Tag Archives: “victoire ingabire”

Strange times in Kigali.

I returned to Kigali this week with the hopes of enjoying some downtime before heading to eastern Congo. Sadly, this was not to be the case. As I recently reported, things in everyone’s favorite central African autocracy have taken a turn for the dysfunctional of late, even by this region’s strange standards. Grenade attacks, coup rumors, renegade generals on the run. If it weren’t for the fact that there’s not a beach in sight, I would’ve sworn I was back in Bujumbura.

Happier times for Presidents Museveni and Kagame, seen here in 2008, before renegade, coup-plotting generals fled into Uganda and threatened to strain relations between the two countries

Front and center has been the bizarre case of Lieutenant-General Kayumba Nyamwasa, a former army chief of staff who – after rumored sightings in Uganda – has apparently resurfaced in South Africa after fleeing the country last week. Kayumba, who was until recently serving as Rwanda’s ambassador to India, has had a strained relationship with the RPF leadership, after he was allegedly linked to a failed coup attempt in 2003. The diplomatic posting seems to reflect the conventional wisdom in Kigali, which is to keep your friends close, your enemies closer, and your failed-coup leaders in India. Uganda’s Sunday Vision reported on Kayumba’s contentious relationship with the government, citing local reports linking him to the troubled Green Party, as well as rumors that “no government official or even fellow soldiers attended the funeral of [Kayumba’s] mother recently,” which is a dark tiding indeed for a Rwandan political figure.

Yesterday, a clearly peeved PK gave a press conference here in Kigali, at which he dispelled any rumors that the fleeing general – as well as another former army officer, Patrick Karegeya – had been plotting a coup against him, according to South Africa’s Independent.

“Nobody, absolutely nobody, not even Kayumba, can carry out a coup here. Think about it and you’ll come to the conclusion no one can carry out a coup” in Rwanda, the president said.

“People can only dream about it, wish for it; I believe what I’m telling you,” Kagame said.

Kagame went on to add: “Never ever ever ever ever. Never. Ever.”

Kagame, who at a recent press conference 'double-dog dared' opponents to overthrow him

The press conference comes on the heels of an announcement by the Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga, who told reporters with a straight face on Tuesday that the Kigali grenade attacks of last month have now been linked to none other than Lt. Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa and Patrick Karegyeya. This comes after officials stated just hours after the attacks that two suspects had been apprehended, and that, in the definitive words of police spokesman Eric Kayiranga, “they belong to the Interahamwe militia.”

The Rwanda News Agency comments on the sudden about-face.

When three grenades exploded in Kigali two weeks ago and another in Huye district a week before, Police Spokesman Superintendent Eric Kayiranga quickly said investigations showed that Rwandan FDLR rebels were behind them.

The link has not been raised again. On Tuesday, the National Prosecuting Authority suddenly claimed that Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa and Col. Patrick Karegeya were behind the grenade attacks. On Wednesday, President Kagame said the link between these two scenarios might be possible.

Why would former RPF stalwarts now be canoodling with the Interahamwe? Exactly how many FDLR Hutus do you think are on Lt. Gen. Faustin Kayumba’s Christmas-card list?

Undeterred by the hilarity of their accusations, the RPF today released photographic evidence that Messrs. Kayumba and Karegeya are, indeed, plotting with Interahamwe militia. “We finally have our smoking gun,” said Kagame.

Interahamwe militia and rogue RPF elements plotting at a sidewalk cafe in eastern Congo, according to an investigative report by Rwanda's New Times

The Kayumba saga comes against a backdrop of increasing intimidation and harassment of opposition politicians, as I’ve reported before. These have included threats most foul against at least three prominent opposition figures – Victoire Ingabire, of the FDU-Inking Party; Bernard Ntaganda, of the Parti Social-IMBERAKURI; and Frank Habineza, of the Democratic Green Party – and have (predictably) drawn outraged cries from the international community.

President Kagame, of course, has repeatedly defended his actions, citing the ever-present threat of Hutu rebels to the east and fifth columnists within. In an op-ed for The Guardian, Stephen Kinzer sums up the Kagame position.

He believes western human rights activists underestimate the prospects for a new outbreak of ethnic violence in Rwanda, as well as the danger of allowing ethnically charged speech. “We’ve lived this life,” he said angrily at a news conference. “We’ve lived the consequences. So we understand it better than anyone from anywhere else.”

