Monday, May 28, 2012

Political freedom in Rwanda as observed by Andrew Mwenda

By Mamadou Kouyate
Hungry for Truth Peace and Justice
May 28, 2012

In a recent article about Dr. Ayittey’s recent discussion on Twitter with an American journalist, Jennifer Fierberg, regarding the government of
Rwanda a, Andrew Menda came once again into the rescue of Kagame’s regime.

Talking about the exercise of political freedom in Rwanda, Andrew Mwenda shamefully wrote the following:
“While political participation is high in Rwanda (because of local councils, the national dialogue and internet spread and access), contestation is low. Yet this is a deliberate constitutional design that does not reduce the value of its steps, however tentative, towards democracy. The constitution entrenches power sharing. For instance, no political party can hold more than 51 percent of cabinet; and the president of the republic and the speaker of parliament cannot come from the same political party. Yet Ayittey argued that power in Rwanda is monopolized”.
According to Andrew Mwenda:
“This constitutional design discourages the polarisation that produces heat and gives colour to political contests. But it does not diminish the content of the contest; it only changes it – the incentive structure encourages cooperation over confrontation. Every political party in Rwanda knows that regardless of its numerical strength in any election, it has to work with others in a government of national unity; hence the better not to be too belligerent lest you alienate potential colleagues in cabinet”.
To make the long story short, I am republishing below some excerpts from an interview that Dr Jean Baptiste Mberabahizi gave to Jean-Pierre Bourras in 2008. 

Jean-Baptiste Mberabahizi is former Secretary General and Spokesperson of a Rwandan opposition party, the FDU-Inkingi, which moved to Rwanda since January 2010 in order to take place into the presidential elections that were scheduled in August 2010. However, the party was refused registration up to date and its Chairperson, Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, was barred from running. 

Since October 2010, Ms Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza is languishing in Kigali maximum security prison. Her political trial has been going since September 2011 and the verdict is due June 29 2012. The prosecution  has already requested life sentence on trumped-up charges that include genocide ideology, spreading rumors aimed at inciting the population to rebel against the established authority, threatening state security and terrorism.  

In his interview with Bourras, Mberabahizi outlined several examples of limitations to freedom of political activities which still apply to current Rwanda’s political sphere. The full interview in French can still be found online

It is definitely worth a read.

Here are some excerpts.
The Current Rwandan laws that govern political parties, elections, and electoral commission, have so many limitations that it is simply ridiculous for Paul Kagame to talk about democratic elections in Rwanda. 

First, all of the political parties are required to be part of the so-called “Forum for political parties”. That means that if these political parties want to be legally active, they must be members of this forum, which is funded by the Rwandan government, takes its decisions by consensus, and can interfere in the internal affairs of different political parties. This forum is a component of the RPF ruling party. It is chaired by the current Secretary General of the RPF party. This is why this political situation makes the Rwandan regime a de facto single party. 

The second limitation is that Rwandan political parties cannot freely operate throughout the country. The current regime has acted in such a way that political parties are not allowed to have structures at the local level. The worst I find in this situation is that there is no security for the opposition leaders. The former president Pasteur Bizimungu was jailed for years and then released without any explanation. He was arrested for the simple reason that he had tried to create a political party independent of the RPF. Additionally, one of the co-founders of that party, Charles Ntakirutinka, a former minister of public works, is still in prison. That means that any opportunity to legally challenge the RPF is peacefully prevented in Rwanda. There is also an example of the former secretary of state in economic planning, Charles Kabanda, who wanted to create a party just before the 2003 elections. It was the ADEP-Amizero, a party that has never been authorized.  Apparently, the main reason was that the party was so seditious to the RPF power and that it would have really represented a strong political opposition to the current Rwandan regime. 

Thirdly, the structures of the state security, including the police and the intelligence services are anti-democratic and cannot guarantee the safety of the opponents. 

The main activity of the department of military intelligence (DMI), known as “crushing the opposition” is to “hunt down opponents’ every where including abroad. For instance, the Rwandan secret services assassinated in Nairobi on May 16th, 1998 Seth Sendashonga, one of the founders of the Resistance Forces for Democracy (FRD), one of the three components of the party FDU-Inkingi. It is therefore, not under such conditions that we can speak of democratic elections in Rwanda. 

Fourthly, I have many times spoken about the Rwandan electoral laws. The electoral commission is chaired by a member of the Executive Committee of the RPF party, Chrysologue Karangwa. The commission obviously doesn’t include members of any political party that is independent of the RPF party. There are nine political parties in Rwanda, including the RPF party. Six of them have candidates on the list of the RPF party and are in fact RPF party factions. The remaining two are the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party. The Liberal Party is chaired by a soldier of the Rwandan army, Protais Mitali, who, to my knowledge, has never stepped down from the army. In addition, since 1990, members of the Liberal Party have also been members of the RPF. With regard to the Social Democratic Party, the situation is quite the same. The party’s chairman, Vincent Biruta, is a member of the RPF since 1991 and the current chairman of the Senate. He pretends to be an opponent but in reality he is an active member of the RPF party. 

Finally, the most serious limitation to freedom of political activities in Rwanda, which has nothing to do with the legislation or the exercise of political party activities, is that most of the current Rwandan political and military figures are suspected of having committed crimes against humanity and war crimes. These crimes were committed in Rwanda and in the DRC. Some these crimes were characterized as crimes against humanity, genocide, terrorist acts, and war crimes. People who have been victims of these crimes have no way to speak for themselves. Imagine a situation where the leaders that prevented from burying your dead in dignity are asking you to vote for them! For this moment, we cannot talk about a decent democratic process in Rwanda because simply it does not exist. During the apartheid era, the majority of South Africans could not vote. Unfortunately, it is currently the same situation in Rwanda. The only difference is that Paul Kagame still claims that there is no ethnic discrimination and that all Rwandans are treated equally. At the same time Paul Kagame makes every effort to silence any voice about the alarming ethnic discrimination in Rwanda”.


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