2010 was an important year in the Great Lakes region because of the elections which took place. The Burundian elections which confirmed President Nkurunziza in power also resulted, unfortunately, in the opposition being no longer represented in any of the institutions. The DRC celebrated its 50th independence anniversary. The Head of State used this anniversary as a platform to launch his campaign for re-election, which he seeks to organise in as closely controlled a political environment as possible.
In Rwanda President Kagame’s re-election took some unexpected turns. The elections, expected to be a mere formality, were marked by the emergence of a genuinely independent opposition and above all by the fact that individuals who had for long been part of the president’s inner circle of power turned against the President. Members of the international community, while recognising that the elections were peaceful and well organised, nonetheless expressed their concerns about the run-up to the elections, particularly the attacks on opponents and the restriction of political freedoms1. The Rwandan authorities, not being accustomed to truly competitive elections, tried to stifle any divergent opinion. Furthermore, from March 2010 onwards it appeared that the extreme nervousness shown by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) regime was due not so much to the existence of opposition parties as to the emerging rifts within the inner circle of power in Rwanda. General Kayumba’s escape into exile provided a focal point around which various types of discontent could crystallize.
This situation raises the stakes with regard to regional stability beyond Rwanda, given this country’s central role in the African Great Lakes region. Lasting stability in Rwanda and good relations between Rwanda and its neighbours are an essential condition for central Africa to break the cycle of violence it has experienced over recent decades. However, the tragic events in Rwanda 16 years ago remain in everyone’s consciousness to such an extent that it has become difficult to form an analysis or express a point of view about Rwanda dispassionately, without emotion and without attracting accusations of partiality. The shock of the genocide and the guilt so widely felt have in some ways given rise to the continued lack of consensus about Rwanda on the international scene.
The destabilising potential of the internal divisions within the RPF
The emerging internal divisions and power struggle among members of the RPF political and military élite are a cause of growing concern for Rwanda’s internal stability, and that of the wider Great Lakes region.
1 See for example the statement made by the British Foreign Office http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/news/latest- news/?view=News&id=22695654