaceful negotiations. Should Mr. Kagame refuse, then the second stage would be determined with him. Many options are available and we are willing to listen to the challenges that he proposes. It makes no difference how change happens but we would like President Kagame to be a partner to peace talks. We, as the RPP, are not willing to institute terror on the brave citizens of Rwanda but we are prepared to return to Rwanda with or without the consent of Mr. Kagame. We are Rwandan, no one has the right to deny fellow Rwandan their rights to dignity and freedom and none of was born to be a refugee.
The ball is in his court how change will happen. The time is now because the people of Rwanda have had enough suffering, the time is now because the climate of change is more inevitable than it was yesterday. Our main role will be to mobilize all Rwandan to achieve national reconciliation and national dialogue and work towards to a democratic dispensation that will fulfill the aspirations of the will of the Rwandan people to freely determine by their own destiny.
We must look beyond of the 1994 tragedies. The country and the people must move-on, we must stop our bleeding, heal our wounds and cover our scars, so as to look forward to embrace the bright future of our people and of Rwanda as a nation. Rwandans need to use the tragic events of 1994 as a lesson learned but not as the future policy to govern our consciousness.
Q: What do think of the recent visit of President Museveni to Rwanda?
JK: The visit President Museveni was normal and not special even flying there was not special. All the talk on the importance of his visit is just speculation. We need to move away from those issues to focus on what affects our people at home. President Museveni’s visit will have no role in peace talks. The RPP are first for asking for peace talks since the RPF failed to bring lasting peace to Rwanda. The RPF must admit the mistake of not bringing lasting peace and make a change. The RPF has done good things and can’t be denied but more bad has been done than good for the people of Rwanda.
Q: Do you find any significance in President Kagame’s visit to France next month?
JK: His visit to France is important for the people of Rwanda, not Mr. Kagame. The RPP supports his visit to France in order to build the relationship, to put behind gruesome atrocities of 1994 and work toward the future of the two countries and their international relationship.
In 1994 the RPF came with good intentions. The war of 1990 would not have occurred if the previous government with support of France and Belgium did not refuse the refugees to return home and therefore the 1994 genocide would not have taken place had they chosen not to kill their own people. The RPF came with good intentions but the genocide made the country ungovernable and full of chaos.
Q: There is much talk that there will be protests in France because of Mr. Kagames visit. What do you think about the demonstrators?
JK: People have the right to be a part of the democratic process in whatever capacity they feel is just. If the goal of the protest is to get the attention of the international community that is good. But, if the motive is purely ethnicity based then it will achieve nothing. I also hope that the demonstrators will demand the government of France to arrest those Rwandan responsible for the 1994 genocide currently sheltering in France.
Q: What do you see as the role, if any, of the International Community in this peace talks process you are proposing?
JK: The International community should simply be observers because it is only Rwandans that know what changes are needed so their role should be that of observers only and help after peace talks but not to intervene during peace talks. Their role would be purely observant, advisory and of monitoring the implementations and compliances of the peace talks accord. No further role beyond these boundaries.
Q: With consideration for a peaceful change in Rwanda how do you see Rwanda of tomorrow?
JK: People will come together, united, for a common cause as Rwandans but not as specific and separate ethnic groups. They will all have same protections, same rights and living together side-by-side in harmony and without fear.
Q: Should peace talks end in the way you desire, what will become of the currently imprisoned political leaders and those Rwandan living in fear in exile?
JK: As for the current political prisoners; there is no need to keep them in prison they should all be released immediately without any pre-condition attached. All political repression will be put to an end through peace talks. Also prisoners who served half of their prison sentences or who were persuaded to commit genocide will be released. We also plan for the Rwandans that were victims of miscarriages of justice to be compensated.
Q: What do you see as President Kagame’s future in Rwanda?
JK: We hope he will accept peace talks because we want him to benefit from this process .We have no hatred toward him or the RPF; we don’t want him in prison or to die. Mr. Kagame has a bright future in Rwanda if he is to engage in peace talks and we will see to it that he is not humiliated like Mubarak or Gaddafi. We will offer him any kind of peaceful exit. All Rwandans are welcome to be a part of the new Rwanda except for those indicted by UN or those who responsible for genocide. We believe that the Rwandan army and Interahamwe are responsible for the 1994 genocide. There was no justification for the genocide. Equally, there was no justification for the death of the Rwandan Refugees at Kibeho and in the refugees in the DRC; and those responsible should be held accountable for their deed. Mr. Kagame will be given a chance to change and participate in the new Rwanda that we all want to build.
Q: Can you speak to how regional politics will play a role in the new Rwanda?
