Thursday, February 9, 2012

FACTBOX-Key political risks to watch in Rwanda

By Graham Holliday
Reuters // Reuters
09 Feb 2012
KIGALI, Feb 9 (Reuters) - In what was widely regarded as a reaction to U.S. criticism over a lack of political space in Rwanda, President Paul Kagame hit back in late 2011 with a blunt rebuttal.
"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 in December.
Paul Kagame was re-elected with a landslide in 2010 for a final term that expires in 2017. Observers have lauded economic progress in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide but warn a lack of political freedom and media restrictions have dented reforms.
Below are the political risks facing Rwanda:
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, is set to resume on Feb. 13. 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.
Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has said although Rwanda's economy has grown, the political culture remains comparatively closed and the media restricted.
What to watch:
- Trial of Ingabire. The case remains a major test of the independence of Rwanda's judiciary. Her British lawyer says 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.
- 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.
Rwanda says it is reluctant to extradite Nkunda to Congo as the death penalty is still in force there. Rwandan law forbids the extradition of persons under arrest to states 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, emphasising self-regulation and creation of an independent overseer, is being debated by parliament's Political and Gender committee.
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 a lack of capacity within the media.
Two newspapers that were banned in 2010 for six months failed to resume publication. The editors of Umuseso and Umuvugizi now reside in exile and publish online. The websites of both newspapers are inaccessible within Rwanda. The editor of a third weekly tabloid, Umusingi, is reported to now in Sweden. Umusingi continues to publish in Rwanda.
The editor of Umurabyo, Agnes Nkusi, was sentenced to 17 years for divisionism in February 2011, and Umurabyo reporter Saidath Mukakibibi received a seven-year jail sentence.
Diplomatic sources say there is division within the government about how to go about increasing foreign direct investment. Any debate over a third term for President Kagame is said to be "undesirable" by key sources in the government.
What to watch:
- Any signs of deepening rifts within the military. Three generals and a colonel were put under house arrest in January for "acts of indiscipline with respect to getting involved with civilians in business dealings in the Democratic Republic of Congo". The investigation is ongoing.
- 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 relations. 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. (Editing by David Clarke)


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