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.

8 responses to “Strange times in Kigali.

  1. Thanks alot for the blog…like many RWANDANS abroad I am very confused with what is going on in my country Rwanda. We were very optimistic about the current leadership but after hearing the accusation formulated agaisnt Kayumba by the president and the arrogance with which he said it I was left speechless…we are heading to the abyss yet again. God help Rwanda

  2. Thanks for your comment, John.

    I’d like to think that while Rwanda is on an uncertain path, that path isn’t necessarily headed for the abyss. Considering how many strides the country has taken in the past 15 years, I think it’s unfair to paint Kagame as a tyrant, as many seem to do. The political climate in Rwanda right now is very troubling. But that doesn’t mean Kagame will turn into the next Mugabe or Mobutu. How he reacts to the current wave of opposition – and whether that opposition can express itself as a legitimate political, not ethnic, opposition – will say a lot about how the next few years in Rwanda will play out.

    The thing about this country is it’s all uncharted territory. There’s no blueprint for what has happened to Rwanda in the past two decades, and no road map for what lies ahead. This is a savvy government, and I’d like to think that there are many people in it – most notably Kagame himself – who recognize that their political survival – and the survival of the nation – can’t be based on repressive, exclusionary politics. Whether that happens in 2010 or 2017 or 2024 is anybody’s guess.

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  5. “…..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…..”

    Thanks for such interesting article.

    Concerning the ethnic composition of the Rwandan population and the political mind set of the Rwandan voters, these two parameters are not prone to any change in the near future. The Republic of Rwanda will always be inhabited by a majority Hutu and minority Tutsi. Given such a situation, the RPF cannot indefinitely run away from the democratic elections. It must have the courage to face them right away.

    Should the RPF lose these elections, it will have to learn from its mistakes of the past. It is now time for the RPF to get ready for the upcoming political defeat, rather than attempting, without any perspective of political reforms in the near future, to delay these democratic elections. Sooner or later democratic elections will be held in Rwanda.

    That is the way the Rwandan history course has been drawn and nobody can change it. People who are still skeptical about such a realistic approach should take a closer look at South Africa where the white racist regime has done everything it could in the past to delay democratic elections by denying the voting rights to the black people. The white racist regime already knew that black people (the majority) would likely vote for a political movement mainly composed of black people.

    In Rwanda, one can still delay the opportunity to alleviate the sufferings imposed to the Rwandan people. However, one should keep in mind that such an attitude does not mean that the Rwandan history will not ultimately relegate the RPF into the opposition for an indefinite period of time.

    Therefore, it is time for the RPF to lift its many blockades to such a great opportunity in the Rwandan history. That is how the eastern DRC might regain its lasting stability. The time for proxy wars in DRC is over. It is time for the RPF to cope with its weaknesses and humbly accept the change the Rwandan people have been waiting for.

    It is time for the Rwandan people to stand up and request for a secured RPF hideout in the opposition. Unless the RPF accept to play modern politics, it will not escape from this unfortunate fate. Keeping running away from this process by intensifying headlong rushes denotes a political anachronism of a failed regime.

    Unfortunately, such an attitude inexorably prolongs the sufferings of the Rwandan people who are desperately begging for help. Tenacious memories still rime in so many Rwandans who survived the RPF atrocities. Therefore, the more the RPF will intensify its headlong rushes, the longer will be the time it will have to spend in the opposition.

    In the 2010 Rwandan presidential elections, the RPF will have one more chance to make up its mind set for the common good of the Rwandan people.

  6. “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”.

    In Rwanda, there are nearly 85% Hutus and 14% Tutsis. Democratic elections in Rwanda would probably give back the power to a “Hutu” movement.

    This analysis has always been in the RPF calculations with regard to plausible results of democratic elections in Rwanda. The RPF suggests that such results simply denote “confusion between the ethnic majority and the political majority.”

    Since 1993, the RPF estimates that such results would inexorably relegate it to the opposition for an indefinite period of time.

    Indeed, this is the case for the UPRONA of Pierre Buyoya in neighboring Burundi since the democratic elections of June 1993 and 2005.

    This also is the case in South Africa where democratic elections have thrown the National Party of De Klerk (now renamed the Democratic Alliance) in the opposition since 1994.

    That is also why the ANC needs a comprehensive plan that would improve the quality of life for all South African black voters besides the credit it already enjoys for having successfully fought against the apartheid.

    The stake could not be higher for the ANC. It must address the social concerns of all South African people, create jobs, provide lands, decent housing, affordable healthcare system and access to higher education, etc. rather than selling out the fact of being a “black” movement.

    Interestingly, that is exactly what Pierre Buyoya of Burundi has come to realize lately. Actually, there is no doubt that Pierre Buyoya deserves strong respect from the Burundian people, despite his many terrible mistakes of the past and strong disagreement from his own party leadership.

    Let’s make it clear:

    “The Hutu factor” does not and will not absolutely play any role in Burundi or in Rwanda. Political parties in these countries will have the obligation to play modern politics. Their respective leaders will have to propose to the Burundian/Rwandan Hutu voters something smarter than the length/shape of their noses during the upcoming electoral campaigns.

    It is important to remind readers that Burundi represents a good specific example because both Rwanda and Burundi share the same ethnic composition of their populations not to mention a similar dark history of sporadic ethnic cleansings.

  7. Thanks for the blog.Though i dis-agree with some of you opinions,i none the less find your blog amazingly more balanced and knowledgeable than most western jerkies who deem themselves experts on Rwanda.

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