The levels of intrigue here are…intriguing. Kagame is a master manipulator, who has repeatedly used the genocide as a pretext for bullying the international community and cracking down on internal dissent. The refrain of “we understand it better than anyone from anywhere else” has, in some form or other, become the de facto position of the Kagame administration. It is part of its us-against-the-world mentality, which has always included, as a lingering subtext, a reminder of how the West failed Rwanda during its darkest hour.

On a scale of one to 10, this man is not to be fucked with.

The president is a grand strategist, as PR-savvy as any American exec, and observers in this country are always forced to consider how a given event – whether it be grenade attacks in Kigali, or the return of a rabble-rousing exile – is being manipulated by the man upstairs. However damaging or threatening the latest news might seem, you know it is being redacted in His Excellency PK’s enigmatic noggin, before being regurgitated in a way that, ultimately, casts the Kagame regime in an ever more righteous light. Ingabire, for example, has been given a relatively free hand (by Rwandan standards) to state her case to the foreign press. But is Kagame simply holding back because the international spotlight is on her? Or is he playing a more patient hand, perhaps giving Ingabire enough rope to (metaphorically, of course) hang herself?

(The same laissez-faire attitude, unfortunately, has not been extended toward her erstwhile assistant, Joseph Ntawangundi, who just three days after being attacked alongside Ingabire, was promptly arrested and locked up on an outstanding warrant for crimes committed during the genocide.)

I’m not entirely sure what to make of these opposition leaders. Frank Habineza, President of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, for example, clumsily played the genocide card while appealing to the West to put pressure on Kagame for his repressive political tactics.

“We do not want the international community to wait, like it waited in 1994,” said Habineza, drawing a parallel that was unlikely to win him many fans. (You can hear more from Habineza here.)

Ingabire has not exactly shied away from the limelight.

And then there’s Ingabire. I’ve already written a bit about her political aspirations, after spending nearly 16 years in exile in Europe. The would-be president quickly stirred controversy by making some politically charged comments about Hutu victims at the genocide memorial. This more or less occurred while she still had crumbs from the in-flight meal on her chin.

Given such blatantly ethnic posturing – as well as some of the questionable figures looming in her background – it is hard to accept her intentions at face value. Likewise, the clumsy, stage-managed episode involving her supposed asylum request at the UK High Commission makes you wonder whether Ingabire isn’t as much a cool calculator as the man she hopes to dethrone. And you have to ask why someone so deeply concerned with the future of her country waited this long to return, anyway.

Recently Ingabire claimed that if the election were to be held tomorrow, the people would surely vote FDU into power, “because they know who we are.”

I don’t want to take anything away from the average man-on-the-collines here in Rwanda. I would like to give Rwandans – particularly the rural poor, who make up the bulk of this country’s population – the benefit of the doubt, and assume that, come August, they can and will calmly file to the polls with a selfless democratic spirit and full of only the highest of high-minded aspirations.

Unfortunately, that goes against everything I know about electoral politics in this region. Given the amount of time she has had to “campaign” in the country, I suspect most voters don’t know all that much about who Ingabire is. They simply know that she is a Hutu, and in a country where that group still holds a roughly 85 percent majority, she could very well be banking on the fact that that’s all they need to know. You can hardly blame the president, then, for being a bit concerned at the rumblings from below. And you have to wonder just what steps he might take in the next few months to suppress them.

The curious case of Victoire Ingabire.

Last week I weighed in on the controversy surrounding Rwandan opposition candidate Victoire Ingabire, who has been the target of a relentless campaign of intimidation and perfidious perfidy, no doubt engineered by the ruling junta in Kigali.

Our friends at Kigaliwire this week update us on the latest twist in an increasingly twisted saga: rumors that Ms. Ingabire sought refuge at the UK High Commission, “following” – according to a statement posted on her Facebook page – “confirmed information of an imminent arrest, detention in a solitary confinement, physical and mental harassment and psychological torture.”

Ingabire, looking un-arrested, un-confined, and un-persecuted

“I’m told Ingabire had a meeting at the UK High Commission and then went home,” says our Kigaliwire source, not speculating on how much genocide ideology she tried to spread along the way.

Today The New Times offers its own account of the asylum debacle in what was hyped as a “well researched investigative report” (to alert readers that this would not be just another press release from the Ministry of Disinformation).

Nothing demonstrates Ingabire’s double-faced character than [sic] her attempt this week to grab headlines while continuing her smear campaign against the government, when she stage-managed a supposed request for protection in the UK High Commission.

When the embassy threw her out, on the ground that they did not for one minute believe her story, she immediately hit her computer keyboard, shifting the blame on what she referred to as “my political organisation”, which put out an incorrect statement announcing that she had sought protection.

