Tag Archives: ingabire

The week that was. The election that wasn’t.

These last days in Rwanda – a time I’d hoped to devote to cathartic reflections, soulful musings, and rampant promiscuity – have instead been gobbled up by the dreadful realities of packing up a life into two musty old suitcases and hoping it weighs less than 30 kilos. This isn’t how I expected to spend my last week in the Great Lakes, a region to which I’ve grown greatly attached in the past year. Already I’ve had to cancel my farewell dinner with His Excellency PK (“No prob. Keep up the good work,” read the presidential text); and most of the tender moments I’ve shared with friends around Chez Mzungu have been equally devoted to backing up my hard drive in the event of a carjacking outside of Jo’burg’s OR Tambo International Airport.

A shame, too, with these having been some of the more eventful weeks in what’s becoming an increasingly eventful country. (To the friend who once called Kigali “the Morgantown, West Virginia of Africa,” one can only say, “Take that!”) Caught up in a whirlwind of revisionism, divisionism, and pre-electoral hooliganism, Rwandan authorities shuttered two independent news weeklies; arrested two high-ranking military officers on charges of “misuse of office” and “immoral conduct”; and arrested opposition candidate Victoire Ingabire on charges including collaborating with a terrorist organization and denying the genocide, before releasing her the following day.

“Whew!” would be an appropriate response here.

Umuseso editor Didas Gasana, seen just days after the ruling.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, last seen on President Kagame’s Christmas list, criticized the ruling by Rwanda’s humorless – yet inadvertently hilarious – Media High Council for its six-month suspension of the vernacular weeklies Umuseso and Umuvugizi, on the grounds of “insulting the head of state, inciting the police and army to insubordination, and creating fear among the public.”

“By silencing these two local-language newspapers the Media High Council is robbing Rwanda voters of crucial alternative voices during the presidential election campaign,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes said. “The ruling is a thinly disguised attempt at censorship. If the election is to be seen as free and fair, the council must reverse this ruling and ensure that all media are able to cover the campaign.”

Umuvugizi editor Jean Bosco Gasasira, in an interview with the Voice of America, criticized the Media High Council – which he described as a “political tool” of the government – for violating its own media law in dealing with the two maverick newspapers.

“When a newspaper in Rwanda, according to the new media law, writes anything inciting or anything bad, the Media High Council summons them and forces them to make correction of that. When they refused, they are at least suspended for two months. Then if they repeat that, you suspend them for six months. Neither Umuseso nor Umuvugizi have never been summoned by the Media High Council officially nor suspended for two months which shows that this was politically motivated. They just want to eliminate us before the election campaign,” Gasasira said.

The ever-reliable texas in africa, noting that Rwanda’s High Media Council had suspended the two papers on the grounds of “erroneous content,” observed that “if “erroneous content” is now grounds for shutting down Rwandan media outlets, [she] look[s] forward to the closure of the government daily, the New Times.” That august paper, meanwhile, in reporting on Canadian Governor General Michaëlle Jean’s recent comments that “journalism is an ultimate tool that strengthens democracy and helps establish a society that respects the rights of all,” took a self-congratulatory tone that mistakenly assumed she was referring to it.

Rwandan opposition figures turned out in Kigali to protest Ingabire's arrest.

Ms. Ingabire, meanwhile, who has been ruffling feathers in Kigali since she arrived in January, seems to have finally gotten what we all knew was coming. The public campaign against her has been on a rolling bubble these past three months; two weeks ago, her fate seemed sealed when the president publicly took her to task during the annual genocide commemoration week.

“Some people just come from nowhere … useless people,” said Mr. Kagame. “I see every time in pictures some lady who had her deputy – a genocide criminal, talking about ‘there is genocide, but there is another’… that is politics. To that we say a big ‘no.’ And if anybody wants a fight, then we will give them a fight.”

The charges against her, one judicial official told the AFP, include “collaborating with a terrorist organisation, dividing the population, denying and downplaying the genocide.” Chief prosecutor Martin Ngoga told the Christian Science Monitor that “the prosecution’s case against Ms Ingabire is based on facts and evidence.”

“The actions that led to these charges against Ms. Ingabire are extremely serious and cannot go unpunished,” he added.

Augustin Nkusi, Mr. Ngoga’s spokesman, recently told Radio Netherlands that Ingabire was collaborating with the FDLR in eastern Congo.

“There is also evidence that she is busy creating an irregular armed force parallel to the regular national forces to come destabilize the country,” Nkusi added. He also accused her of “throwing about statements of an ideology of genocide.”

On an unrelated note, Rwanda’s electoral commission announced this week that it was preemptively announcing the results of this August’s presidential election in May.

“We just thought we’d save Rwandans the trouble of waiting on long queues this election day,” an official told This Is Africa. “Go out, enjoy the weather – it’s always spring in Kigali.”

The official added, “Have you seen our gorillas?”

UPDATE: For an excellent unpacking of RPF baggage relating to the recent military arrests, My Name is Not Mzungu posts here and here.


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.