An interview with Jennifer Fierberg
By: Jennifer Fierberg
Will democracy ever be realized in Rwanda? Nearly twenty years ago one of history’s worst genocides took place in Rwanda where over 800,000 Tutsi, Hutu and Twa were murdered in less than 100 days. The Rwanda Patriotic Front claims to have “stopped the genocide” and brought peace and justice to a land of chaos. Paul Kagame slowly eased his way into the highest role in the land and took the seat of President of Rwanda in an election that was fixed from before voting began. Running against President Kagame was Faustin Twagiramungu who was the Prime Minister in Rwanda from 1994 until he resigned the position in 1995. He stood against President Kagame in the 2003 election where he ran on a platform of employment, security, and progressive taxation. He lost this election to Kagame where Mr. Twagiramungu took 3.62% of the vote and Kagame won.
After the election Mr. Twagiramungu returned to Belgium where he has spent the last ten years. He has mainly remained silent on his role in the government in Rwanda and has lived a fairly quiet life.
Faustin Twagiramungu announced that he will put an end to his Belgian exile June 21 and return to Rwanda in order to register his political party, The Rwanda Dream Initiative (RDI), and possibly run for a seat in parliament. His campaign runs on a platform of strengthening and motivating the youth to create a Rwanda that provides safety, security, freedom and peace for all Rwandans.
This writer had an opportunity to spend an hour with Mr. Twagiramungu to interview him about his decision to return to Rwanda, his goals upon arrival, and how he plans to make his return a safe and effective one. Below is the transcript from out discussion:
JF: I understand you are planning to return to Rwanda to establish your party the Rwanda Dream Initiative. My question is have you been following the situation with Frank Habineza and the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda and the struggles they have faced to do the same? How do you plan to have a different situation than what the Green Party has faced?
FT: I have not followed the case of Habineza. I have only been informed that he has asked for his party to be registered and he has not had the opportunity to do so in over a year. I expect, as far as we are concerned that we will follow the law. Habineza’s party has been divided into two parties which have increased his issues of registering. Other people are probably hiding under the cover of the government but I can’t be sure. I presume that we are going to face the same problem but I am optimistic about our return.
JF: Have you discussed your return to Rwanda with the current ruling government and if not do you foresee any safety challenges upon your return?
FT: Frankly, I don’t want to negotiate with anyone to go back to my country. I am a Rwandan citizen and not a refugee as such therefore anytime I can go back to Rwanda anytime I choose and when in Rwanda I can act as any other citizen in Rwanda. Therefore, I do not have to request permission to return to my country.
JF: In your Rwanda Dream Initiative Manifesto you discuss which countries your party would not take examples from and which they would, namely China. Can you explain what it is about the Chinese model of government that you would like to emulate? There have a long history of human rights violations and strict population control which are things I am certain the RDI does not wish to emulate.
FT: We don’t want to emulate China’s political party. What we say is it is a system that has separated communism and capitalism. This should not be advised to our members as the best choice. It was in comparison to other African systems where dictatorship tries to tell lies of being democratic when they are not or they are dictatorial with a tendency of being capitalist. In China there is a single political party, which is a communist party but they tolerate capitalism to be a side of this political party. In Africa there is total confusion. You have all these autocratic systems and nepotism and so forth, it is not clear. What we want as a party is to be a democratic political party and have a capitalist system.
JF: Are there any Rwandan opposition parties in exile or in Rwanda that you plan to work with or have already partnered with besides the PDP?
FT: We have contacted different political parties. Frankly they are not clear and some would want to discourage us. Some say, “Why are you going to Rwanda?” Our message is simple; the Rwandan people are not in Belgium or Holland or in the USA therefore if we want to create a political system we have to be in Rwanda and not abroad. Thus, the only political party that has agreed to share this view with us is the PDP. We have 21 opposition parties abroad and only one has agreed, the others are still hesitating. We are not going to exercise this system of staying abroad and trying to exercise our political. We will do this only in Rwanda. Maybe those abroad will win. I don’t know.
JF: In your manifesto you did not state anything about freedom of the press. What are you plans for media freedoms in Rwanda?
FT: Freedom of press, I think, we insisted on these freedoms as such in general terms in our Manifesto. Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are included. So, if we go to Rwanda and are successful to be in government or to win any election and set up our own government the first thing we will insist on is freedom of expression. We encourage, particularly the youth, to debate. We cannot pretend to have a democratic system and apply democratic principles if we do not allow people to debate. Debating in Africa, this is a problem. This is not an exercise people like. You cannot debate with a head of state; you cannot debate with members of the government. We are there to obey what they dictate to you. So, to convince people in power to allow debate and to give people the power to choose their own leaders this is what we will try.
JF: What is your goal? Why are you returning now as opposed to 2017 when there will be another presidential election?
FT: First, for the parliamentary election I cannot say that I am not for it but if we are going in June and the election takes place in September then we would be really opportunistic to believe we would be able to run in that election. So it is better my party not enter this exercise. For 2017, I think there is a certain ambiguity as to whether Kagame will run again or not. But for our party we have no hesitation at all. If the principles are a democratic process and we can present our own candidate then why not!
