How free is free?

In the latest misstep by opposition candidate Victoire Ingabire – whose political blunderings I commented on last week – the UDF-INKINGI is apparently backing down from its protests over the arrest of her assistant, Joseph Ntawangundi. Ms. Ingabire issued a press release over the weekend in which she seemed to confirm some of the troubling accusations made about Ntawangundi in recent weeks.

Since the arrest of Joseph Ntawangundi on 05th February 2010 and the subsequent incommunicado detention, UDF-INKINGI is conducting its own investigations. At this stage, troubling details about his curriculum vitae raise a certain amount of questions on the information he volunteered before the arrest. This has resulted in regrettable errors in our press release dated 05th February 2010.

Therefore we dissociate ourselves explicitly from the earlier records of his occupational environment, and call on serious investigations.

The press release in question, from February 5, strongly disputes the accusations made in the New Times, about Ntawangundi’s alleged crimes committed during the genocide, which it dismisses as “sheer lies.” So has new evidence come to light about Ntawangundi, prompting Ingabire to severe her ties? Or is she simply calculating that her former assistant is political dead weight? And really, if you’re a Rwandan opposition candidate with alleged FDLR links who’s returning to your country after 16 years in exile, shouldn’t you do a better job of vetting your closest aides? Anyone ask Ntawangundi for references?

Is Ingabire as harmless as this gay-ass campaign poster would have us believe?

The more I hear about Ingabire around town, the less credible I find her as a viable opposition candidate. (At least one reporter who has interviewed her described her to me as an “idiot.”) Her persistent refusal to answer questions related to her alleged links to the FDLR – including just who’s bankrolling her campaign – seem like the sort of politically expedient obfuscations of someone with something to hide. On a knee-jerk, free-speech level, I agree that her harassment by the Kagame government has been a bit unfair. But if she turns out to be the monstrous, ethnically divisive figure Kigali makes her out to be, is this really someone we should be defending?

Likewise, this otherwise excellent piece about Ingabire in Canada’s Globe and Mail misses a very important point by making her out to be some heroic, embattled figure, without acknowledging how controversial her candidacy is within Rwanda itself. How can you breezily write a sentence like this – “Ms. Ingabire says she doesn’t know how many Tutsis died in 1994, how many Hutus died, or even whether the number of Tutsi victims was larger than the number of Hutu victims.” – without mentioning that such a revisionist opinion contradicts a very large body of genocide scholarship? Should a journalist accept a statement like that at face value?

Our last bit of news today comes from the Ugandan Observer, which takes a few pot-shots at renegade Lt.-Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, last seen with a hot hand at the craps table in Sun City. There’s little in this very one-sided piece to shed new light on the swirling conspiracy theories involving Kayumba, Col. Karegeya, the FDLR, the Elders of Zion, and the CIA, but at the very least (the very, very least), it offers a cogent reminder that you reap what you sow.

In desperation, Kayumba would turn to any ol' doofus for help.

Kayumba was one of the first architects of the RPF; according to a journalist I spoke to tonight, he continues to attract the loyalties of many in the Rwandan army, and is perceived as a definite threat to the Kigali regime. Yet for many years, he was as much a part of the Kagame junta as anyone in Rwanda. If the country has veered toward autocracy – “benevolent dictatorship,” if you prefer – under President Kagame, it was with Kayumba’s help. So whether he has indeed plotted against the state, or is simply being accused of the same by his former RPF buddies, it goes without saying that he’s had a hand in his eventual undoing. The state that he helped create is the state that now looks to devour him.

23 responses to “How free is free?