She told the BBC and the VOA radio stations that she had not attempted to seek asylum but had gone to discuss with the diplomats “the current political situation”….

When the British slammed the door in her face, the message was loud and clear, if only Ms Ingabire could discern it: You can’t have your cake and eat it.

Seems the finger-waggers at The New Times missed the irony here. If any country in Africa today presents a clear portrait of cake-having and -eating, it is Kagame’s Rwanda, which for 15 years has used the genocide to neuter dissent both in- and external; has invaded and occupied large, mineral-rich chunks of Congo under the flimsiest of pretexts, with the tacit support/complicity of the international community; and has ridden the moral high rode all the way to the bank. President Paul “Duncan Hines” Kagame knows from cake, my friends. Let’s see what diplomatic petits fours French President Nicolas Sarkozy will bring on his visit to Kigali later this week.

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On a related note, anything stand out in this AP report on the Sarkozy visit?

France and Rwanda have sparred for years over an alleged French role in the genocide – the killing of 500,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, massacred in frenzied killing led by radical Hutus.

Has anyone – ever – offered such a lowball estimate for the genocide? Who the hell does the AP’s fact- (and body-) checking?

Just when you thought it was safe to leave Burundi…

Having spent the past three months getting neither shot by bandits nor maimed by flying hand grenades; having dodged Documentation – Burundi’s dreaded secret police – and suffered no more than a bit of sunburn after an epic session of doggy-paddling in Lake Tanganyika, it would seem like the perfect time to pack up shop, offer a few last merci beaucoups, and retreat to the cool, politically stable, corruption-free, soon-to-be-fully wired hills of Rwanda to catch my breath, before taking the plunge into the lawlessness of eastern Congo.

Sunburn, flaky skin, and other things you won't find in the State Department's latest travel advisory

But yesterday’s news out of Kigali, where simultaneous grenade attacks claimed at least one person and injured more than two dozen others, has been just the latest in a series of sobering stories from Rwanda in recent weeks.

Reuters reports that the three explosions went off within a half hour of one another; according to what I’ve picked up from the blogosphere, they occurred at the Nyabugogo bus station, the Rubangura building, and the restaurant Chez Venant. The latest update from AFP confirms that “two suspects have been detained in relation to simultaneous grenade attacks in the Rwandan capital Kigali that killed one person and injured some 30 others.”

“Two suspects were apprehended, they belong to the Interahamwe militia,” police spokesman Eric Kayiranga told AFP, referring to the extremist Hutu militia responsible for Rwanda’s 1994 genocide….

“Those who commit these kinds of crimes want to sow chaos, intimidate people and kill the genocide survivors,” Kayiranga said.

“We are continuing the investigation and questioning the two suspects,” notably on whether any link exists between the blasts and the August presidential election, he added.

For my Rwandan and Burundian readers, a Kinyarwanda-language article appears at igihe.com, and also offers some pics of the aftermath, including those posted below.

Kigaliwire, an ever reliable source of chatter out of Rwanda, notes that

there have been a number of grenade attacks in Rwanda in recent months. In July, 2009 an attack injured 2 girls at the genocide memorial in central Kigali. In September 2009 four people were killed and 52 injured in an attack in Karambo village, 60 miles south of Kigali. In addition there were three unrelated grenade attacks in December 2009 and another in January 2010.

I’ve reported in the past how hand grenades are a popular form of score-settling in the Great Lakes region, due to their nauseating ubiquity. In Rwanda, though, it’s difficult to dismiss the political dimensions behind such attacks – especially when they occur at the Gisozi memorial, or are used to silence witnesses in gacaca trials, as is so often the case. A grenade attack in Rwanda always seems to require an added level of scrutiny.

Or maybe it just seems that way, since the raison d’etre of the iron-fisted Kagame government remains the threat of Hutu barbarians at the gate. Yesterday’s attacks come against a backdrop of increasing tension and repression ahead of August’s presidential elections. Earlier this month Human Rights Watch published a report urging the government to end its intimidation of opposition parties. “Opposition party members are facing increasing threats, attacks, and harassment in advance of Rwanda’s August 2010 presidential election,” said a statement accompanying the report, published on February 10.

In the past week, members of the FDU-Inkingi and the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda – new opposition parties critical of government policies – have suffered serious incidents of intimidation by individuals and institutions close to the government and the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). One member of the FDU-Inkingi was beaten by a mob in front of a local government office. The attack appeared to have been well coordinated, suggesting it had been planned in advance.