JK: We plan for a peaceful co-existence between Uganda and Rwanda as well as the EAC. We plan to help the people of the Congo through a peaceful settlement of the DRC. We will pull Rwandan troops out of DRC and will stand down from threat to Rwanda. The Congo will have the same equal rights as Rwanda under new regime but the layers of problems in the DRC needs to be looked at as to why we are a military presence there and then address those issues. We must look at why are they there and what are they doing?
Q: The DRC is soon coming to a national election. Do you see this election having any effect on Rwanda?
JK: Rwanda should not have a hand in changing DRC. In 1964 Rwanda went into the Congo to achieve an objective. The election of DRC will not affect Rwanda in any way. Their political direction is up to the people of the DRC. Rwanda should not intervene in any outcome of the upcoming elections. It is only for the Congolese people to decide. Permanent peace for the Congo and the RPP will be included in the peace talks.
Q: Do you believe the international community is aware of all the present day problems and human rights violations within Rwanda?
JK: Yes, I believe the international community is aware of problems within Rwanda but are afraid of cutting off power because no group is in place to peacefully take over. They know there is no political openness in Rwanda and even if Mr. Kagame was to step down to day there would be chaos within the country because there is no viable political alternative in place to take over currently on the ground in Rwanda. The international community wants to see a united opposition group before President Kagame is forced to step down. Not a group that is ethnically based, but one that is entirely chosen by the Rwandan people in a fair democratic process.
Q: Do you believe the international community understands the full events and history of Rwanda prior to the 1994 Genocide? Do you believe they base their decisions for diplomacy on this lack of knowledge?
JK: The international community does not understand the history of Rwanda and they are not even interested to know because their needs are different from that of our people. They are trying to pick up the pieces of Rwanda via Hutu and Tutsi interactions leading up to, through and after the 1994 Genocide. The international community only sees Rwanda from 1994 until present day and they do not see the history of Rwanda an how that has led to the current day situation within the country. The world is paying attention now because of international interests and because of guilt from 1994 and their lack of action to prevent or stop the genocide. No group has a great picture of Rwanda because, again, Rwanda is divided down ethnic lines only not as a whole Rwandan people group. Why can’t they sit together and work as a whole group and not to suppress minorities? We don’t need a majority rule but a majority government elected by the people, voting not based on ethnicity. If you can hear the voices coming from within Rwanda one would be surprised of their cries, but no one hears their voices because there is no open space for politics or freedom of speech. We believe change can happen tomorrow if the people are heard. The RPP is the voice of millions of innocent, defenseless and downtrodden who voices have been suffocated by the Kagame regime.
Q: How big is RPP as a political organization?
JK: The RPP is a new group in the process of building a political platform within Rwanda. It is not about numbers but about ideas and a focus on what affect the people of Rwanda. Whether a party of one or millions it does not matter because the voices of the people of Rwanda need to be heard and we are listening to them. Political groups should be respected for ideas not for numbers. Jennifer, I can tell you that the Jasmine revolution was started by one younger man, so as the Egyptian and Libyan revolutions. The 1982-86 NRM’s struggle was idea of one man and that was quickly shared by other 26 men that included the Mr. Paul Kagame and the late Rwigyema. The idea to liberate Rwanda was first raised by myself in 1983 and 1986 and was quickly supported by thousands of stateless Rwandan, thus triggered the 1990 invasion of Rwanda by the RPF/A. The RPP again is an independent political organization with vibrant political program and her operational strategies based on the party policy and procedures.
The party operates out of the wall of fear and barriers of distrust. The RPP was the first Rwandan opposition political party to be formed in the UK. Its formation sent out shivering fever and political uncertain to Kagame’s camps both in Rwanda and the UK. The UK being a strong supporter of Mr. Kagame, it was like an explosion of an atomic bomb because neither the RFP nor the UK government had given a though that an opposition group opposed to Mr. Kagame could be born and operates on the UK soil.
I can assure you that Mr. Kagame is in a Coma that he will never come out of it, caused by a shock of unprecedented explosion. We have the support of hundreds of thousands men and women of all ages throughout Rwanda that we share the dream of a unified Rwanda, a Rwanda of passion and love, a Rwanda that embraces equal opportunity and prosperity for every Rwandan.
As party, we always strive to limit dangers associated with premature exposures of our party and party members. We always deploy the SWOT model: Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat as the primary criteria for organizing the RPP operational strategies.
The numbers don’t matter; it is the ability to support the people of Rwanda with vibrant ideas for lasting peace. The RPP’s primary audience is Rwandan people at home and we are reaching it through the RPP incorruptible team of AVG working inside Rwanda.
*Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are that of the respondent only and not that of the publication or the author.