  1. Pingback: Numbers of Tutsi and Hutu Victims of Rwandan War | Rwandinfo

  2. Geoffrey York

    I’m afraid you misread my article. I certainly don’t present Ms. Ingabire as “heroic.” And the entire point of the sentence that you quoted from my article was to expose her evasions, so that people can judge her for themselves. I didn’t “accept it at face value” — I quoted her comment about victim numbers to show how she is evading an obvious point about the genocide. Then I leave it to readers to decide for themselves the extent of her evasions or mistruths or whatever they want to conclude. That’s what reporting is. I don’t tell my readers what to think about her. At the same time, I think you’re grossly over-simplifying if you think she is “monstrous” or “an idiot” (or even to hint that this might be true). There is nothing on the public record — or from my lengthy conversation with her — to support those sweeping statements.
    Geoffrey York, The Globe and Mail.

  3. Quidestveritas

    No mention anywhere on the news so far of Friday night’s grenade attack in Gikongoro on the Eden Restaurant which injured three Sri Lankan workers from the dam project near Kigeme. Strange, given that all the other attacks (as far as we know) have been reported. Is it because foreigners were injured?

    • Quidestveritas,

      I’d love to know where you got your info regarding an attack in Gikongoro. The alleged Kigali attacks on Friday night, as I’m sure you know, all turned out to be a hoax. This is the first I’m hearing about anything in the south. Where did you get your news? Is it a credible source?


  4. Mr. York,

    Regarding the sentence I quoted from your article: I can’t honestly defend what was a lazy reading on my part. To your credit, you do cite “historical evidence” in the following sentence. Shame on me. However, I still feel your assertion that “some observers say she is leaving the impression of an equivalency between the two sides, etc,” is far too tepid, considering the gravity of her claims. This is not a case of what “some” observers say. The weight of historical evidence is overwhelmingly against Ms. Ingabire, but this might not be apparent to the average Globe and Mail reader.

    Likewise, your claim about the government’s struggles with “how to write the history of the genocide” gives an impression of ambiguity that wholly contradicts the reality in Rwanda. If the government has shown consistency in anything, it’s in how it presents the genocide narrative. 1994 – and the existential threat it still presents to the Tutsi-led government – is the raison d’etre of the Kigali regime. On this point, Kagame and co. have hardly wavered.

    If there were a contradiction between what your guide told you and what was presented in the audio guide he gave you, it is entirely irrelevant to your point: the genocide memorial is not run by the Rwandan government, and however much the government might endorse the work being done there, it can hardly be held accountable for what a guide there might say.

    My sharpest criticism, however, stems from the free pass you give Ingabire with regard to her financial backing. Noting that Ingabire “is backed by many of the Hutus who fled to Europe and North America during the Rwandan wars of the 1990s” is factual in only the strictest sense of the word. The UN’s damning report on mineral and weapons trafficking in the Congo last year directly linked Ingabire’s UDF-INKINGI party to FDLR elements, and Ingabire herself has repeatedly refused to answer questions related to the bankrolling of her campaign. This is not something to gloss over – especially when your audience would most likely miss this point entirely.

    The FDLR is considered a terrorist group by the UN; its ambitions for the eradication of the Tutsi people are widely known. By failing to draw this connection for your readers, you ignore one of the central points of dispute between the government and Ms. Ingabire. When she ruefully said, “I don’t know why the government is so afraid of me,” it would have been a good time to push her on the subject of her relationship to the FDLR. At the very least, it would have given her a chance to dispute the most damning accusations made against her in The New Times.

    I agree that the Kagame government has a lot to answer for, especially in how it regards the opposition and the press. But I still feel Ingabire has a lot to answer for, too, even as she is being snatched up by the Western press as the poster child of the repressive Kagame regime.


