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“We don’t need to Destroy to Rebuild”

By: Jennifer Fierberg

On September 16, 2011 the Rwandan National Congress (RNC) and the Forces Démocratique Unifiées- United Democratic Forces (FDU-INKINGI) held their first joint meeting in Washington D.C. The meeting was attended by approximately 30 Friends of Rwanda representing various countries and political parties.

Spearheading was Dr. Theogene Rudasinwa, former Ambassador to the US from Rwanda under President Kagame, representing the RNC and Dr. Gerald Gahima, former Attorney General also under President Kagame. From the FDU was Dr. Nkiko Nsengimana Co-ordinator for FDU-INKINGI as well as three other key members.  Also in attendance, D.C.  area lawyers, staff from different world embassies, a representative from the International Crisis Management Group, Rwandan citizens, reporters and journalists.

In the days leading up to the meeting the RNC/FDU-INKINGI drafted a letter to Congress outlining the specific areas of concern facing Rwanda that the group is seeking to draw attention to in order to invite peaceful change in civil society as well as a peaceful change in government.

The conference and open conversation focused on key risks facing Rwanda as understood by the RNC/FDU-INKINGI; the international relationship between the UK and US with Rwanda and the continuing political suppression and lack of media freedoms and freedom of speech within the country.

Explicitly expressed by the RNC/FDU-INKINGI were the ongoing concerns for the number of imprisoned political leaders as well as journalists who have been killed or driven out of the country. Freedom of speech as expressed in the Rwandan Constitution and the lack of concern the current dictatorial regime shows for these issues were at discussed at length by both the speakers and attendees.

Since the 1994 Genocide the Rwandan community both within and outside of Rwanda has been divided into two separate and passionate groups; one anti-Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and one Pro-RPF and the differences between the two groups are staggering and passionate.

A continuous vicious cycle of political violence has plagued the country since 1994 and the RNC/FDU are calling for an immediate end to this violence.  In their open letter to congress they state:

“The status quo is broken; the old ways of governing are no longer acceptable; it is time for leaders to lead with accountability, treat their people with dignity, respect their rights, and deliver economic opportunity. And if they will not, then it is time for them to go….

Although the U.S. President and his Secretary of State were responding to current developments in North Africa and the Middle East, notably Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya, it clearly has resonance for many people from across the world for whom political freedom is still only a dream. The speeches are particularly relevant to Rwanda. First because Rwanda is precisely a country where the status quo is broken, a strong and absolute ruler reigns at the barrel of the gun, against the aspirations of the people.”

As the world’s power countries the RNC and FDU-INKINGI are  looking to the UK and US to respond quickly  to the escalating violence in Rwanda.

“Secondly [we ask for the UK and US to review their international relationships] because of the close diplomatic relationship between Rwanda and the United States, the substantial development assistance that the United States provides to Rwanda and the status of democratic governance in Rwanda.

Rwanda is, in the view of the Rwanda National Congress and FDU-INKINGI, one of the situations that ought to be of the greatest concern to those in the international community who have genuine concern about international peace and security in general, and in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa in particular. The majority of the people of Rwanda, we believe, share a common perception that policies of successive governments of the United States have not reflected principled support for the development of democratic and inclusive institutions, respect for the fundamental rights of citizens and accountability of public officials for gross violations of human rights. We write this letter to share our views on the political situation in Rwanda and on the role that the United States can play in advancing freedom and promoting long term stability, security, and peace in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region.”

Regarding the ongoing humanitarian crises in Rwanda the RNC and FDU-INKINGI are demanding more exposure and for the international community to respond quickly and compassionately.

“The people of Rwanda have for a very long time been exposed to repressive government, leading to recurrent violent conflict. This violence reached its peak with the genocide of 1994, with grave consequences for Rwanda and the whole region till today. We have no doubt that members of US Congress, your party and the U.S. government in general are well aware of the deprivation and immense suffering that recurrent conflict has occasioned to millions of Rwandans till today. We also acknowledge that the Government of Rwanda has, with the assistance of the international community, made some progress in restoring public order, re-establishing functioning, yet repressive, state institutions, and rebuilding the country’s economy during the period since 1994.

