Saturday, January 7, 2012

FACTBOX-Key political risks to watch in Rwanda

By Graham Holliday
Reuters
06 Jan 2012 14:50

KIGALI, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Just over a year since President Paul Kagame's landslide election win, observers have lauded economic progress in Rwanda but warned a lack of political freedom and media restrictions have dented any reforms.

Kagame, in his final term which expires in 2017, has denied he has cracked down on political opposition and said he is a freedom fighter.

"People say that there is no political space ... Actually, the only space lacking is the one that is occupied by these intruders. This nonsense from outside is occupying our space," Kagame said in a speech to parliament last month.

Below are some of the political risks facing Rwanda:

POLITICAL OPPONENTS

Former chief of staff Kayumba Nyamwasa and a former chief of military intelligence, Patrick Karegyeya, both sentenced to 20 years in jail in absentia by a military court, formed the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) opposition party in December 2010.

Rwanda says the two have formed a rebel group and are collaborating with the country's enemies.

The trial of opposition politician Victoire Ingabire, leader of the unregistered FDU-Inkingi party, which started in September 2011, is set to resume on January 16. She faces charges including denying the genocide, divisionism and working with a terrorist group.

Kagame's election win underlined his domination of the political arena. He has been praised for restoring stability after the 1994 genocide and engineering Rwanda's rapid economic recovery and vision of being a middle-income country by 2020.

But critics accuse Kagame of being authoritarian and of trampling on media and political freedoms.

Any debate over a third term for Kagame is said to be "undesirable" by key sources in the government, because it damages the reputation of the country in the eyes of critics who say the political class has no democratic credentials.

Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has said although Rwanda's economy has grown, its political culture remains comparatively closed and media restricted.

What to watch:

-- Trial of Ingabire. The case remains a major test of the independence of Rwanda's judiciary. Her British lawyer claimed the laws under which she is being tried were not enacted at the time the crimes were alleged to have been committed, or they lie outside the jurisdiction of the court.

Ingabire denies funding FDLR Hutu rebels and says her detention is politically motivated.

-- Theogene Rudasingwa, a former chief of staff to Kagame, said on Facebook on Oct. 1 that Kagame "was personally responsible" for the shooting down of the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana in 1994, which sparked the start of the genocide. Rudasingwa was formerly ambassador to the U.S. and a founding member of the RNC.

-- Trial of Laurent Nkunda. The former leader of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a rebel force that repeatedly routed Democratic Republic of Congo's army, has been under house arrest in Rwanda since January 2009.

Rwandan law forbids the extradition of people to states such as Congo that have the death penalty. Nkunda's trial has been postponed four times since the case was passed to the military courts in April 2010.

-- The media. A bill to amend the 2009 media law, emphasizing self-regulation and creation of an independent monitor, is currently being debated by the political and gender committee in parliament.

A draft law on access to information is also expected to be enacted in the near future. It will be the first of its kind in Rwanda.

Some observers see the draft media law as a positive move, but remain concerned the changes will remain on paper alone due to limited media outlets. Two newspapers banned in 2010 for six months have failed to resume publication. The editors of Umuseso and Umuvugizi now reside in exile and publish online.

POLITICAL RIFTS, CONGO TENSIONS

Kagame's war on graft, which has led to Rwanda being ranked as the least corrupt nation in east Africa, has seen his former political associates arrested on graft allegations.

Rwandan officials are required to declare their wealth by June 30 every year, but 361 government officials did not meet the deadline in 2011. Diplomats say while the government wants to clean up its act to attract more direct foreign investment, its plans are being hampered by some of its own members.

What to watch:

-- A report by a team of French investigators into the shooting down of the plane carrying former President Juvenal Habyarimana, whose assassination marked the start of the 100-day genocide in 1994, is expected this month.

-- Any signs of deepening rifts within the military. Some observers say Nyamwasa's moves could expose further rifts within the ruling party. What emerges from the alliance between Nyamwasa and Ingabire's party, and how the government reacts to it, could expose weakness among some of the political elite close to Kagame. But diplomatic sources say they do not see the coalition as a serious political or military threat.

-- The fate of Nkunda. Nkunda's arrest heralded a new era in relations between Rwanda and Congo and his fate could influence their ties. Congo wants him extradited for war crimes, but Rwanda wants this done in a way that avoids "conflict of law".

Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said there was a political dimension to the case and extradition was difficult and could cause instability if not handled carefully.

-- Analysts believe Kagame made a peace agreement with Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila in 2009. This has helped keep the previously restive eastern Kivu provinces relatively stable over the past two-and-a-half years.

-- Opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi has claimed Kabila's re-election to the top seat was fraudulent and has sparked political instability in Congo. Will this unrest spill over into Rwanda?

-- Following the massacre of some 45 civilians in eastern DRC this week, will the violence in South Kivu affect Rwanda? (Editing by James Macharia and Sophie Hares)

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