  5. Chris — you’re being rather glib and facile when you describe her as “the poster child” for the Western press. First of all, she is one of the major opposition leaders, like it or not. She is the only politician who is attacked daily in the New Times, suggesting that she is the leader who is most feared by the government. And as a Hutu leader, she is obviously the greatest threat to the RPF in an election. So it’s only logical that her campaign should be watched closely by any media. We’re not creating her from nothing. She exists, and the RPF’s reaction to her is a fascinating story.
    As for the UN report: look again. It’s a 99-page report which contains only 2 brief sentences about Ingabire. It basically says that she attended meetings where FDLR representatives were present. I did, in fact, quiz her about this. (You are quite wrong to say that I gave her a “free pass” on this.) She says she organized an “inter-Rwandan dialogue” (which the UN report also confirms) and the dialogue was attended by representatives of all factions, including the RPF, not just FDLR. The New Times is twisting this by claiming that Ingabire has been “blacklisted by the UN” and “put on the UN terrorist list” which is manifestly not true. Now, is there evidence that some FDU members have some links to the FDLR? Perhaps there is, but I’ve seen nothing that directly implicates Ingabire personally for direct funding links to the FDLR. If you have such evidence, please cite it publicly, but I think you have to go beyond the UN report.

  6. Chris, I’m also curious why you accused me of a “cheapshot” about the RPF’s attempts to link democracy and genocide. There is absolutely nothing in my article that misquoted Jean Paul Kimonyo, and there is nothing “misleading” about what I said. Kimonyo said plainly that pluralism “led to mass killings.” What could be plainer than that? Are you denying what he said?

  7. Pingback: rapha in ruanda » Postcardjunky: How free is free? | rapha in ruanda

  8. This is a link to another blog that mentions the Gikongoro attack.

  9. Pingback: The power of opposition « Simon and Jess teaching at Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda

  10. Concerned Reader


    I think both your articles and blogs are very much closer to reality that anything written about Rwanda, both internally and externally, so give yourselves a gentle pat on the back.

    The most complementary thing we can say about Ingabire is that she is willing to vocalise taboo topics such as the ethnic make-up of government and the memory of the Hutus who died during 1994… but what else is there to her campaign?

    Has she tabled any development strategies? How will she tackle poverty? How does she propose to bring about ‘true’ reconciliation without re-ethnicising the already limited political space? Who is she funded by and what is their agenda? Does she know who’s funding her?

    You’ve already mentioned the ineptitude of her political party — failing to realise her running mate was (allegedly) complicit in genocide and fluffing the good-will of foreign embassies by sending a bogus asylum press releases to stir international concern.

    As for the woman — she had 16 years to prepare her return speech and decided that the resting place of a quarter million people was the most tactful place to start her campaign. And retrospectively claimed that she was tired from the flight and that we should ignore much of what she said. Yes, she has some valid points, but as a political tactician… she’s tactless.

    The embassies in Kigali openly cringe at her blunders (and are trying to distance themselves from her) while foreign and local media are presented with a dilemma — give voice to and throw some level of legitimacy behind somebody they believe to be broadly incompetent, or protect the rights of expression of opposition parties. Here the line blurs between impartial relay of quotes and facts and personal opinion backed up by experience and research.

    For example, should reporters relay her quote which compares Kagame to Habyarimana? Is that responsible journalism? Should journalists self-censure her words?

    On the question of martyrdom, surely Ingabire expected the criticism she received by the New Times on arrival. Surely she knew her words would be twisted and her family openly slandered. Surely she knew there was no chance of her being allowed to register her party if she said anything remotely controversial? Surely she knows that a panel elected by the cabinet vet presidential aspirants for ‘integrity?’

    If the regime is as autocratic as she claims, these things would have been obvious. Or perhaps not. Either she’s way out of her intellectual depth, or she’s going for martyrdom — neither of which scenarios are very encouraging for Rwandans.

    As an interesting aside, sources in the demobilisation facility in Goma say FDLR chiefs are sending their wives back to Kigali to vote for Ingabire, should she be allowed to run.

    Finally, I leave you with a question. Is the application of universal human rights appropriate to this country, not only post-conflict but also post-genocide? I think yes, Rwanda should strive for political pluralism tempered by its responsible useage.

    The fact is that the transition from dictatorship to democracy is problematic, and the visible facets of democracy (like elections and incendiary politicians) often run contrary to stability, at least in the short term.