“The Rwandan government already tightly controls political space,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “These incidents will further undermine democracy by discouraging any meaningful opposition in the elections.”

The Rwandan government and the RPF have strongly resisted any political opposition or broader challenge of their policies by civil society. On several occasions, the government has used accusations of participation in the genocide, or “genocide ideology,” as a way of targeting and discrediting its critics.

Notable is the case of Victoire Ingabire, a controversial politician who returned to Rwanda last month to prepare her candidacy for this year’s election, after spending 16 years abroad. An ethnic Hutu, she quickly found herself on the wrong side of the famously crotchety government and, according to HRW, “has been widely condemned in official and quasi-official media and described as a “negationist” of the genocide for stating publicly that crimes committed against Hutu citizens by the RPF and the Rwandan army should be investigated and those responsible brought to justice.”

Ms. Ingabire: Voted 'Most Likely to Get Pushed Down a Flight of Stairs By an Innocently Whistling Paul Kagame' in her high school yearbook

Two weeks ago, in a case whose details remain contested and ambiguous, Ingabire and her driver were attacked inside a government office as they waited to register their upstart political party.

Police spokesman Supt Eric Kayiranga said Ms Ingabire had jumped the queue at the local government office in Kigali, Rwanda News Agency (RNA) reported.

He said a group of local men attacked her because they were angry that a person who “negates the genocide” could be served before them.

The BBC also reports that he said this with a straight face.

The row over Ingabire has, predictably, taken center stage in the Rwandan press. The New Times – which is to President Kagame as a finely tuned 1733 Montagnana cello is to Yo-Yo Ma – notes in its typically understated manner that Ingabire has “earned herself the most vicious distinction for being the first and only person to publicly espouse a revisionist and Genocide denial position, in relation to the Genocide against the Tutsi, on the Rwandan territory.” The paper also took umbrage with an interview with Ingabire in The East African, noting with a dark sense of foreboding:

Reports that Ingabire’s interview with The East African was masterminded by some intelligence organizations within the region, with a long history of using journalists as agents and assets, if true, do not augur well for regional stability.

The suspicion that this is all an elaborate conspiracy, as opposed to just an earnest bit of reporting on a controversial figure, offers a revealing snapshot of how the Kigali junta views the role of the press in an ostensibly free society.

Which isn’t to say The East African can be excused for its own unbiased approach. “The big question now,” write Charles Kazooba and Esther Nakazzi, “is whether Kagame is ready to tolerate political opposition, or he will continue to use the past as a pretext to crack down on legitimate political dissent.” Sure, it’s not quite as comically one-sided as The New Times’ onanistic View From Kigali; but “tolerate” and “legitimate” are pretty loaded words, given the context.

Still, the interview makes for a fascinating read. On some points, Ingabire comes across as a reasonably sane and level-headed opposition figure. She says,

Kagame’s government is not ready to accept opposition. This is why they sent young men to beat me and my aide two weeks ago – which was a true reflection of the lack of democracy and freedom of expression in Rwanda.

This treatment extends to all opposition politicians. Kagame must accept that there is an opposition that needs political space. We are not enemies. Instead, he uses the genocide ideology against us. The genocide took place 16 years ago and now is the time for democracy.

These are points that, in various diplomatic and civil society circles I’ve encountered in both Rwanda and Burundi, are rarely disputed by anyone whose name doesn’t rhyme with “salami.”

But Ingabire’s relationship to the FDLR remains ambiguous. Some of her assertions are a bit too cannily worded to be taken at face value.

The FDLR claims to be fighting for peace. They also accept that some of their members took part in the genocide. Everybody involved in genocide and crime against humanity committed in Rwanda has to be judged. Our argument is political space – it would solve the problem.

While lack of political space is certainly a problem in Rwanda, I’m not entirely sure that extends to the FDLR, for whom a campaign of murder, rape, violence and general thuggery seems to be the more salient problem. And when she fussily refuses to “discuss with the media details concerning the sources of [her party’s] funds,” you have to wonder whether the clumsy, heavy-handed assertions of The New Times about some of Ingabire’s political and financial allegiances might not have some small basis in fact.

In the end, the paper seems to hit the nail squarely on the head. “To certain Rwandan politicians, Genocide is an unfinished business,” says the paper, while referring to Ingabire. And the same could just as well be applied to the RPF leadership who continue to use the legitimate horrors of the genocide as a means to enforce an emergency rule without end. In Rwandan politics, the genocide is always an unfinished business.