The political prisoner that Kagame’s government puts on Trial on Monday 5/9/11 in the Rwandan capital has been portrayed by many in the Rwandan community everywhere, inside and outside her country, as an icon for justice and democracy for her compatriots. Her courage has broken the castle of sand on which the Rwandan president’s credibility has been built since July 1994 when his RPF rebel movement took power in Kigali.
Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, leader of FDU-Inkingi, went back to Rwanda on January 16/1/10. Since then she has been humiliated, harassed, intimidated, publicly abused, beaten by authorities’ mobs, mentally tortured and finally imprisoned on 14/10/10. While in jail, she has been denied visits for almost 4 months. No doctor has been allowed to attend to her health which is gradually deteriorating. She has been confined to isolation in ‘1930 prison,’ the notorious main prison of the capital Kigali.
On Friday 2/9/11, a group of Rwandans and Ugandan living in London, held a public demonstration in front of the UK Department for International Department [DfID], asking for the release of all Rwandan political prisoners by Kagame’s government. This was in reference particularly to the trial of Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza. But why was the demonstration held at DfID instead of any other UK government agency?
Since the RPF rebel movement set its mission of taking power in Rwanda from its natural base in Uganda at the end of the 1980s, and after helping Joweri Museveni get into power in 1986, it has received unconditional support until today from Anglo-Saxon world, mainly from UK and US. The Rwandan government budget is today kept afloat with £83 millions from Britain each year. More than 50% of its budget is financed by donors despite an unspeakable record of crimes Paul Kagame is officially accused of by Spanish and French Judges, and UN through in its Mapping Report published on 1/10/10. The millions of lives the Rwandan president has condemned to death during his 17 years ruling over Rwanda, raging wars in the Great Lakes region, and almost 20 years as leader of RPF appear to the donor community as not human beings.
But understandably Paul Kagame with his different military contingents in Sudan, DRC, and other places around the world, and training facilities for his soldiers inside the country offered by his sponsors, is serving more interests of those who put him in power than those of Rwandans. That he abuses the latter at such degree as he has done so far or continues, this does not bother the former. But this should neither be a reason for the abused victims to keep silent and not denounce both perpetrators and their supporters. They are not alone in that endeaver. Ann Garrison is one of such voices of reason.
As the demonstration which was held in front DfID was in connection with Victoire Ingabire’s trial on Monday 5/9/11, an open letter to the Secretary of State for International Development was handed to his department for consideration. A copy of the letter is reproduced here. In addition, BBC World Service asked one of the participants to the demonstration about the number of protesters out there at DfID. The respondent replied, ‘This is not about numbers but expression of the millions of Rwandans who cannot voice their grievances against Paul Kagame and his killing and oppressive machinery.’
Open letter to Honorable Andrew Mitchell demanding DfID to condition aid to Rwanda to the release of President Kagame’s political prisoners
Honorable Andrew Mitchell MP
Secretary of State for International Department
1 Palace Street
We, the undersigned, are concerned members of the Rwandan community living in the UK. Today we held an authorized public protest in front of the Department for International Department. Our concern is based on the continuous climate of repression which prevails in Rwanda allowing the government of President Kagame to imprison his political opponents indefinitely without trial, or be sentenced on fabricated charges for long periods of jail.
The list of prisoners include
Mrs Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, Chairperson of FDU-Inkingi in prison since 14/10/10
Me Bernard Ntaganda, Chairperson of PS-Imberakuri sentenced to 4 years in prison
Mr Deogratias Mushayidi, President of PDP-Imanzi sentenced to life imprisonement
Dr Theoneste Niyitegetse, Fformer presidential candidate of 2003 elections
Charles Ntakirutinka Founder of PDR-Ubuyanja in prison for more than 10 years
Journalist Agnes Uwimana Nkusi, sentenced to 17 years in prison
Journalist Saidati Mukakibibi, sentenced to 7 years in prison
And thousands more are held imprisoned for their political opinions in Rwandan official and untraceable prisons until they disappear.
We know your government is aware of numerous reports made by various human rights organizations about the situation Rwandans in general and particularly political parties from the opposition experience. You engage regularly, both bilaterally and with your EU partners, to ensure that the Rwandan government respects political and media freedom.
The Department for International Development Minister Stephen O’ Brien traveled to Rwanda on 16 and 17/6/10. He met President Kagame and other Rwandan government ministers. Apparently he raised the issues faced by opposition parties, and highlighted the importance that the UK, as a major bilateral donor and fellow member of the Commonwealth, attaches to core democratic values, such as freedom of speech and constructive opposition. We reckon that yourself during your visit to Rwanda on 25/7/11, you must’ve come back on these issues.
Surprisingly, it was on 19/6/10 that an assassination attempt in South Africa was done against General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa. On 24/6/10, Jean-Léonard Rugambage, a journalist working for the banned newspaper Umuvugizi, was murdered. The same day there was a general crackdown on opposition parties which peacefully demonstrated against their exclusion from participating in electoral campaign. Those detained suffered severe torture and harassment from security forces. Bernard Ntaganda, the leader of PS-IMBERAKURI has been in prison since then. On 8/7/10, Agnès Uwimana Nkusi, Saidati Mukakibibi, and Patrick Kambare, journalists of the independent newspaper Umurabyo were arrested. On 14/7/10, André Kagwa Rwisereka, Secretary General of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, was murdered, found almost beheaded. Despite an absence of independent reporting focusing on issues faced by the population in general under Paul Kagame government, these sad occurrences filtered and came into the open.
Considering the described context, we find it reasonable to admit on the part of the British government that the approach of regular engagement with the Rwandan government to address issues of human rights and democratic values hasn’t worked in the past, neither does it today. On Monday 5/9/11, Ms Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, chairperson of FDU-Inkingi political party, and whose health condition has deteriorated while in prison since last year, will have a court hearing in Kigali.
The UK government and its EU partners have a leverage position to correct the mistreatment Paul Kagame institutions are inflicting to Rwandans. More than 50% of the Rwandan government budget comes from external contributions. Being a major donor with £83 millions of annual input, UK can change the persistent pattern of social and economic injustices by taking the following measures;
- Conditioning any future contribution to Rwandan government budget to the an unconditional release of all political prisoners
- Supporting actively the setting up of an inter-Rwandan dialogue mechanism to solve existing ethnic tensions, bring about lasting reconciliation, peace, and sustainable development in the Great Lakes and end of recurrent conflicts in Eastern Congo
Not reviewing and changing completely current approach of UK government towards recurrent abuses of human rights and freedom of speech by the Rwandan government look today as a sign of deplorable indifference for the thousands of Rwandan victims.
While dictatorial regimes on the African continent are forced out for political change, it will positively be appreciated if the UK government disassociates itself immediately from regimes which are at the wrong side of African history.