    As Habyarimana loosened his grip in the early 1990s, the democratic institutions he suppressed for so long had atrophied to the extent that when they were given the opportunity for free expression, the media and the new parties were corrupted an urge to grab a voting bloc which, time and time again across the continent, is expressed through real or imagined ethnicity.

    The parallels with the present day are limited but should not be overlooked.While the political space has opened up marginally, (and I believe it has over the last year, otherwise Ingabire wouldnt have been allowed into the contry) the capacity of local journalists and the emerging opposition remain moderate / poor.

    Human Rights Watch should keep up the pressure for freedom of expression, journalists should employ a sense of responsibility in what they write, and politicians should try to be a little more tactful.

  11. Regarding Ingabire’s connection to FDLR, read her interview reported in the article: Is Victoire Ingabire Connected To FDLR?.

  12. Pingback: Is Victoire Ingabire “the poster child” for the Western Press? | Rwandinfo

  13. Chris,

    Me thinks you’re over-reading the “New Times”.

    Mr. York is justified to interview Ingabire. She is the leading Hutu candidate and cannot be simply ignored.

    What madame Ingabire says, in regards to RPF crimes and the need for Inter-Rwandan dialogue, is widely supported by very well known Rwandan scholars/historians. Allison Des Forges, Lemarchand and Reyntejens are just but a few of the names. It is very arrogant for you to dispute this claims, as if you’re the sole custodian of Rwanda’s history.

    With a few exceptions, I find your criticism of Mr. York’s article baseless. It sound to me like you’re trying to threaten him into silence. You have a right to disagree with mme Ingabire, but absolutely not right to gag her.

    Otherwise, both you are very brave and doing terrific work. No need to be caught up in small fight.

  14. “The UN’s damning report on mineral and weapons trafficking in the Congo last year directly linked Ingabire’s UDF-INKINGI party to FDLR elements…”==postcardjunky

    These malicious fabrications and lies reveal nothing else but the interference of the Rwandan regime in fuelling rumours to the above experts? panel.

    Indeed, in conivence with Africa Rights (a Human Rights Organization based in London) the Rwandan Government managed to insert in one of the annexes of the above UN Report a statement that some UDF-Inkingi members are in contact with FDLR military leadership.

    Mrs. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza has never been in the military. She can’t even fire a toy gun but surely fires very well principles of democracy with her speech.

    She repeatedly has denied having any ties with the FDLR. She even sent an open letter to the UN Secretary General H.E. Ban Ki-Moon to protest the above statement and no one, including “postcardjunky”, has undisputable proof that she does, other than hear-says and innuendos.

    “Ingabire herself has repeatedly refused to answer questions related to the bankrolling of her campaign…”=== postcardjunky.

    Did Kagame ever disclosed who is bankrolling his campaign? Why should Mrs. Ingabire be forced to so? Why don’t you ask the same question to Kagame who is using state money to finance his campaign and is getting rich from the resources of the Congo according to the UN report?

    Mrs Ingabire has done a lot in her political career unbeknownst to you. It may not matter to you that much but she has united the once-dispersed exiled Rwandan opposition into a unified non-violence political platform.

    She has now brought the united political group from exile back home and she is now struggling to get it registered as a party despite all the obstacles that the regime is tending in her way. She has now brought unity with other opposition parties abroad and in-country under the new Permanent Consultative Council of Opposition Parties.

    If she is not inspiring to you, she is a hero to millions of Rwandans who want genuine national unity and Rwanda for all. She is peacefull and is commited to a non-violence solution to Rwandan problems. She is sincere and wants every one to come together and iron out our diferences and build our beloved country. In other words, she is a true unifier !!!

