Defiant Kagame tells critics: You “can go hung”), they are countering with a drive to put Rwanda in the spotlight – less than seven days to the presidential poll on Monday next week.
In Washington, several campaign groups, individuals and American politicians have organised a conference on Tuesday to protest against the August 09 election they say is a foregone conclusion.
The American attorney Prof. Peter Erlinder jailed for three weeks here on charges of Genocide denial will be also be there at the Washington event. Erlinder said he would have never come to Rwanda if he had known what the political climate was like.
“I thought with the election coming up and with the many nice things that the United States government has said about the Rwandan government recently and the progress that it has made … Unfortunately what is happening now raises serious questions about whether that progress was real or whether we really do have a military dictatorship that is being supported by our government. It raises a lot of very difficult questions,” Erlinder said.
Fear, nervousness… no freedoms
Following the arrest of Erlinder, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the time she understood the anxiety of Rwanda’s leadership over what they view as genocide denial, but she urged Rwanda not to undermine its remarkable progress by beginning to move away from positive actions.
Analyst Steve McDonald, with the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, recently returned from Rwanda and was also said disturbed by what he experienced.
“The fear is palpable, the nervousness, the feeling that there is no freedom of speech and association and gathering in the society and I think this could be disastrous,” he said.
He says he believes President Kagame is refusing post-genocide reconciliation as a means to exert his authority. But McDonald is not surprised he has received praise and many awards in the United States, including the Clinton Global Citizen Award last year, from former President Bill Clinton.
“Kagame is an extremely energetic, extremely intelligent man who has fully taken advantage of many of the hot buttons that he knows the West cares about, that is economic progress, that is environmental concern, that is furthering information technology,” McDonald said.
“He is taking the lead on the international stage that originally put him among these new African leaders during the Clinton administration, including Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia, and [Yoweri] Museveni in Uganda.”
“Just election hype”
McDonald says since then he believes these leaders have failed their countries in terms of democracy and human rights.
President Kagame himself has denied his government has been behind any of the killings, and has accused the western critics of making up a crisis in his country which does not exist.
“Why would government be that stupid? I never knew I would be in a government that would be seen as that stupid, that would kill journalists, opposition leaders, one after another, you kill and you kill, as if there is anything to gain from it,” Kagame said at a press conference July 20, just hours before he launched his campaign drive.
In a policy statement to a US Congress committee of lawmakers in May, top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Johnnie Carson, said the political environment in Rwanda was in his words “riddled by a series of worrying actions.”
In response, Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo shot back in an email message to RNA saying that was “an out-of-Rwanda reading of the situation in Rwanda, with added election hype.”
Election will be “free and fair”
Africa advocacy groups holding a protest conference Tuesday in Washington say foreign election observers in Rwanda will be a waste of money.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) says in a new crisis assessment that Rwanda there is increasing “political violence and a shrinking of the democratic space” ahead of the polls.
“Although the government denies any involvement, this month’s events should be seen as part of an alarming trend towards repression and intimidation, which could have serious security implications come next month’s elections,” said ICG in the assessment released August 01.
The donor community meanwhile seems to have given a clean-bill to the elections, indicating that the polls will be “free and fair”.
The European Union said last week that the introduction of a revised electoral code should ensure a peaceful and technically sound ballot, following the European Union’s recommendations after the 2008 legislative elections where they found procedural irregularities in over half the polling stations.
Frans Makken, Dutch ambassador and co-chair of the EU fund for the NEC, said results will be published outside polling stations and ballot boxes numbered to aid transparency.
“The electoral law has been adjusted for the better, thousands of volunteers have received training, instructions have been adjusted in line with EU observations. We trust that the conduct of the elections will be free and fair,” Makken told Reuters Friday.
With additional reporting from VOA and agencies