“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark”
Faustin Twagiramungu addresses President Paul Kagame on the topic of Refugees.
Faustin Twagiramungu is a politician from Rwanda living in exile in Belgium. He was prime minister of Rwanda after the 1994 civil war until his resignation in 1995. He was the first head of government appointed after the Rwandese Patriotic Front captured Kigali. He continues to live in Belgium for safety purposes and so he can speak freely about the government of Rwanda. He is the President of the RDI-Rwanda Rwiza Party based in Brussels.
Twagiramungu stood as an independent candidate in the Rwandan presidential election of 2003. Running on a platform of full employment, regional security, and progressive taxation, he accused the government of attempting to silence his views. In the final count, he placed second (out of three) with 3.62 percent of the vote. He initially did not accept the result, claiming that the incumbent Paul Kagame was leading the country towards a one-party system. (Wikipedia)
Mr. Twagiramungu participated in an interview with this writer to further explain his position on the return of refugees and how the letter may be interpreted
He began by stating that the inspiration to write this letter to President Paul Kagame and declaration came from his own experience as a refugee and what has happened in his country since 1959. “We are a country of refugees from 1959 up to now and we think there is a reason for that. One, it is about politics and second it is a way we position ourselves and third, we do not have what you call in the Western world ‘Political Space’ and respect for human rights. That is why people don’t want to stay in that country.” Mr. Twagiramungu further indicated that that Rwandans do not want to return to Rwanda because they will not get their property back and they do not have freedom of speech. “We have 255,000 refugees in Congo. These are official figures, but I believe there are beyond 300,000.” Mr. Twagiramungu references the 2010 Mapping Report, which provides details of how Kagame has killed thousands of Rwandans and Congolese in the DRC. He stated that if this Mapping Report went before a tribunal then it would be called genocide. President Kagame has clearly stated he does not care about the 2010 Mapping Report and stated it should be thrown in the trash.
Mr. Twagiramungu has spent 20 years as a refugee outside of Rwanda. He stated, “It is too much.” He has a special compassion and focus on the children suffering in the camps in the Congo whom, he states, they have no school to go to and no access to a hospital. He went on to state that they are living is very difficult situations and have been forgotten by the UNHCR. He further reports that, “even the government of Congo does not care about them” and that Kagame does not want them all back. Mr.
Twagiramungu stated that when President Kagame travels abroad he does not ever mention the hundreds of thousands of refugees living abroad because he does not care about them.
When asked what would be required for refugees to return home beyond what he stated in the letter, he specified that it would require political change including democracy such as in Japan who has been replicating western values in their political systems after World War II. He believes if Africans can learn from these positive values then refuges would return home with more confidence of their safety. He referenced the developments of what has been happening in Nigeria where soldiers came into power then instilled democracy. However, he explains that instead of learning from these examples Kagame wants to “attack Burundi, he wants to attack Congo and he wants people to shut up when they are in Rwanda.”
During the course of the conversation, Mr. Twagiramungu stated that he wishes Kagames powerful friends in Washington DC and other western countries would try to convince him of instilling democracy for the sake of Rwandans everywhere.
JF: In reading this statement from you to Kagame, it sounds like a declaration of war. Is that the intent you had when writing it?
FT: No. I would not take up arms against him but I believe other would take up arms in order to return home. “We can’t just leave our country to those who came from Uganda shooting us up, no, no, no. We have to change.” It is not my intention to declare war but to state that if things do not change at home, than others will use the method Kagame has used in order to return home. “If he was reasonable he would change his policies so people could go back home to their country. Frankly, I am not prepared to take up arms and fight against Kagame.” Within 10 years or less people will demand to go home and may use any means necessary to do so. I am not afraid to say that. This memorandum is a first warning and if Kagame does not listen, we will follow up with a second warning. “Because of Kagames pretentious progress in Rwanda no one wants to tell Kagame what to do and what could be better for his country.”
JF: Your statement reads quite similar to the Arusha Accords and the negotiation process that was ongoing at the time. Did you have that in mind when you wrote this memorandum to Kagame?
FT: The Arusha Agreement was not a bad idea but Kagame did not want to live under such an agreement because it did not give him total power. We had to go into genocide in order for Kagame to gain total power. It is sad. I did not want to mention the Arusha Accords but if he is intelligent enough, he should know what I mean. We cannot continue to let him lead the country as he is leading it today. We know there is progress but progress for whom? It is for his army and a few in governments but it is not development for all of the people. Dialogue is always needed in situations like these but African leaders do not like to talk. People do not express their feelings and they are not allowed to choose the leaders they want to choose. It is terrible. How long can we go on like this? Kagame likes the language of guns. It is the only language he knows. We do not believe he will read the memorandum but others close to him will and they will inform him of what is in it.
JF: On April 9, 2016, Kagame held a press conference in Kinyarwanda where he stated: “I wish we could be invaded and I show you. I am dying of anxiety — from waiting in vain for war.” Do you believe he was referring to your memorandum and what you had proposed to him?
FT: Oh yes, sure. A few months ago, we made a video in Kinyarwanda discussing these same matters of refugees returning home. The Rwandan Government and the Rwanda media made a lot of noise about it saying, “Mr. Twagiramungu is threatening the country and he can even be taken to court.” I believe I am entitled to make such kind of pressure because there are reasons to do that. First, is the question of refugees and second there is the question of massacres, and nobody cares about the assassination of President Habyarimana and other assassinations like Seth Sendashonga in 1998, and the assassination of Patrick Karegeya in South Africa. Yes, they talked about it for a moment but then they do not bring it up again because it is Kagame they don’t care very much. They even came to kill me here and I had to have security in my house for protection.