    On Ntwangundi’s case:
    Criminal investigations are still underway although since his arrest on On February 6, 2010, Mr. Joseph Ntawangundi was arrested by the police. On February 8, 2010, he was taken to Kimironko prison to serve a sentence of 19 years in prison, a sentence he was allegedly convicted in absentia by a “Gacaca” court in 2007 for acts constituting an alleged participation in genocide of 1994. The record of this supposed “Gacaca” trial, requested by his lawyer since his arrest in order to appeal the sentence, has not been disclosed until now. On February 17, 2010, in the greatest secrecy, Mr. Joseph Ntawangundi was transferred to Mpanga prison and might soon be secretely transferred to Nsinda Prison for a new Gacaca trial!

    Has new evidence come to light about Ntawangundi, prompting Ingabire to severe her ties? Yes. He knowingly lied to the UDF-Inkingi leadership about his CV. Why did he lie? Nobody really knows. However, it could be that he was in connivence with the RPF for a long time spying UDF abroad…. Now that his mission is over and/or impossible, he is useless… but because he knew too much RPF mafia rewarded him with 19 years in jail!

  15. Thanks to everyone for contributing to such a lively and oft-heated debate. A few comments.

    Rwandankunda, it sounds like you’re just cherry-picking the points from my blog you want to dispute, without giving credit to the rest of my arguments. Nowhere do I even HINT that I’m disputing Ms. Ingabire’s claims regarding RPF crimes. I’ve read Des Forges, Prunier, et al., and it is a complete article of faith for me that large numbers of Hutus were killed during and after the RPF invasion, perhaps systematically. This is something I have never once denied, and something I believe the RPF should someday be held accountable for.

    Likewise, your claims that I’m trying to “threaten [Mr. York] into silence” and want to “gag” Ms. Ingabire have no basis in fact. I would happily see her running her yap into perpetuity, if for the simple fact that, at some point, we might actually learn who she is. I’m glad to see Mr. York interviewing her, and I wish more people would, so long as the right questions are being asked (more on that below). In fact, a pretty trusted source has told me that the Rwandan press has received EXPLICIT information from the government not to interview her. This is one of my biggest gripes with PK and Co. (more on that, too, below).

    At no point have I “over-read” The New Times; in fact, if you’ve been following my blog, you’ll see that disparaging that paper – BREAKING NEWS: Minister of Finance Announces Bilateral Agreement With Turkey – is a favorite pastime of mine. However, I don’t think we should dismiss the paper outright. As a government mouthpiece, it still serves a valuable function – not so much in telling us the news, but in telling us the news as the government would like it to be perceived. It is almost always quoted by me in that context.

    My broader point about Ms. Ingabire, which underscores my argument with Mr. York, and which Concerned Reader touches upon, is that the controversy surrounding her in the West seems to be caught up more in the free speech/democracy aspect, without fully probing the question of who she is and whether or not she’s fit to govern this country.

    Her campaign thus far, as Concerned Reader points out, has been amateurish – disconcertingly so. It seems largely to rest on doing provocative things and making provocative statements, without offering any reasonable, coherent platform for the voters. Everyone makes a point of stressing her frequent harassment by the government and its New Times mouthpiece (as well they should), but no one (to my knowledge) has asked her pointed questions such as: why was the Gisozi memorial your first stop when returning to Rwanda? Was that really an appropriate place to make your comments, regardless of whatever basis in fact they might have? Who is backing your campaign? No, really? No, REALLY? (Evasiveness on this subject is a consistent theme for her.) And if you really cared so much about the future of this country, shouldn’t you have been here to help in the painful process of rebuilding? Could you have been any more cynical in returning to this country just seven months before the election? Should voters REALLY believe that you care?

