Knowing the type of political system Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, applies to rule in Rwanda, enables those in the know to make easy parallels between discriminative policies which prevailed under South African apartheid and practices of Rwandan Patriotic Front’s regime. Many will agree that the worst of segregations is one which is undeclared, hidden behind laws, and ruthless in killing, imprisoning, harassing, and depriving of everything those it aims to oppress.
It is an undeniable fact that Kagame’s regime will never be seen the same way as before 2010. Looking back for example ten years from now, it will be interesting to understand what triggered that shift in the general opinion about a leader who had been credited for being a model in many respects. In January 2010, Ms Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, Chair of FDU-Inkingi, arrives in Rwanda from an exile of 16 years in Holland. Lawyer Peter Erlinder goes to Rwanda to defend Ms Ingabire who is accused of genocide ideology, revisionism, working with a terrorist group by the Rwandan government. He is imprisoned in Kigali in April for three weeks before being released on medical ground. This is incontestably an important event to recall and not miss out. But most significantly, the crackdown of protesters by security forces on June 24th will feature on the list in preeminent position.
On that day, a demonstration against the National Electoral Commission (NEC) is planned, while the Commission is receiving first nominations for the Presidential Elections. The genuine opposition has been denied a chance to participate. The planned demonstration is harshly blocked. Maitre Bernard Ntaganda, founding president of PS Imberakuri is violently grabbed from his home by unidentified armed plain clothed officers. He is then held incommunicado in a police cell. During the same morning hours, Ms. Victoire Ingabire of FDU Inkingi wakes up to find that her house has been surrounded by armed policemen. She is prevented from getting out. The Democratic Green Party Leader, Mr. Frank Habineza, and his Vice President, Andre Kagwa Rwisereka are held up by police, their National Identity cards and phones are taken for almost one hour at US Embassy in Kigali. Two Executive Members of FDU Inkingi, Sylvain Sibomana, Secretary General, and Alice Muhirwa, Treasurer, are missing. The Secretary General of PS Imberakuri, Theobald Mutarambirwa is believed to be in police custody.
Tens of protesters who that morning attempted to get to the agreed venue of the public protest were stopped by security forces, others mainly the seemingly leaders were taken into police custody, where they would be beaten up, tortured, and verbally harassed and abused. On that evening of June 24th, Jean Leonard Rugambage, journalist of the newspaper ‘Umuvugizi’ would be murdered. His investigative work had linked the attempt of murder in South Africa of exiled General Nyamwasa to Kagame’s government.
It had been 16 years that Paul Kagame ruled unchallenged over Rwandan destinies, imprisoning, killing, oppressing, discriminating whoever opposed his policies. Because of its omnipresent repressive structures, June 24th was the first time in Kagame’s rule that Rwandans dared to come out in a public protest to raise concerns of their fundamental human rights. Some who had been in the country few years back couldn’t imagine that happening.
The Sharpeville Massacre, also known as the Sharpeville shootings, occurred on 21 March 1960, when South African police opened fire on a crowd of black protesters, killing 69 people. The confrontation occurred in the township of Sharpeville, in what is now Gauteng province.
The same way Sharpeville massacres changed the international community’s opinion about South Africa of the 60s with its apartheid system, police crackdown on protesters in Kigali on June 24th 2010 has contributed significantly to the reduction of credibility that Kagame’s regime had in the eyes of his main sponsors UK and US.