In 2008, Sweden and Netherlands were the first European countries to take tangible actions against the Rwandan government following its proven involvement in the more than a decade long unrest in Democratic Republic of Congo. Both countries suspended a substantial fraction of their aid to Rwanda. A UN report had that year highlighted support that Laurent Nkunda, Tutsi Congolese rebel leader of CNDP, had been receiving from Paul Kagame in their joint efforts of destabilising DRC with a persistent intent of looting its riches. It was then, in the making of an offensive of big scale by the rebel to take control of Goma, capital of North Kivu province, which caused massive displacement of populations, that French and British foreign affairs ministers, Bernard Kouchner and David Milliband, travelled speedily to Kigali and Kinshasa to calm things down by talking directly to the troublemakers. Britain representative had a particular edge over the Rwandan regime because of the significant aid package his country provides.
It is no secret for any informed observer of Rwandan politics the fact that aid received by the country after 1994 has discriminatorily benefited its citizens, leaving a significant portion of the population in abject poverty while the privileged few live a luxury lifestyle. Additionally, it has strengthened the Rwandan regime repressive capability and enabled excessive militarisation with its tragic consequences for the region. As in the case of Uganda towards the end of the 90s and early this decade, Rwanda benefited in recent years from the support of bilateral and multilateral donors who, by increasing their level of cooperation and assistance to the country, gave the Government room to spend more on security matters while other sectors, such as education, health and governance, have been taken care of by the bilateral and multilateral aid.
For years, and among other outcomes, the unconditional support from external partners has consequently materialised in Kagame’s regime extensively abusing and disempowering Rwandans in their every aspect of life at the point that this has become their way of living. The argument against such picture seems to be that Rwanda is a typical model of African democracy, according to its president. Apparently, that is how the general situation is reflected around the continent. There should be no reason for a different scenario in his country. But how an autocratic regime can be objectively perceived as an example to emulate for a prosperous future of Africa?
Notwithstanding such erroneous and insulting explanation for African aspiring democracies, it appears deplorable to witness that these abuses were or are not only carried out inside Rwanda. The UN Mapping report on crimes committed in Democratic Republic of Congo between 1993 and 2003 has exposed the responsibilities of Kagame’s army during that sad period of the history of the Great Lakes region. Suffering of victims does not unfortunately see a promising ending. Some of the crimes the Rwandan Patriotic Army is accused of during that time could seemingly be qualified as acts of genocide against Congolese Hutu population and Hutu refugees, if they were brought in front of a court of justice.
Events prior to August 2010 with presidential farce elections in Rwanda have similarly highlighted enough how repressive Paul Kagame’s regime could be, with particularly the case of Victoire Ingabire, Chair of FDU-Inkingi, who since October 14th, 2010 is in prison. Other political leaders have been mistreated and jailed. Among them are Me Bernard Ntaganda and Deo Mushayidi. Assassinations of Andre Kagwa Kwisereka, Vice President of Green Party, or journalist Jean Leonard Rugambage, and failed attempted on the life of General Faustin Nyamwasa in South Africa are other evidence of what an intolerant regime of dissent voices is capable of. These high profile cases of mistreatment of people are just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, hundreds of thousands of Rwandans have died, imprisoned, disappeared, unaccounted for because of an informal agreement of understanding between Paul Kagame and his powerful backers which has made him untouchable since 1994 until today.
All atrocities committed in Rwanda during the reign of Rwandan Patriotic Front have either been carried out or reported through Paul Kagame’s people lenses, or without any objective witness around. Exiled Iranian blogger Potkin Azarmeir explains the reason why many political leaders clamp down on free expression. ‘They seem to think words and ideas and asking questions are dangerous. They see almost any criticism as a threat to their existence. They are insecure. Once freedom of speech is taken away, it becomes the root of all evil. Governments that restrict freedom of speech aren’t accountable and therefore corruption and nepotism become endemic. Moral decline follows and power is restricted in the hands of a few who have the power to suppress others by force.’ This is a description he gives of his country Iran, but anyone aware of Paul Kagame regime would immediately perceive that the writer has likely done a close analysis of current Rwandan politics, such close are similarities between the two autocratic systems.
Despite the official claim of lack of corruption in Rwanda, a situation where this only proves the regime’s capacity to hide that malpractice from public scrutiny, evidence has emerged which demonstrates instead its strong manifestation among the inner circle of Kagame’s power. This unspoken about vice was revealed by Umuvugizi, the Kinyarwanda newspaper which was banned until recently. It is important to notice that, despite the removal of the ban, the paper’s editor who fled Rwanda to save his life after assassination on June 24th, 2010 of his journalist colleague Jean-Leonard Rugambage, announced that he would only return once the facts he had denounced in his writings will have been corrected, which is not the case until today.
Another despicable situation about the Rwandan regime has been the official denial of existence of different ethnic groups which are normally known as Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. But with time, such government policy has emerged as a means to discriminate as opposed to a way of unifying people under a sense of patriotism. Using the backdrop of the genocide of 1994, Paul Kagame developed among its citizens a segregation of apartheid style supported by laws and a judiciary system at its service. Inside the country, the vast majority of the population is denied their basic rights, including fair justice, education, employment, and property. And the sad side of the story is that this situation has been going on for the last sixteen years with the full backing of the international community, namely by countries such as US, UK and others providing significant financial aid to Rwanda.
As the general public around the world, and particularly political leaders in Western countries gradually take full acknowledgement of the ongoing situation, there is an urgency to reconsider the support Rwandan external partners have been giving to Paul Kagame’s regime without taking into account his monstrous misdeeds on the one hand. A coordinated and immediate suspension of aid to his country should apply to pressure him to release immediately and unconditionally political prisoners of whom the recent one is Ms Victoire Ingabire. If not, there would be a lack of accountability between Western leaders supporting Rwanda and their constituents, or a sense of distrust because they were voted into political leadership for example for using citizens’ taxpayers’ money responsibly by not supporting regimes like Kagame’s. On the other hand, systematic repression has been carried on and continues to be perpetrated inside Rwanda, well away of international eyes because of the absence of free press in the country. Another request to Kagame’s regime that strictly conditional aid could achieve is setting up an international commission on abuses of human rights in the country. The working of such commission would be determined once its idea would be accepted, but in the meantime the international community should stop witnessing human beings in Rwanda being treated less than animals and keep silent.