He has been hailed by the west as an outstanding leader and has testimonies from fans round the world for his economic policies and getting his country back on track after the genocide 16 years ago. But as Rwanda prepares for its second presidential election since the horror, former hero President Paul Kagame seems to be turning into a permanent dictator, sustained by massive foreign aid.
He registered as a candidate last Thursday, with no credible opposition for the August 9 poll, in a week when two of his critics faced assassins.
US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson told the US Congress last month that Rwanda had suspended two newspapers; revoked the work permit and denied the visa of a Human Rights Watch researcher; and arrested (then released on bail) opposition leader Victoire Ingabire, who was linked to Hutu rebel army FDLR. Despite many attempts, the Green Party and FDU- Inkingi could still not register.
Aspiring politician Ingabire is no "opposition leader", but she does seem to be another victim of Kagame's heavy-handed version of civil peace, no obstacle to nearly a billion dollars in aid every year, making up a fifth of the country's entire income. A quarter of that aid goes directly to the government. US largesse shot up from 50m in 2004 to 117,38m in 2008.
A gunman shot Rwanda's Lt-Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa in Johannesburg on June 19, in what his wife was quick to call "an assassination attempt on my husband's life by Kagame". Last month, this former army chief of staff, recently ambassador to India, fled to SA. He branded Kagame a dictator, and the government accused him of corruption and linked him to recent grenade attacks in Kigali.
Journalist Jean Leonard Rugambage was killed in Rwanda last Thursday. Jean Bosco Gasasira, exiled editor of his paper Umuvugizi, told the Voice of America that Rugambage had been investigating the Nyamwasa attack. "I'm 100% sure it was the office of the national security services which shot him dead," said Gasasira.
With presidential elections set for August 9, Rwanda is increasingly intolerant of criticism, imprisoning and charging opposition politicians under the vague "genocide ideology" law, insisting this is necessary to avert a repeat of 1994 when about 800000 Tutsis, with some moderate Hutus, were massacred in 100 days.
Ingabire, a Hutu and newcomer to politics who returned from living in the Netherlands to contest the August poll, was held this month under the genocide ideology law, accused of "divisionism" and working with enemies of the state, remnants of the Hutu army. She is yet to be charged, but her political life is in disarray. With a week left for registering as a presidential candidate, her FDU- Inkingi party is not registered.
Former government aide Frank Habineza was refused registration for his Democratic Green Party of Rwanda. The government insists his party will be registered as soon as it meets what is required of it, to have held more than four general meetings of members before being registered. The truth is hard to determine.
After a long refusal to commit himself, Kagame last Thursday became the first person to register his candidacy, with two others from small parties closely linked to his own.
Ironically, on the same day, police cracked down heavily on a group of more than 500 opposition supporters peacefully demonstrating against restrictions on opposition parties - and demanding the unconditional release of Ingabire, so she could run. Habineza was arrested the same day while protesting outside the US embassy. Registration for candidates closes on Friday.
Rwanda is not threatened by another genocide but by side-effects of the one it suffered 16 years ago. In trying to keep a tight grip, Kagame centralised power in the presidency, and did not bring more Rwandans into the political process. As Carson told Congress: "Long-term stability is best promoted by democratic governance and respect for human rights."
Source: Business Day
Opinion by Eleneus Akanga
(Akanga is a Rwandan journalist, an editor of the banned Weekly Post, dismissed from the pro-government New Times for reporting attacks on journalists and living under political asylum in the UK.)