    These are not idle questions. Given the post-genocide context of Rwandan politics, and given the disastrous consequences of ethnic politics in the Great Lakes for the past half-century, understanding Ms. Ingabire and who/what she represents should be a crucial part of this debate. Lost in all the conversation about Kagame’s repressive government is just how much freedom we should reasonably expect from the media and political space in Rwanda today. In the West, it is heretical to suggest that a country – any country – might not be ready for a “free and open democracy.” But democracy depends on an educated, informed population, as well as the functioning of a free press with enough integrity to command the trust of the people it serves. (Yes, this is a gross simplification; yes, I realize it is an ironic statement, coming from an American. But I think you will all concede the truth of these points.) Rwanda today, unfortunately, is lacking on both counts: in the case of the former, because of the general challenges facing a developing country; in the case of the latter, both because of a lack of strong journalistic standards, and because of, ironically, the continual suppression of the press by the government.

    Taken together, these things – the absence of an educated population, the unreliability of the press, and the dangerous consequences of playing ethnic politics – are a frightening and combustible mix. What is the nightmare scenario for President Kagame, and for many Rwandans? That a charismatic Hutu ideologue will take to the collines, stir up grievances – real or imagined – make idle promises, and walk away with 75% of the vote. Can any honest observer of Rwandan and Great Lakes politics say this isn’t a plausible scenario in an open Rwanda? And don’t you think this is something Rwandans – as well as the rest of us – should be afraid of?

    For all the criticisms of Kagame’s heavy-handed politics, for all the crimes that the RPF might someday have to answer for, what has happened in Rwanda in the past 16 years has been a miracle. Most of us will agree that, in the years after the genocide, a certain degree of autocracy was needed to pull the country together. Now most of us will agree that there needs to be a stronger push for more openness. But what that means, and how best to accomplish that, unfortunately, is the $30 million IMF grant question.

  16. Chris,

    Thanks for responding to my initial post. Like I said, you’re doing a terrific job in trying to swim against the tide. If I am not mistaken, I think you’re the only journalist following the events in Rwanda on a daily basis. You deserve a pat on the back.

    I know that “objectivity” is not easy in a country like Rwanda with a very divided narrative. I wish you the best and will continue to read your blog on a daily basis.

    Once again, as a Rwandan, I am proud of the work you’re doing. Doesn’t mean we won’t disagree:)

  17. Chris,

    I know of several people in the Gikongoro area who can confirm the attack. Email me and I can put you in touch.

    Or you could just hop onto the Sotra and check it out 😉

    P.S. I think your last comment is very perceptive of the challenges being faced by Rwanda. Keep up the good work.

  18. (1)-“Now most of us will agree that there needs to be a stronger push for more openness. But what that means, and how best to accomplish that, unfortunately, is the $30 million IMF grant question”.==postcardjunky

    (2)-“…That a charismatic Hutu ideologue will take to the collines, stir up grievances – real or imagined – make idle promises, and walk away with 75% of the vote…. “===postcardjunky

    Dear Chris,

    Thanks a lot for engaging in such a constructive discussion.
    However I would like to know what is wrong should a hutu win the election in Rwanda and why Rwanda should make exception from Burundi, South Africa or any country in the world.

    As far as democracy is concerned, one should not forget that the basis of any genuine Democracy is the “majority Rule”.

    It is also 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.

    “The Hutu factor” does not and will not absolutely play any role in Rwanda. Rwandans are politically mature enough. They really know what is right for them and are more than ever before to fight for it. Political parties will have the obligation to play modern politics. Their respective leaders will have to propose to the Hutu voters something smarter than the length/shape of their noses during the upcoming electoral campaigns.

    The same is true in South Africa where 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. ANC must urgently 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.

    The “majority rule” is often described as a characteristic feature of democracy, but without responsible government [i.e. GOOD GOVERNANCE] or constitutional protections of individual liberties from democratic power, it is possible for dissenting individuals to be oppressed by the “tyranny of the majority”. An essential process in representative democracies is competitive elections, that are fair both substantively and procedurally.

    Furthermore, freedom of political expression, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are essential so that citizens are informed and able to vote in their personal interests.

