By Judi Rever
Rwanda’s former prime minister Faustin Twagiramungu, now in exile, says he plans to return to Rwanda by the end of the year to recommend President Paul Kagame loosen his authoritarian grip and allow more freedoms.
“I have decided to go back home this year, 2013,” Twagiramungu said in an interview in Sherbrooke, Quebec, where he recently met members of his political association Rwanda Dream Initiative.
“I’m optimistic that Kagame will listen to me. I may be naïve but I think I have to try,” said Twagiramungu, an ethnic Hutu who was prime minister in Rwanda’s post genocide government but was forced to flee in late 1995 because of threats to his security.
In 2003, he returned to Rwanda to contest presidential elections but was threatened again and fled immediately after the poll, which was marred by fraud.
“What I will propose to Kagame is not to give up power to me,” he said. “But I will make suggestions on how Rwanda could be managed in a way that every citizen has the hope of achieving his or her objectives, and of living in peace.”
“Today Rwandans do not live in peace. There are always threats, insults, humiliations and fear.”
Kagame, whose troops routed Hutu extremists and halted the 1994 genocide, is regularly accused of assassinating or sidelining opponents.
Journalists, opposition party members and other perceived critics of the government are routinely arrested, detained, and tried for expressing their views, according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Kagame has also come under fire for being behind the creation of a new militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo known as M23, whose members have been accused of summary executions, rapes, and forced recruitment, including of children, according to the United Nations. A UN report released in November 2012 said: “Rwandan officials exercise overall command and strategic planning for M23.”
“I think he’s feeling the pain of the international community,” Twagiramungu said. “He tried to make his hegemonic politics in the area, trying to conquer eastern Congo. And the international community said: ‘No, here you have to stop. You’ve gone too far.’
“We know that Kagame has committed so many crimes but the solution is not in killing him or taking him to court. What we need is for people to confess their crimes, really confess and then ask people to forgive them.”
Observers have slammed the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), set up in the aftermath of the genocide, for refusing to try crimes committed by Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Army, whose troops were known to have massacred Hutu peasants throughout the 1990s, in particular after the genocide, according to human rights activists and organizations. The ICTR has instead focused on trying Hutu extremists who were responsible for slaughtering up to 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus from April to July 1994.
Meanwhile, at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, prosecutors have refused to try Kagame and his top military commanders for crimes committed by Rwandan troops in the DRC. In 2010, the United Nations Mapping Report said Rwandan Tutsi soldiers may have committed genocide in that country, after stalking and systematically killing thousands of Rwandan and Congolese Hutus in the dense equatorial jungle.
“If the international community decided today to arrest Kagame and try him, people would be happy. But the reality is, it’s not going to be done. The reality is, the international community will not do it. So what remains is to find a common ground for peaceful cohabitation,” said Twagiramungu, who lives in Brussels.
“True reconciliation will not be started by people who talk like Faustin Twagiramungu while not having power. Kagame is the only one in power who can say: ‘Well now I am relaxed. Let us talk about peace.’ Without him, it’s going to be very difficult unless we use violence like he has since 1990. And I’m not buying this use of violence in my country.”
“People have been living in violence for half a century, can you imagine, without finding a solution.”
Twagiramungu says he feels morally obliged to seize the moment and make a difference in his homeland.
“Twenty years after the genocide, I have not accomplished anything, but it’s not that I haven’t tried,” the 68-year-old said, adding that he is not afraid of dying or being put in jail, like other political opponents.
“I prefer to die for the truth than to die in silence. Kagame knows me. I have no intention of falling into Hutu extremism. I have defended both Hutus and Tutsis since my childhood. So now, in the conclusion of my own life, I think I also have to challenge this man.”
“It is the time to challenge this gentleman where he is.”