Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Should We Run and Hide now That Kagame is President?

By Eleneus Akanga
London Despatch
August 31, 2010

There are those who believe the presidential election in Rwanda was nothing else but an illegitimate consecration of President Paul Kagame. There even are some who did refer to the election as a “selection with no choice given” and have refused to accept it as valid.


So are those who feel that the reported massive turn out on election day and the subsquent total number of votes cast in favour of Kagame, is testament that Rwandans still love the former rebel leader.

Whatever the belief, there is one fact that stands out. Kagame is now Rwanda’s president and will at least legally or illegally remain so till 2017. It is a fact that the two sets of protagonists have got to contend with. How and whether they should, is a different matter, alltogether.

If there is anything Africa’s strongmen have managed to effectively do,hang on to power is that thing. From Uganda to Libya, Chad, Sudan and Egypt, Africa has had it’s fair share of authoritarians or longest serving presidents if you may. Trouble is, as in the case of Kagame, those in question have laid claim to the fact they were democratically voted back into power. Even where it has neccessitated tampering or ammending the constituions for them to get to the ballot paper, the result in those cases has passed as legitimate because such is democracy as understood in authoritarian countries.

Kagame has said previously that this should and will be his last term as head of state and for purposes of objectivity, he probably deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Writing in the FT last week (August 19) he maintained that “competitive democracy requires sustained social cohesion”. His argument was pitched on the very note his leadership has defended its vice-like grip on political pruralism for years – the one that 16 years they have had is too short a time for competitive politics.

“Many also fail to understand that it was precisely a system of pluralistic politics that played a major role in the genocide, as newly formed parties with shared extremist ideology outperformed the former one-party state in mobilising the population to commit mass murder,” he argued.

To Kagame, pruralistic politics breed divisionism and chaos and should thus,be avoided. While he may be true, his assertion brings into fore a few observations. One, that for 16 years Kagame has failed, despite his economic prowess, to promote genuine unity among Rwandans and fears the message of forgiveness and reconciliation is yet to be accepted after all these years. Two, that he now looks increasingly even more authoritarian compared to his predecessor as far as political space is concerned. And three, which probably is more worrying, that his country’s much touted and publicized peaceful co-existence between victims and perpetrators, is just a bubble waiting to explode.

While it is important to work toward ensuring that what happened in 1994 does not happen ever again, success on this matter wont come from the duration granted for wounds to heal but a genuine and well thought arrangement where both sides take to an open and clear debate about what actually happened.

Some people will argue that Kagame has done his best and continues to, and therefore with enough time, will deliver. Well to this group of thinkers, I say hold it. Everyone knows that Kagame has consistently avoided such politics as the politics of open debate. His crackdown on independent media, his continued fall out with those who oppose and question his repressive style of leadership notwithstanding, his government’s decision this year not to register the only credible opposition parties and the incarceration of Victoire Ingabire – the only politician to ever call for an open debate about the country’s history, went to show just how unprepared Kagame is for this sort of debate. The question then becomes not one of can he, but rather that of for how long.

The Rwandan story under Kagame is destined to that sad fact where even after 100 years, the same wounds that have taken 16 years to heal might still be very raw and well visible, if the current policy is maintained. And that to me would not be progress. It is what happens when you know the truth but instead choose the slightly easier option because the truth hurts or you feel the time is not ripe. Some scholars have even suggested that Rwanda’s issues would quite easily be sorted by embracing the model taken by South Africa after apartheid – a notion that Kagame appears to be totally opposed to probably because it dictates that the two sides get to open up and confess to their atrocities. And when one side has been pleading complete innocence for 16 years, you get the idea of why such a move can only succeed without the incumbent.

And it is worse. You have to feel for the real opposition in Rwanda when an under pressure president after getting the hint that the world has began to understand how he really conducts his business and will soon be demanding real answers to the pertinent questions, suddenly speaks about forming some sort of coalition government. (I will write in detail about this in my next piece).

Kagame is a very tactical guy. In his heart, he knows the truth. He knows forinstance that his style of leadership is one he would have struggled to stomach himself had he been in the opposition’s shoes. He knows that his government has made and continues to make it extremely tough for free speech to succeed in Rwanda. He knows that what he refers to as his opposition is not but just a group of strategists and RPF sympathisers who for the sake of keeping their jobs have agreed to play opposition when in actual sense, they are subsets of the ruling political party. But he does not give a damn like he said before. To calm the nerves of the international community, he will open up or pretend to be opening up for power sharing but only share with his own. Notice too, that Rwanda has theoretically embraced some sort of a coalition government ever since the country formed the Forum for Political Parties in 2002. So why make a fuss about it now? Because it diverts the attention.

To those unaware of his true character, such a move will be seen as a clear indication that he is an inclusive president intent on sharing power. Share power? Remember this is a gentleman who in the early 90s refused a power sharing agreement with then president and instead went ahead with war. But this cannot be used against him really as people do change – may be he has changed! It however remains to be seen if Kagame can really be trusted, which raises the question, is he really going to step down come 2017?

As for those who do not subscribe to his principles and style of leadership, the times are getting harder. Just yesterday, I read that Lt. Col Rugigana Ngabo, has been arrested on charges of “destabilisation”. Despite the Rwandan army confirming the arrest, Col Ngabo’s wife seems to have no idea as to the whereabouts of her husband or where he is being detained. And when you consider that the colonel is brother to exiled former army chief of staff Lt. Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, you get the picture of what Gen Nyamwasa said in his first interview to Voice of America about Rwandan officials living in fear, so much that comrades and friends alike are no longer associating with one another for fear of being labelled “the bad guys”. Now that Kagame is president again, when he surely should have been sitting home looking after his cattle and reading books about his role in the Rwandan history, should we run and hide?

…over to you my little monsters.

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