JF: If Kagame were to run again in 2017, considering the history of elections in Rwanda as you experienced firsthand in 2003, do you have hope there would be a fair election or do you fear that it would be fixed again?
FT: No, no, no, no, no. Not fair election. I have experienced this process in Rwanda and I know what it means to have an election in Rwanda. In 1995, 1993, people are forced to elect a candidate they do not want and if they don’t they are threatened. This is not an election. Frankly, I am surprised by what we call the international community and particularly certain countries which are recognized worldwide as being democratic, particularly USA and UK, would tolerate such a system existing in Rwanda. Then they continue to supply aid and military support to such dictatorhsips. We need a change and the change is to abolish this hypocritical behavior. We are really discouraged to see such countries supporting a dictatorial regime. These countries support these dictatorial regimes in Africa and then they come back and say they want democracy and what they call good governance. But once a dictator is allowed to run how can these countries expect him to change? Good governance comes from freedom! We need freedom of the people to express themselves and not be political slaves in their own country.
JF: Some say you made a “sacred alliance” with other anti-MRND/MRNDD Rwandan opposition parties, RPF included, in Brussels, before 1994, knowing that RPF was a military and terrorist party, and that, in such, would never share the power? Is this true?
FT: No, this is not true. I think the people who make those kinds of statements and conclusions do not understand what we wanted. We wanted peace. If I came to Brussels to discuss about how peace can be negotiated and accepting also that we have to sit together with RPF people and even engage in what we called a common trouble against the dictatorship this is not a crime, I have committed and is not a sin at all. I did not sign anything with RPF. What I did was I made clear my own ideas of trying to have peace in my country and to try to end the war waged against the Rwandan people and the Rwandan country by the RPF through negotiations. But some people thought they could win the war by keeping on fighting but this unfortunately did not happen. So, I am not the kind of man they tried to define me as.
JF: Why did you remain silent during so many years after being dismissed from the 1st RPF government and going in exile to Belgium? Did you promise Kagame to remain silent during those 10 years?
FT: Ha! No, not at all. I am a free man and I want to give other Rwandans a chance to set up their own political parties, try to introduce in Rwanda the system I was talking about earlier, to try to teach the youth how to debate and so on. From 2003 to 2010 you are right, I was silent but finally after the election of Kagame in 2010 I decided to go into this political arena to find out what can be done. Particularly my wish is to incite the youth to understand what are the principles of democracy are, and even if sacrifice must be done, they must accept it or they will be considered slaves of dictatorship. That is why I have been silent. I am convinced that we cannot achieve anything if we don’t take this situation seriously. It takes determination and the will to accept that change must take place or we will remain as apolitical.
JF: How did you perceive the Arusha accords with President Habyarimana? Many say he was disingenuous, others say, he was giving away too much. What are your thoughts on that?
FT: We thought that peace has no price at all. We wanted to give whatever we had and have peace and have Rwandans who were living abroad for thirty years to come back. Unfortunately, it did not happen as we wanted. I think Habyarimana was genuine in his signing of the peace agreement but we did not calculate what was in the mind of RPF. I took to Habyarimana in 1993 before the signature of the peace agreement; I knew what was in the mind of this gentleman he really wanted to share a piece with RPF but RPF did not want to share a piece they wanted the total piece and this is the root of the problem.
JF: In your Manifesto you state that President Kagame ordered the shooting down of former President Habyarimana’s plane. Is this the first time you have made this statement public?
FT: Well, by writing, yes. But we now have to analyze the situation clearly. As I said earlier, I am not a member of the RPF and I have not been sharing anything from RPF at all. But, now the situation is clearer because members of RPF themselves are telling us that the Rwandan president was assassinated by RPF members, those who are now in government. We cannot challenge them and say no. What we have is to accept until it is proven right or wrong in a court of justice.
JF: In your opinion how is it that Kagame has been able to assassinate three presidents and none of these situations are investigated and no one has been accused of these crimes in a court of law?
FT: Well, about three presidents I don’t know frankly. If I were to make a comment it would be on the situation in Rwanda only. Those three presidents, can you name them?
JF: Well, yes. The President of Burundi on the plane with President Habyarimana and also President Kabila in the DRC.
FT: Ah, ok. I can only talk about the case of the two presidents of the other one I have no arguments about.
JF: There seems to have been no true reconciliation among the Rwandan people since 1994 but I believe it goes back much further than that. The current history of the 1994 genocide is the “official narrative” the RPF has told their people and they claim there has been reconciliation. But, the “official narrative” in is not true as to what happened in 1994. So in my opinion there has been no true reconciliation. Therefore, upon your return, do you have any plans to set up a Truth and reconciliation commission as South Africa did after apartheid?