    This is what the Rwandan people are longing for. This is what Mrs Ingabire is fighting for. Indeed her political party’s core values are undisputably Human rights, accountability, rule of Law, democracy, equal opportunity and social justice, sanctity of human life, political participation and duty of memory.

    Here is what USAID is doing to push for democracy in Rwanda:

    “….By supporting reconciliation through a program that promotes increased dialogue and debate on important and sensitive national topics, USAID is reducing the potential for conflict. Moreover, to help build a political system that offers meaningful political choices to its citizens while maintaining a spirit of national unity, USAID supports a political party strengthening project. The project supports and reinforces mechanisms to boost inter-party dialogue and builds political parties’ capacity to organize, communicate, and reach out to grassroots constituents….”

    As you may come to realize, to implement democratic principles in Rwanda one does not need a “$30 million IMF grant” What is crucially lacking is the willingness from some western powers to do so.

  19. Nzi Nink,

    Thank you for both of your thoughtful responses.

    Regarding the prospects of a Hutu winning the election: what I was hoping to illustrate with my example wasn’t the “horror” of a Hutu winning the election, but the specific case of a Hutu who might have dubious motives – and actually be unfit to govern – but is able to win, simply on the basis of ethnicity. (I’m not, FYI, implying here that Ingabire is such a candidate. I’m speaking in more general, hypothetical terms.) I am cheered and heartened by your perspective on the “political maturity” of the Rwandan people, but I’m not so sure I share it.

    It’s been a long time since Rwandans have had a chance to prove – or disprove – how politically mature they are. My own perspective, based on what I still perceive to be a strong ethnic bias here, and based on the developmental challenges Rwanda faces, is that many Rwandans have not achieved that politically mature state. Is it a large minority? An overwhelming majority? Who can say? The great danger that the current administration faces, by suppressing a free and open dialogue in Rwanda, is that as much as the country develops in concrete terms – better infrastructure, new schools and health clinics, those silly little ICT buses – there will still be a deep-rooted, festering resentment in the majority of the population. This will especially be the case if the perception exists – whether based on rumor, fact, or both – that the greatest spoils are being reserved for the president and his inner circle. The less openness the current administration allows, the less likely that the conditions will be created for a viable democracy.

    I’m glad you mentioned the case of Burundi, because it’s an example I’d been meaning to draw into this discussion. Despite a similar ethnic make-up and a similarly bloody history, Burundi faces some very unique challenges – and has some very unique opportunities – compared to the situation in Rwanda. (Without getting into too detailed a history of Burundi, I’ll just point readers to some of my blog entries from January and February, when I was based in Burundi.)

    Burundians are far more open to discuss ethnicity than their Rwandan neighbors; to a certain extent, it’s even encouraged (e.g., ethnicity is entrenched in the constitution). Perhaps more importantly, since 2005, as you point out, Burundi has been run by a Hutu party. As this year’s elections approach, the great fear that most people have isn’t a renewed bout of ethnic fighting, but of battles between various Hutu militias, scrambling for a piece of the pie. (Sadly, in a Great Lakes context, this is actually considered progress.)

    Ironically, the five-year rule of CNDD-FDD might have pushed Burundi closer toward a post-ethnic future, not simply because the country has finally enjoyed a prolonged spell of majority rule, but because CNDD-FDD have proven to be as corrupt and inept as any leaders Burundi has ever known. In effect, Burundians can look at their post-colonial history – largely dominated by repressive Tutsi generals, until the 2005 election – and say, “Well, if the Tutsis couldn’t run this country, and the Hutus couldn’t run this country, what difference does ethnicity really make?”

    That being said, Burundi still faces some important challenges that, I think, illustrate my doubts about political maturity above.

    To give an example: I spent quite a bit of time on the campaign trail with Alexis Sinduhije, a charismatic, provocative opposition candidate who just happens to be a Tutsi. Sinduhije campaigns across ethnic lines, and is pushing for a system of governance that, in its openness and accountability toward the voters, would be a great stride forward for democracy in Burundi (in my admittedly biased opinion).