JF: The historically cyclical nature of the refugee crisis that plagues Rwanda’s history has mainly centered on Hutus fleeing then Tutsis fleeing and now more are fleeing based on political repression. The Hutu inside the country are severely repressed still and all Rwandans face oppression in the areas of freedom of speech and political space. In your opinion, what will it take for Rwandans to come together and break this tribal divisionism as Rwandans while respecting the tribal differences without oppression one to the other?
FT: First, Rwandans must read carefully their own history very carefully. The history we are told today is the history of white men, which I do not believe. The Tutsi believe they are decedents of Jewish tribes. We have been taught racism from the beginning that Hutu are made for farming only and that Tutsi are there to lead. Colonialists told us that. Now, Tutsi have taken back the power and they will not relinquish it to anyone. This can only end if we choose leaders who can simply who can stick to the African History. Meaning, we are black Africans, we speak the same language in Rwanda, Hutu and Tutsi do not have their own culture. We all have the same culture and we all speak the same language we have inter-married but you cannot speak about that in Rwanda today because Hutu are still considered genocidaires. These changes can only occur if politics is changed in Rwanda.
JF: Under Kagame, there is obvious oppression of Hutu and favor given to Tutsi. Was this the same under Habyarimana except in reverse? Did President Habyarimana give favor to Hutu and oppress the Tutsi?
FT: No, quite the opposite. He tried to give advantages to people from his region and under him, Tutsi owned many banks and businesses and lived nice lives. His only mistake was not to include Tutsi in public administration; he kept them in the private sector. He did not distinguish the people of Rwanda as such. His Coup d’état was for all Rwandans. He did make the mistake of saying there was no room in Rwanda for refugees to return home and so they returned home by force. Frankly, I believe they were right to do so. Their home was Rwanda no matter what the population number is. Habyarimana was not opposed to Tutsi, he was only opposed to over population of the country.
JF: What do you believe would happen if the refugees living in the camps in Eastern DRC returned to Rwanda without some form of agreement in place? Due to the forced return of many refugees after the war ended in 1994 and many of them being charged with crimes simply because they fled, then there must be a culture of fear in the camps about returning to Rwanda.
FT: Kagame does not address the refugees in DRC. He believes they are all members of FDLR and therefore are genocidaires. Approximately 10 per month are coming back but they have to confess and apologize even if they have done nothing wrong. Yes, there is a culture of fear but those who are older are not many. The youth are who are living in the camps now, not those who fled in 1994. These young people cannot be accused of being involved in genocide today because they are too young.
JF: You discuss a plan for a “provisional pluralistic transitional government” that needs to be in place before refuges can safely return home. What type of government are you referring to in that statement and who should be involved in it? Also, were there any other political parties approached to join you in this statement?
FT: No, I do not want to be a part of the transitional government at all. I am simply giving advice to Kagame. I am 70 years old now and I am fighting for my dignity and the dignity of my children. A transitional government will simply clean up and try to write a new constitution, not a constitution that centers on genocide and limits freedom of speech. I do not see why Rwandans do not know how to live together. Rwandans themselves do not know the history of Rwanda. Since the colonization of Rwanda by the Belgians in in 1920’s the behavior of Rwandans has changed. Before colonization, Rwandans did not act the way they do now. We have to be cured of this malady. The Belgians gave us the concept of race, “Hutu and Tutsi and Twa.” No other country has races like these in Africa. They have tribes or ethnic groups but not race. We all come from a group called the Bantu. We speak the same language and have the same culture.
Respect for human rights and democracy in general is requirement for a transitional government. The country was taken under a political coup with President Habyarimana and then again by Kagame in 1994. Rwandans have lived under the rule of soldiers for far too long and another 20 years or until 2034 is too long.
After publishing the memo, other parties agreed with me but did not want to write such a potentially dangerous document. The other groups are not as brave as we are so they would not sign on with us. Some would state they have family in Rwanda and they would not want them harmed by such a document. We cannot continue to fear the retributional violence of Kagame. We wrote the memorandum as an example of what happened in 1990 but today we are not in a position to do so.
JF: You state at the end of your memorandum, “with the risk that Rwandan refugees took up arms to assert their right to repatriation, it would be equally legitimate in 2016.” Are you aware of any group that is currently in the planning stages of returning home by force?
FT: That is a very good question. I do not know of any group at all. I cannot pretend that the FDLR could take up arms and attack Rwanda. They have been waiting for 20 years to attack their own country but these people are disorganized and cannot pretend to attack Rwanda now. They are not in a position to do so. The RNC are clever but I do not think they will take up arms to fight the regime of Kagame. What they can do is continue to put pressure on Kagame through diplomatic channels. Only the future will tell us. Do we have to continue to be spectators of what is happening in our own country? There is a time when people will decide and that is the intention of this memo. People in Rwanda must judge if this memo contains any particular subject, which can take us to a bad situation, or not. They cannot laugh at it because they have to consider it as a fact. It is a fact that Kagame reacted this way in 1994 so why is it not a fact that others can make that choice in 2016? The future will tell.
Writers Note: As an opportunity for full disclosure, this writer edited the English version of the memorandum at the request of the RDI-Rwiza party. Further, some of the answers above have been condensed for space and clarity.