FT: To set up such a commission I would have to be in such a position to do so. What happened in South Africa is that Mr. Mandela himself agreed to set up such a commission. He was the president of South Africa. If there is any commission to take place of that nature then Mr. Kagame has to decide all or accept the proposal that could be addressed to him. I would accept it frankly. Reconciliation is a process and this process has to go on. Some people will tell you that Gacaca is a part of reconciliation and so on and so on. Reconciliation in Rwanda has probably stated but has not all. Rwandans are kept in silence as I have told you. People cannot contradict the regime so what the regime says is what they accept. Reconciliation is far away as far as I am concerned. I have to be very frank; in front of President Kagame himself I can tell him this. So, people in power believe, and I think they are wrong, telling the international community they have reconciled when they have not. They are reconciling in silence probably but they don’t manifest it at all. Another thing, Mr. Mandela was not accused of any crime accept those who accused him before 1960 and between 1961-1963 but here you have a case where Kagame is being accused by his own people in RPF that he assassinated the two presidents. How do you expect such a man to enter into a system of truth and reconciliation? I don’t know. We would be very brave if we would decide to do so.
JF: With the June 30th date for the denial of Refugee status for millions of Rwandans around the world what are your thoughts on this Cessation Clause?
FT: I have been following this case and I was caught by surprise. How the High Commission for refugees has taken such a decision I really don’t understand. This decision only applies to Rwanda which I find incredible. I learned also that it must have been negotiated by the regime in place in Rwanda and if so it is wrong because President Kagame and others in RPF know the Tutsi refugees stayed in camps for 30 years. Habyarimana made a mistake by saying Rwanda is too small so refugees should remain where they are. But now Kagame is saying now they can come but people will not come if they do not feel being in their own country, expressing their own feelings, debating politically and making their own choice and some being accused of being genocidaires all the time, how can they feel safe? The only solution, as you said, is that of a truth commission. We need to debate the entire situation. To know who is a criminal and who is not. We cannot condemn all refugees in Congo and accuse them of being genocidaires. I blame the High Commission to have taken such a decision.
JF: How do you see the process take place to dismantle the close relationship between RPF business ventures and the government? Wouldn’t this result in a huge loss of revenue?
FT: Frankly, it is not going to be easy to do so. President Kagame is very proud to be considered by Americans; some have even written a book on him, that he is leading the country as a corporation; a corporation that we are not shareholders in. The link between business and government is terrible. An article in the Financial Times reported that the party has over 700 million pounds for one single political party which is the 4th richest political party in the world. How do you differentiate this? It is terrible. Politics in Rwanda for people today is business. They try to convince people in the international community that there is democracy, good governance, reconciliation and peace. They show the development of the capitol city of Kigali as evidence but it is not what the Rwandan people need. We want a separation of business of the government. But to reach this aim a will be very difficult. The people of Rwanda have no strength to fight such a problem.
JF: This morning you wrote “On his African tour, President Obama cannot ignore the current issues in the Great Lakes Region, including Rwanda’s FDLR, Congo’s M23 and Uganda’s ADF-NALU, and as previously suggested by Tanzanian President, no solution will be reached without negotiations between the Governments and those armed groups.” How do you think Obama should address these issues on his visit?
FT: I believe he should support the line of Kikwete, the president of Tanzania. Arms cannot solve all problems; political problems particularly. Kagame says “well I used arms and I took the country.” He did it in Congo in 1996 and he did succeed because Mobutu ran away. Now we have 19 years where he has not been successful with the FDLR unless we are being told lies. If we cannot find a military solution to the situation then we have to look at a political solution. That is what Kikwete is proposing. I personally do not believe that all those guys in Congo are criminals and killers or genocidaires. I believe some are in their 20’s and they want to go back to Rwanda. So those guys (FLDR) have to be approached and asked if they want to go home. We have to end this situation (in Congo) positively by negotiation. After all, if M23, which is also an organization of criminals who are killing women and children and yet they are allowed to go and negotiate then why not the others? A killer is a killer; there is no difference at all. Why are some allowed to negotiate and not others? We have to find a reasonable solution and a reasonable solution for me is to negotiate. To negotiate is not a crime it is rather a demonstration of going beyond our own feelings and finding a solution.
JF: What are your views on the conflict in DRC, and would the removal of Kagame as a president solve or make any change in this conflict?
FT: I think Kagame is working within a system. Removing Kagame is not removing the entire system. It could probably diminish the intensity of the situation today but I do not know if it will solve problem. Africans are accustomed to this, removing someone, you put someone else in and the situation does not change. But the system is there, built on one single person, removing him the situation can collapse but there will not be a peaceful collapse. So, we have to find a way in the middle. I cannot propose any except that sitting together and trying to talk is the best way.
JF: My last question to you is: upon your return to Rwanda later this month what will be your first priority?
FT: My first priority is to behave like a politician. If I want to register my party I have to follow the laws of the country and see what happens.
Mr. Twagiramungu has ambitions and dreams for Rwanda and appears to have the energy and strength to attempt to fulfill them. Whether or not he will succeed in Rwanda will be told in the months to come.