    However, on a recent campaign rally up-country, I listened as Sinduhije addressed a large crowd of supporters. In addition to spelling out his programs for education and health care, and describing his plan to hold primaries within his political party (maybe a first in Africa?), and explaining how Burundi’s leaders shouldn’t be venerated as modern examples of “village chiefs,” because they are elected and, in effect, hired by the populace, and are thus accountable to them, etc. – in addition to all that, Sinduhije had to go to great lengths to explain why he did not bring sandwiches and Fantas to his campaign rally. Why? Because every other presidential candidate campaigning in Burundi leaves a trail of bread crumbs and empty Fanta bottles in his wake, and for many voters, the simple fact of that instant gratification is enough to persuade them, “Here is a leader who cares.” (Or, for the more cynical: “None of these crooks have our best interests in mind anyway, so why not take what we can get now, before they abandon us for another five years?”)

    This is a challenge that, painting in broad brush strokes, I would apply not just to Burundi and Rwanda, but to most developing countries. (After a rousing rally that day, Sinduhije said to me, “I will win this commune, if it’s not about the Fantas.”) Buying votes is so widespread that it comes to be expected in a country like Burundi, and voters, in effect, will turn on a candidate who doesn’t play the game. Of course, this is further complicated by all the other measures political parties can use to manipulate the final tally – whether it be violence/intimidation leading up to the polls, stuffing ballot boxes after the vote has been cast, etc.

    So democracy in this region, yes, is still going through its growing pains, and each country – as has been the case in the West – will stumble along its particular road at its own particular pace. I’d be a fool to expect a “free and fair” election in Rwanda come August. But at the very least, I hope the Kagame government shows some encouraging signs of moving toward a more liberal and open state – even if there’s been little evidence in recent weeks to support such a hope.


  20. Pingback: Lies, machinations, and writing about Rwanda. « This Is Africa

  21. nsengiyumva pierre claver


    you write very well and try your best to generate sound and hardly beatable analyses


  22. I think what gets missed in this whole conflict in Rwanda is the role that Kagame is playing, maybe even unwittingly in perpetuating tribal-ethic dualism in Rwanda.

    I believe Kagame really does want Rwanda to develop, the proof is in the pudding. Rwanda is unlike most African countries developing. But sadly enough Kagame is not a great leader, he is a good leader and Rwanda needs a great leader to move forward.

    Kagame still sees Rwanda in Tutsi-Hutu paradigm and thus has re-written history into one of a benevolent pre-colonial Rwanda Tutsi elite and a genocidal post-colonial Hutu majority which culminated in a “genocide of the Tutsi.”

    From a philosophically perspective, despite all the economic development, this objectifying of the majority of people naturally breeds from out of the social milieu a Hegelian dialectic that has to creation people like Victoire Ingabire.

    What is mean is this. Out of the 800,000 to 1 million people who were killed, at least 300,000 or possible more where of Hutu ethic origin. Before the genocide, Hutu also suffered from the dictatorial rule, after the end of the genocide, hundreds of thousands of Hutu where murdered in Rwanda and we know that millions of Congolese have been murdered as a result of all that happened. Before colonization and during colonization Tutsi elite ruled and suppressed all the Hutu and most of the Tutsi.

    Why am I stating this history. Well, because Kagame’s whitewashing of history in which Hutu become perps and Tutsi victims of genocide, basically demonize millions of people.

    By using a political term such as “genocide of the Tutsi” as a perfect example of Kagame’s recklessness of how to try and bring reconcilation to a region in which when it you were to count the bodies as more innocent non-Tutsi were killed in the region than innocent Tutsi. And that is what people don’t understand. Kagame’s narrative of Tutsi victimization which in its political language basically says that all others are not worthy of being viewed as victims is the real issue and origin of what could be a further crisis in the Congo-Rwanda region in the future.

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