The recent Rwandan laws limiting the use of internet in the country and having to pay for receiving telephone calls have scaled up the level of oppression that Paul Kagame regime is inflicting to his citizens since the day his forces invaded Rwanda from Uganda back in October 1990.
As in Egypt of Mubarak, says Horace Campbell in the book titled African Awakening: the emerging revolutions “the closing down of the internet and shutting down of cell-phone services and non-government media were only the more modern manifestations of a long tradition of repression that had placed conservative militarists at the top of the political ladder…”
Thus the measures that were voted and made public by the Rwandan minister of Interior this week are another worrying step that the Rwandan Patriotic Front government has taken to alienate itself against the population, particularly the users of new technologies in the country. I reproduce hereafter the reaction of Jambonews under the name of Jean Mitari. The original text was in French. I took the freedom of translating it for English readers.
On Tuesday, August 6, 2012, Mussa Fazil Harelimana, Rwandan Interior Minister, announced that Kigali had adopted a new law to monitor phone calls, e-mails and website visits made from Rwanda.
Divisionism or genocide ideology, were far the most significant arguments put forward by the RPF regime to discredit any form of criticism or opposition and restrict civil liberties. Presently, in a context of intense international pressure following the UN report accusing Rwanda of supporting the rebellion of the M23, the regime steps up one extra level in censuring information.
“From now on, it will be punishable in Rwanda to read information not approved by the authority and such offense [Editor: consultation of this type of information] will be regarded as complicity” [itegeko rizajya rinahana umuntu usoma inyandiko zitemewe na Leta kandi iryo kosa rizafatwa nk’ubufatanyacyaha.], announced Interior Minister Mussa Fazil Harerimana in pro-government newspaper Kigali Today. The minister added that “the security services are from the publication of the law allowed to listen to all phone calls and read emails between private individuals, [editor: even without the authorization of the judiciary] and prosecute anyone who violates the law through their conversations. ” What is surprising is that the law does not specify the type of offenses that the adoption of this new law is intended to address. On the question of whether this law will not affect many innocent victims following the fact that people borrow and lend their computers and mobile phones, the minister said “it is for each concerned to ensure their communication devices are in the right hands.”
Hence internet censorship has increased sensibly in Rwanda where it was found that in recent times, some sites especially those from opposition parties and most critical of the regime, are inaccessible, or are the subject of computer repeated attacks from government hackers.
With this new law establishing government’s monitoring of what people write on the internet and exchange on the phone, Rwanda joins the club of Internet predators. On top of such list of countries are China and Iran, which are considered the most advanced in terms of Internet filtering and monitoring users. This new law is in addition to many other draconian laws adopted by the Rwandan government in recent years, and represents a serious threat to freedom of information, where citizens can not freely express themselves online, knowing that they are being listened to and their messages read. This law also violates Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Citizen of which Rwanda is somehow a signatory and which stipulates that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; which implies the right not to be intimidated for held opinions, search, receive and spread, without any limitation in terms of boundaries, information and ideas, using any media and regardless.”
From around the world, in 2011, Reporters Without Borders has recorded almost 200 arrests of bloggers and net-citizens; with Rwanda adopting these laws aimed at monitoring and filtering the Internet, the list of offenders will certainly increase.
Among accompanying measures to enforce these laws, Rwanda decided to charge all incoming calls from abroad, this starting from July 1st, 2012. This measure came into force, after all users of mobiles were requested to get them registered by the police. From now on anyone receiving a call from abroad will have to pay $0.35 [232.5 Rwf] per minute, explains the online pro-government outlet igihe.com. However, according to information received by Jambonews, it appears that such fee for incoming calls from abroad had been underestimated, and communication providers in Rwanda find the exact charge could rise up to $0.50 per minute. Before July 1st, all incoming calls either from abroad, national or local were completely free. [Ironically, that may be the worth of celebrating 50 years of Rwandan independence]
According to the 2011 UNDP report, 76.8% of Rwandans live on less than $1.25 a day, which means that from now on it will become more and more difficult for most people to answer any incoming call from abroad, knowing that for many citizens with several family members living outside the country, the only way to stay in contact is the telephone.
According to several observers, charging for incoming calls is a way for the Kigali regime of strengthening censorship by preventing citizens to have information from their relatives living abroad. After all the independent press was muzzled, many Rwandans inside received information on what is happening in and about their country, through their families settled outside where information circulates freely. Depriving further more economically and financially the basket of already poor families proves the regime’s determination to censor information.
This intensification of censorship in Rwanda is adopted at a time when the country is affected by a negative image from the international community for its support of the M23 rebels who are committing atrocities in Eastern DRC.
Several Rwandan citizens living in Belgium and having families in Rwanda, particularly from Gisenyi have confirmed to Jambonews that the new fee on incoming calls from abroad was somehow related to the mutiny of the M23. According to these people, inhabitants of Gisenyi often witness trucks transporting injured or dead soldiers killed on the battle fields.
The decision of the Rwandan authorities to charge inexplicably phone calls to the outside and control activities taking place on the internet would be aimed at [among many other sinister objectives for the population] preventing that information about the repatriation of dead or injured does not leak to the outside.
It appears that the time may be approaching for the ultimate change that Rwandans of all walks of life and from all ethnic groups [Tutsis, Hutus, and Twas] have been longing for. For those desperate for it, the clock is certainly not ticking fast enough. Hassan El Ghayesh, also in African Awakening: The emerging revolutions, recalls the euphoria he experienced when the Egyptian youth ended 30 years of Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
“My phone doesn’t stop ringing for 30 minutes and I don’t stop calling all those who had been at Tahrir with me for another hour. We made it! Congratulations, we made it! Most of Egypt is in the street celebrating. I can’t remember the number of smiles and hugs exchanged. I do remember, though, how the older generation looked at us with absolute admiration and gratitude. We did something of which they never dreamed. The flame of youthful demonstrations hasn’t been ignited since the early 1970s. And then all of a sudden, we hit so strongly that we shake the foundation of this regime. I will forever remember the first day, the first morning I wake up to the smell of freshly baked freedom, the first shower that rinses away all the corruption and stench of the former regime.”
Such day of relief for Rwandans may not be too far. One can oppress a people for a certain period of time. Eighteen years of Kagame’s rule have been exceedingly traumatic for the majority of Rwandans who have so far managed to survive his atrocities. It can take some time to remove the foundations of the system of oppression he has developed. But he cannot oppress all the people everlastingly.