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Rwanda: Tension Before The Presidential Election, Except for Kagame

On July 20th, the incumbent President of Rwanda Paul Kagame has officially launched his campaign for another term in office. The campaign will end on August 9th when the election results are scheduled be made official.  Kagame  is determined to win with a similar  comfortable margin [fr] as in 2003 when he won his presidential bid with 95% of recorded votes.

There are  only three challengers running against the Rwandan Patriotic Front’s leader, two former ministers and one senator  who supported him during the 2003 presidential elections: Jean-Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, for the Social Democratic Party, Prosper Higiro for Liberal Party and Alvera Mukabaramba for the Party of Progress and Concord. But where is the real opposition?

Sonia LG from the blog Good Morning Afrika [fr] attempts to provide an answer:

Chasse aux opposants :
-Le parti démocratique vert, lancé en août 2009, par des transfuges du Front patriotique rwandais (FPR), actuellement au pouvoir : qui n'a pas été agréé par les autorités et dont le premier vice-président André Kagwa Rwisereka a été assassiné la semaine dernière.
- Le parti social : Bernard Ntaganda son membre fondateur a été exclu du parti et arrêté le 24 juin et placé sous contrôle judiciaire (accusé de “terrorisme” et d'”incitation génocidaire”.
- Les Forces démocratiques unifiées dont la présidente Victoire Ingabire a aussi été inculpée et placée sous contrôle judiciaire pour “propagation d'idéologie génocidaire”.

Harassment of the political opposition:

-         The Green Party: it was launched in August 2009 by defectors from the RPF party, currently in power. This party was not approved by the authorities and its vice-president André Kagwa Rwisereka was murdered last week.

-         The Social Imberakuri Party [fr]: its founder member Bernard Ntaganda was excluded from his party and arrested on June 24th and he is currently placed under custody pending trial for charges of  ”terrorism” and ”genocidal ideology”)

-         The Unified Democratic Forces:  The party president Victoire Ingabire was also charged  and placed under a custody pending trial for “propagation of genocidal ideology.”

Kris Berwouts, director of the European NGO network for the defence of Central Africa EurAc, stressed the difficulties faced by the opposition parties before the 2010 presidential elections:

Nous avons vu comment les partis d’opposition, qui se préparaient pour la campagne électorale, ont été écartés et comment l’espace politique s’est verrouillé à travers :

  • le monopole du régime sur les médias, lesquels ont diabolisé de façon permanente les partis d’opposition et leurs leaders ;
  • l’intimidation verbale et physique des partis d’opposition, de leurs leaders, de leurs cadres et militants ;
  • la création d’un cadre légal qui permet au régime d’entamer en peu de temps une démarche juridique contre laquelle l’opposition peut difficilement se défendre (fondée sur les accusations de diffusion de l’idéologie génocidaire et du divisionnisme, notions très larges et volontairement peu précisées dans la loi). Ce cadre paralyse les leaders de l’opposition dans leurs activités quotidiennes et est utilisé pour les empêcher d’exercer leurs droits politiques ;
  • une politique administrative qui vise à empêcher l’opposition de se faire enregistrer, de s’implanter, d’organiser des réunions ou de se faire connaître auprès du grand public ;
  • l’infiltration des partis d’opposition pour les déstabiliser de l’intérieur.

As the opposition parties were preparing for their electoral campaigns, we witnessed how they  had been isolated and how the political scene was restricted using the following measures:

  • the regime's monopoly over media, which has constantly diabolized the opposition parties and their leaders;
  • verbal and physical intimidation of the opposition parties, their leaders, their executives and militants;
  • the creation of a legal framework which enables the regime to rapidly start  legal steps against the opposition parties which can hardly defend themselves (mainly because the accusations of propagation of genocidal ideology and ethnic divisionism are deliberately vague  and overarching legal concepts). This framework paralyzes opposition leaders in their daily activities and is used to ward them off  of  their political rights;
  • administrative policies that are trying to prevent the opposition party from registering, getting organized, holding meetings or getting publicity with the general population;
  • Infiltration of the opposition parties in order to destabilize them from the inside.

High-ranking officers and Kagame’s former confidents were also  targeted in the pre-election tensions.  As a matter of fact, General Nyamwasa, in exile in Johannesburg, South Africa since February 2010 was shot in front of his house on June 19 after having expressed vigorous charges of corruption in the Kagame  government. In April, two other generals, Emmanuel Karenzi Karake and Charles Muhire were suspended and arrested [fr], the first for immoral behaviour and the second for corruption. All of them are allegedly guilty of terrorism and a reorganization of the command of the army quickly occurred afterwards.

Finally, the press has also come under pressure. In April 2010, two newspapers, Umuseso and Umuvuguzi were suspended for six months [fr] by Rwandan authorities, accused of “libel and interferences with privacy”. On June 24th, the Umuvuguzi editor in chief Jean-Leonard Rubambage was murdered a day after publishing an article accusing Rwandan secret services to be the instigator of General Nyamwasa’s assassination [fr]. According to the police, the murderer’ s motive was to avenge the death of one of his relatives whom Ruganbage would have allegedly killed. It was the first murderer of a journalist since 1998. Few days later on July 8th, Agnès Uwimana Nkusi, editor of the newspaper Uurabyo, was arrested on charges of sectarianism, discrimination, genocide denial and public incitation to hate. She has already spent one year in jail for similar facts between January 2007 and January 2008.

By scorning fundamental civil rights, increasing dubious arrests and unforgivable murders of political leaders and journalists, the man of the reconciliation Kagame  who stabilized  the political and social climate after the 1994 genocide, has re-opened the scars left by the most horrific  period of Rwandan history.  There were numerous trials conducted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda about the genocide since 1994.  The President who has has used limitation of genocidal ideology to justify the recent arrests  has received strong support on the Internet. His supporters will probably come out in force to attend to his expected victory on August 9th. Kagame will then further establish his control over Rwanda. The question is, is it  for better or for worse ?

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