Saturday, October 20, 2012

Prison sentence for Ingabire: is a peaceful power shift in Rwanda possible?

By Jack Mugabo

Sep 7th, 2012

Detaining Victoire Ingabire is blocking the way for any prospect of resolving the Rwandan conflict or bringing about political change through peaceful means. It is high time Rwanda ends political change through violence.
Victoire-Ingabire picture: Image Globe
Victoire-Ingabire picture: Image Globe
Victoire Ingabire decided  to return peacefully to exercise political activities in Rwanda . She was convinced the peaceful way was strewn with many pitfalls, it appeared to be the best solution in the long term because it is the only way capable of ensuring regime change without further bloodshed and preserving the social fabric of Rwanda. Indeed the sole use of force has never helped to solve problems of political origins.
Tony Blair, former Prime Minister, had this to say to the US congress in June 2003 regarding the invasion of Iraq: “Ours are not Western values. They are the universal values of the human spirit and anywhere, anytime, ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same: Freedom not tyranny. Democracy not dictatorship. The rule of law not the rule of the secret police”. His  present attitude  would suggest that this does apply to Rwandans.
In Rwanda, when a political leaders point out major problems the population is facing, they are accused of stirring up the population against the government. It is not a crime for an opposition party to point out the major problems facing the population and to which the party wishes to propose alternative solutions. The accusations around creation army aimed to overthrow the government by force have become common place to neutralize or imprison all opponents of the regime of General Kagame. This is why Deo Mushayidi, Bernard Ntaganda, Paul Rusesabagina, etc. are all subjected to the same charges as Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza.
Without any real opposition, parliament has become a rubber stamp to give a semblance of legitimacy to the decisions of the Executive arm of government and whims of the ruling party. Indeed, as the report commissioned by U.S. Africa Command rightly points out, “National institutions of countervailing power i.e. independent legislature and judiciary, the media and politically active civil society groups- are very much constrained under RPF control and are thus unable to fulfil their potentially stabilising role as formal channels for national debate and peaceful political competition”.
For all intents and purposes, Rwanda has now become a police state. This was made clear in a ground breaking research paper: Even if I am not here, there are so many eyes: surveillance and state reach in Rwandaby Andrea Purdeková. She observes among other things that The state’s reach in today’s Rwanda is not only deep and manifold with little counter-weight, but directly leads to more effective political control. Through its presence and indirect control, a state of surveillance is created. This diminishes open dissent and tightens the reproduction and reproducibility of the official script.
The speech
Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza  arrived in Rwanda on the 16th of January 2010, From the airport she went straight to the memorial of the genocide to pay respect to Tutsi victims of genocide. She made a speech in which she called for justice to bring to book those who committed genocide against Tutsi and those who committed other crimes including war crimes and crimes against without fear or favour, irrespective of ethnic or political affiliation. She considered equitable justice as a solid foundation for national reconciliation and durable peace and development. After this speech she was accused of having and spreading  Genocidal ideology, negationism and divisionism.
Despite overwhelming evidence regarding war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly genocide, committed by members of the RPF, the latter have remained immune from prosecution.Reacting to the 2010 UN Mapping report, Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch commented that “These events can no longer be swept under the carpet. If followed by strong regional and international action, this report could make a major contribution to ending the impunity that lies behind the cycle of atrocities in the Great Lakes region of Africa.” “Governments around the world remained silent when hundreds of thousands of unarmed civilians were being slaughtered in Congo. They have a responsibility now to ensure that justice is done.
 Policy of Laissez faire by External Key Actors
From 1995 to 2006, foreign aid to Rwanda totalled $5,064,210,000, with the United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands and Belgium being among the most important donors. Foreign grants account for approximately 45-50 per cent of the total Rwandan government budget (Hayman, 2009: 163). The UK is the biggest financial backer providing £83 million each year.
The current regime of Paul Kagame has adopted a leadership style that could lead to another cycle of violence if key external actors continue to support it and ignore internal forces working for peaceful change. In the last 18 year rule, his leadership has demonstrated that it is “unable to manage political competition and popular demands without resorting to violence or coercion”.
Currently, President Kagame is justifying his dictatorial regime on the premise that Rwandans need “food on the table first and not rights he told The Guardian in august, 2010.  But Rwandans are not animals; they deserve more than filling their stomachs; they are entitled to human rights and civil liberties. What the former PM Tony Blair said before the US congress in June 2003 regarding the reason for invading Iraq, should apply to them, i.e. the right to be:
  • Free to earn a living and be rewarded by your own efforts.
  • Free not to bend your knee to any man in fear.
  • Free to be you so long as being you does not impair the freedom of others.
Opposition leader, Victoire Ingabire, now in jail, had a good and secure job in a multinational company in Holland, with a loving family. More and more people are following her lead and risking their lives to express their views despite the “miraculous economic success “in Rwanda. The idea that repression is tolerable as long as people have food on the table is an offence to the humanity of Rwandans and supporting such a repressive regime is supporting repression.
A huge blow to the hope of a peaceful power shift in Rwanda
Paul Kagame justice will probably condemn Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza for a long time prison. The court has been siding too closely with the prosecution instead of considering the truth. This has rendered impossible all chances for any meaningful fairness. The abuse of process has prevailed since the beginning of this process causingmassive unfairness and frustration.
 The international community has to help to succeed in the actual endeavour by asking the Rwandan government to open us the political space by releasing all political prisoners. Economic development without political and civil rights cannot bring about durable peace and sustainable development.
 The financial and political backers should use their leverage on Rwanda to stop its repression and open the political space and release of political prisoners.
Rwandans must get the opportunity to debate openly and equitably their deep-seated grievances and unresolved resentments and agree on the legal and institutional mechanisms to resolve them. National reconciliation should be based foremost on the acknowledgment by each Rwandan of the suffering of the other and equitable justice to everyone.
The regime is blowing off all the lights that would dispel the shadows of fear and helplessness among the population and illuminate the way to democracy, the rule of law and to equal opportunity.  Victoire Ingabire has taken the most courageous decision to take on a repressive regime to keep one candle of hope burning. But for how long if all peace loving people keep silent?
One thing is sure, a prison sentence to victoire Ingabire will be a huge blow to all those who [one day] still hope to see a peaceful power shift in Rwanda. And it would give another powerful argment to those who think that a democratic change with the current RPF regime is impossible.
Jack Mugabo


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