“…, it will be necessary that [one day] Rwanda be courageous to demand forgiveness to its neighbors to whom it caused enormous wrong, especially the Democratic Republic of Congo. …Let’s be clear; the true place of Rwanda in the sub-region is not in an illusory hegemony based on a policy of military supremacy, unsustainable in the long term, and an ideology of pan-Tutsi chauvinism, but in a real politik that will enhance and intelligently exploit the technological know-how and excellence in well-chosen niches.” Marie Rose Habyarimana.
This is the last section of the interview of Marie Rose Habyarimana that this blog has published for the last couple of weeks. It was translated from French.
The Rising Continent [TRC]: In 90/94 Rwanda was at war against RPF – the Rwandan Patriotic Front. At the same period, there was as well a beginning of a multiparty system. What do you think led to the political slippage that the country experienced? And what would you advise today’s politicians from what you have seen from that time?
Marie Rose Habyarimana [MRH]: What may be characterized as an imposed path towards a multiparty Rwanda during war played a negative role in the course of events that devastated the country. Indeed, because of the diversity of parties and especially the sharing of power, without any consideration of the situation of war, the Rwandan government was left without much room to effectively deal with the rebellion that was destabilizing the country by all means including terrorism (posing roadside bombs and grenades rocket attacks on villagers, infiltration of political parties and their militias etc.). In particular, the alliance of opposition parties with the RPF rebels exacerbated internal divisions and played a crucial role in the tearing apart of the social fabric of Rwanda; and this made possible the drama that Rwanda has experienced.
From what happened at that time, it may be advisable to today’s major political players the same considerations as those recommended to the youth, meaning:
- Being strongly patriotic towards one’s country and its people inclusively
- Defending the ultimate and highest interests of the Rwandan nation and not being partisan
- Avoiding opportunism, nepotism, clientelism and blind passion
- Ensuring social justice
- Working towards a comprehensive development which does not promote social inequalities
The Rising Continent [TRC]: Before 1990 Rwanda lived in harmony with its neighbors. What kind of policies do you think aspiring Rwandan politicians should take to fix the damage caused by the regime of President Paul Kagame on this?
Marie Rose Habyarimana [MRH]: You are right to point out that, contrary to the propaganda of President Kagame, the Habyarimana regime, with its policy of national unity, had assured to Rwandans a sustainable social peace and a healthy mix of the various components of the Rwandan society.
Considered to be the main wealth of the country, that unspoilt social peace was sharply accompanied by peace with neighboring countries. In fact, you can choose your friend, but you can not choose your neighbor. If the neighbor has peace, so do you … Rwanda had a policy of good neighborliness, which had borne good results, until when it suffered from the betrayal of Uganda from where came the RPF rebels RPF who started the war in 1990; that war led to the enormous tragedy of the African Great Lakes, which wasted millions of human lives to date. Under President Habyarimana, Rwanda has consistently sought to build peace with its neighbors by paying special attention to the establishment and strengthening of regional integration organizations.
Despite appearances, the Kagame government has destroyed those gains. The first thing to do to regain that social peace is the restoration of trust among Rwandans. And such trust should come from a painful dialogue to restore historical truth so that Rwandans can share a common memory of the events that have devastated their country. It is only after this process that a real reconciliation and real justice will be possible.
For the return of peace to the Rwandan borders, it would be necessary to create one day a joint and neutral commission consisting essentially of concerned parties, i.e. countries of the great lakes, to investigate the crimes and other atrocities that took place in the region during the recent decades. Rwanda would not for example be considered as sole responsible of its tragic history, but there is as well Uganda which played in it a very significant part. Then, it will be necessary that Rwanda be courageous to demand forgiveness to its neighbors to whom it caused great wrong, especially the Democratic Republic of Congo.
And to foster a reconciliation between the peoples of the region, it will be indispensable to focus on its socio-economic integration that would promoting exchanges of all kinds between the populations of the concerned countries. Finally, emphasizing the promotion of inter-regional policies taking into account the commonalities of the peoples of these countries may also be a plus for a lasting peace.
That said, the new generation of politicians, that will preside tomorrow over the destinies of Rwanda, must be permeated by the idea that regional integration is a must for the country’s future. It is in its strategic security and economic survival. Let’s be clear; the true place of Rwanda in the sub-region is not in an illusory hegemony based on a policy of military supremacy, unsustainable in the long term, and an ideology of pan-Tutsi chauvinism, but in a real politik that will enhance and intelligently exploit the technological know-how and excellence in well-chosen niches.
The Rising Continent [TRC]: Do you think the concept of democracy as taught and lived in the West is incompatible with the African political context? If by chance, it was universal, how do you think it could be applied for example in the special case where historically Rwandan Hutus and Tutsis have always been political antagonists?
Marie Rose Habyarimana [MRH]: One often hears African politicians saying that the concept of Western democracy can not be applied to Africa. It is true that, for historical socio-economic and cultural reasons particular to Africa, Western democracy can not be “blindly copied.” However, at the same time, many African dictators make it an excuse to impose and maintain their power by undermining the most basic democratic principles: respect for other people’s lives and institutions. It is unfortunate that most dictators who criticize Western democracy are the same people who, when they were in opposition, promised their people the introduction of that democracy. The existence of ethnic groups, whether in Rwanda or elsewhere, is not an obstacle to the exercise of democracy.
The Western democratic model is suitable to Africa as long as there is good governance and respect for the law (with effective mechanisms to fight against impunity), constitution, and establishing enforced policies reassuring and protecting ethnic minorities where necessary.
That said, there shouldn’t be too much illusion about the replicability of the Western model of democracy in our current African societies. We often forget that there is an interaction between democracy and level of development. Beyond the national cultural molds mentioned above, there cannot be a healthy democratic culture without the emergence of a statistically significant middle class, that is to say, a significant social layer that is aware that it’s its taxes that support the state and which therefore has the right to demand accountability from governments. That, too, is the Western model of democracy that explains its functioning.
From the same interview: