By Ann Garrison (about the author)
On July 14th, amidst escalating election violence and repression, Democratic Green Party of Rwanda Vice President Andre Kagwa Kwisereka was found beheaded, with a machete left nearby, in the wetlands of the Makula River in Rwanda's Butare Province, in a grisly murder reminiscent of the Rwanda Genocide, in which upwards of a million people were killed, many with machetes and crude farm implements. Just over a week later, the BBC's Africa Have Your Say produced a program asking the curious question, "Can Rwanda have a free and fair election?"
Have Your Say put many voices on the air, some of them quite critical, regarding Rwanda's upcoming August 9th presidential polls, but it was very late, after an election year racked by violence, arrests, assassinations, and torture, all suffered by critics of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, for the BBC to be asking "Can Rwanda have a free and fair election?"
It's been obvious to anyone paying attention that there would be no free and fair election in Rwanda, because all the viable opposition parties were prevented from registering, and were routinely interrogated and harassed. Many were eventually arrested, many are still in prison, or disappeared, and many of those arrested have reported torture. Independent journalists have fled across the Rwandan border to Uganda, or been assassinated or arrested themselves.
On July 13th, the Vice President of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda was finally found beheaded by machete.
On July 21st, six more members of Bernard Ntaganda's P.S. Imberakuri Party were arrested.
The world has been so radically changed by the Internet that such things are known all over the world almost as soon as they happen. I received news that Kwisereka's body had been found within hours and received three notifications, with names of those arrested, from credible sources including the Rusesabagina/Hotel Rwanda Foundation and a European branch of P.S. Imberakuri, on the same day they were arrested.
Despite all this and more, the BBC seriously entertained the Kagame government's Kafkaesque argument that opposition parties had not been able to register because they did not check the boxes and follow all the proper procedures to register.
If a government, which determines proper procedures, keeps saying the opposition didn't follow proper procedures, no matter how hard they tried, no matter how many meetings they attended, no matter how much paper they submitted, no matter how many bureaucratic mazes they tried to find their way through, then obviously, they didn't follow proper procedures. Not according to the government, in this case the Rwandan government, which determines who has properly proceeded. (Rwanda has courts, but not an independent judiciary to rule on election law or anything else.)
I followed all the news and firsthand reports, from the opposition leaders, daily, for months, as the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda made endless applications amd supplications and sought meeting after meeting with various Rwandan officials, and tried over and over again to convene. Was I there myself? No, I was not; nor was anyone in Rwanda wandering through Rwanda's bureaucratic maze, day after day, with Democratic Green Party of Rwanda President Frank Habineza and other Rwanda Greens. And in almost a year's time, the NY Times East/Central Africa correspondent Nicholas Kristoff made not a single visit or call to any of the opposition candidates struggling to contest the election.
I was on the phone to Frank Habineza several times a week, at first, then to both FDU-Inkingi Party's Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza and P.S.-Imberakuri Party's Bernard Ntaganda. And I read all the English language papers.
I also read papers they submitted, read the government's responses, and watched from a distance as the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda saw them blocked again and again.
In October 2009, the BBC did a very good job of covering one of the Rwanda Greens' attempts to convene in Kigali, which was broken up by violence, producing the podcast available here: http://goo.gl/r33W, in which an injured delegate reported that a man had stood up behind her and begun chanting "Hail the RPF!" (Rwanda's ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front party), then hit her in the back with a chair. They also put Green Party Chair Frank Habineza on the air saying, "There is no rule of law in Rwanda! . . . If you want to keep us out of the elections, and you want to get 99% of the vote, then you have to say it!"
After the BBC report about that meeting, the Greens met with officials about whether or not they would be allowed to hold a meeting, which concluded in dates for further meetings about whether or not they could have another meeting about whether or not they could hold another meeting after that to talk about the possibility of perhaps having another meeting to talk, once again, about the possibility of having a meeting about whether or not they might be allowed to convene.
Various district mayors pulled their permits for a DGPR convention, a required "procedure" for registering a political party in Rwanda, amidst this endless runaround as well.
The government told the Rwanda Greens that they had to arrange police protection, to assure safety, then the Rwandan Police told them that they weren't in the business of assuring safety at political conventions.
Did the BBC review its own invaluable reporting, including their radio report on the Rwanda Greens' failed meeting in November, and their text reports on journalist Jean Leonard Rugambage's assassination by gunfire and Rwanda Green Party Vice President André Kwisereka's beheading by machete, and much more election violence? If so, didn't they realize how very late it was to be asking "Can Rwanda have a free and fair election?"
There are certainly advantages to reporting "on the ground" in Rwanda, especially in the Rwandan countryside where the majority of Rwanda's population, impoverished and malnourished rural subsistence farmers who speak only Kinyarwanda, struggle to survive, but no one had to be "on the ground" to see how ridiculous all this was. All they had to do was pay attention, and the Rwandan government counted on most of the world turning away, as they are so famously reported to have turned away from Rwanda in 1994.
A more relevant BBC Africa Have Your Say would be: "How should the international community react to the Rwandan election after it's staged on August 9th? Should they recognize its validity?"
A group of Rwandan exiles, Congolese activists, and scholars will be holding a conference at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on August 3rd to, for one, call on the U.S. not to recognize the validity of the election.
Another pertinent forum would be: "What is the reality of Rwanda's vaunted 'economic miracle'"?
Consider this study published on the website of the Rusesabagina Hotel Rwanda Foundation: "Rwanda Today: When Foreign Aid Hurts More Than It Helps."
Consider this passage from "False Reconciliation," an essay by Canadian academic Susan Thomson, who has done field work in Rwanda, though she reports, in an unfinished chapter of a book, that authorities picked her up and deposited her in a re-education camp, after telling her to stop talking to a lot of lying Rwandan peasants, who are the majority of Rwandans.
But most foreign visitors do not see the deep poverty and daily hardships that confront ordinary Rwandans. For most of them, Hutu and Tutsi alike, life since the genocide is not as bright and shiny as the authorities in Kigali would pretend.
Some 90 per cent of Rwandans are peasants who rely on subsistence agriculture. Few of them have benefited from the country's rapid reconstruction. The gap between the wealthy urbanites and the poor rural dwellers is on the increase. Government policies favour the urban elite, many of whom are Tutsi who returned to the country after the genocide. --A False Reconciliation, http://goo.gl/MrFX
These questions, are most relevant in the US and UK, which are the dominant foreign powers in East/Central region, and the most generous foreign donors to Rwanda. The US has donated over $1 billion, $34 million in United States taxpayer-funded foreign assistance to Rwanda since 2000, and President Obama proposes another $240,200,000 fiscal
year 2011 budget.
Many, including Professor Susan Thomson and I, and Rwanda's newspaper editors who have fled to Uganda, expect extremes of violence on election day as rural Rwandans are forced to the polls, though press may not venture, or, may not be allowed to venture close enough to observe this.
Though many Rwandan exiles and supporters of democracy in Rwanda think that the U.S. and Commonwealth election observers should not go, Susan Thomson has said that she believes the election observers should go to protect Rwanda's majority rural peasant population from further election violence.
Defense Minister Gen. James Kabarebe (R) speaks to US AFRICOM chief General William Ward, on a recent visit in Rwanda.
Can Rwanda have a free and fair election given US military influence in the region?
The BBC will never produce that Have Your Say, but that might be the real question that needs asking.
I don't believe we know the cost of U.S. military "assistance" to Kagame's Rwandan Defense Force, because the Pentagon often doesn't commonly share those numbers, but U.S. citizens should consider our military's operations and influence in Rwanda, as reported in the Rwanda News Agency (RNA), with the comic headline: "US military not intending to control Africa - says military chief":
"Kigali: A new US military program training African armies including Rwanda is not a US move to dominate the African continent, a senior Rwanda military chief said Monday.
"We are not blind. We know what we want," said RDF Chief of Staff for Land Forces, Lt. Gen. Caesar Kayizari, at a press briefing on the sidelines of a continental conference on the Africa Endeavor 2010 program.
Close to 150 participants from 33 African nations - from East Africa and the ECOWAS sub-regions are meeting in Kigali for a four-day conference preparing for a joint military exercise dubbed Africa Endeavour (AE) 2010, scheduled for August in Accra, Ghana."
Here's another RNA report, about a U.S. defense contractor, Northrop Grumman with a renewed contract to train Rwandan soldiers: "US firm wins contract to continue training Rwandan soldiers":
"Kigali: Defense firm Northrop Grumman Corporation on Tuesday won the extension of its contract to continue training Rwandan soldiers, the U.S. Department of State announced.
Under the deal, Northrop Grumman Corporation continues providing staff to conduct peacekeeping operations and humanitarianism assistance training for Rwanda and other countries as part of the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program."
American should consider the consequence of AFRICOM, the U.S. Africa Command, in Rwanda, arming, "advising," organizing, dispatching, and otherwise exercising huge influence over that country's army, the Rwandan Defense Force, which Umuseso Editor Charles Kabonero calls "its most influential institution. " President Paul Kagame, when he was the head of the Rwandan Defense Force, trained at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where future generals learn to plan invasions, and his son Ivan Kagame is now a student at West Point.
Africa Great Lakes Democracy Watch
Welcome to Africa Great Lakes Democracy Watch Blog. Our objective is to promote the institutions of democracy,social justice,Human Rights,Peace, Freedom of Expression, and Respect to humanity in Rwanda,Uganda,DR Congo, Burundi,Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya,Ethiopia, and Somalia. We strongly believe that Africa will develop if only our presidents stop being rulers of men and become leaders of citizens. We support Breaking the Silence Campaign for DR Congo since we believe the democracy in Rwanda means peace in DRC. Follow this link to learn more about the origin of the war in both Rwanda and DR Congo:http://www.rwandadocumentsproject.net/gsdl/cgi-bin/library