Unfortunately, the reconstruction efforts that Rwanda has undertaken since the genocide are not rooted in democratic values, respect for human rights and broad inclusion. As stated in the ‘Rwanda Briefing’ document that several former colleagues of Rwandan President Kagame published in August 2010, ‘there is more to Rwanda and Paul Kagame than new buildings, clean streets, and efficient government than President Kagame’s famous friends in high places in Europe and America care to admit. Rwanda is essentially a hard-line, one-party, secretive police state with a façade of democracy’. The ruling party, the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), has closed space for political participation. The RPF does not tolerate political opposition or open competition for power. President Kagame does not allow opposition parties to be registered, let alone operate freely. Media outlets that are critical of the government are either shut down by the government or forced to close operations as a result of attacks against their journalists. President Kagame has now closed down all the independent media outlets the country once had.”

It regards to foreign aid and more specifically to the interactions of the UK and US toward Rwanda, Dr. Rudasingwa stated, “Rwanda can solve their own problems without violence.”  He further discussed how Rwanda has been in trauma since 1959 and the cycles of violence have existed in an ebb and flow manner. These cycles of violence are based on power and ethnicity and continually go without resolution.

Dr. Rudasingwa was clear that the RNC and the FDU have come together to solve the problems plaguing Rwanda as well as end the trauma that is based in these problems.  Neither party denied the positive developments of the current ruling party, describing these positive developments as infrastructure in Kigali, healthcare, educational improvements and increased rights for women. Yet, the long-term and consistent problems identified were that of open political space, freedom of speech and enhanced media freedoms.

The Open Letter to Congress addressed these issues in this way:

“President Kagame relies on severe repression to stay in power. The RPF government relies on a wide range of laws, administrative practices and terror to restrict citizens’ enjoyment of political freedoms. Institutions of the state continue to subject real and imagined critics of the government to a wide range of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and detentions and involuntary disappearances and extrajudicial killings. The security services that are responsible for keeping President Kagame in power enjoy absolute impunity for grave human rights abuses. Many members of opposition parties, civil society groups, independent media outlets and individuals suspected of being opponents of the regime have been hunted down, arrested, tortured, imprisoned or killed by agents of the state.

Victims of state sponsored terror who have lost their lives over the recent past include Andre Kagwa Rwisereka (Vice-President of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda), Jean Leonard Rugambagye (Deputy Editor of Umuvugizi Newspaper) and John Rutayisire. The Rwanda Government has deployed a very large number of intelligence operatives in countries across Africa, Europe (including the United Kingdom) and North America to hunt down and kill opponents of the regime.

Many members and leaders of opposition parties, including Hon. Charles Ntakirutinka of Ubuyanja Party; Bernard Ntaganda, President of the Social Imberakuli Party; Victoire Ingabire, President of the FDU-Inkingi Party; and, Deo Mushayindi of PPD Imanzi Party, remain in detention and so do some innocent relatives of opposition leaders. The Rwanda Government continues its relentless persecution of government critics.”

The US and UK are key members in an advisory role to Rwanda; past, present and future. Yet, in this leadership advisory role the RNC/FDU-INKINGI was clear that there role should remain as advisors only to the current situation. Rwandans can correct their own problems with the support of the international community and not their direct action on the ground unless called for and asked for by the Rwandan community.

The RNC/FDU-INKINGI closed the conference by stating that a peaceful transition must take place in Rwanda in order for the people of Rwanda to have the freedoms they deserve. Rwandans everywhere deserve to go home if they desire to under a peaceful and free existence. Their desire is for the UK and US to support their plan in continued movement for a peaceful transition in Rwanda before anything devastating occurs again as it did in 1994.

 

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