Gen. Nyamwasa, Former Rwandan Army Chief of Staff and Ambassador to India
Col. Karegeya, Former Chief of External Security Services
Dr Rudasingwa, Former Secretary General, RPF; Ambassador to the United States and Chief of Staff to the President
Mr Gahima, Former Prosecutor General of the Republic of Rwanda and Vice President of the Supreme Court
In 1994, Rwanda suffered a tragedy that left over one million of its citizens dead as a result of war and genocide. The war and genocide resulted in immense suffering to millions more. The war and genocide have had far-reaching repercussions for both Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa as a whole.
Rwanda’s recovery from the ravages of war and genocide is generally regarded as a rare success story in post-conflict reconstruction. Visitors to the country are impressed by its economic growth, security situation and cleanliness, as well as the orderliness of its people and the efficiency with which its institutions conduct business. To its passionate friends, Rwanda is a shining example of democratisation, reformation, and an effective and efficient government.
Supporters of the Rwandan government largely attribute Rwanda’s success in post-war reconstruction to President Paul Kagame. The rebel general-turned-civilian politician cultivates a cult-image as the sole hero of the country’s achievements. President Kagame is perceived by most outsiders as both invincible and indispensable to national and regional stability.
The Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) has registered many achievements since 1994. Its army is generally credited with having stopped the genocide, although there are genocide survivors who do not share this view. Its government re-established law and order, restored essential social services, repatriated and resettled millions of refugees and internally displaced persons, and established effective state institutions, that have rescued Rwanda from the brink of becoming a failed state.
The government has, with the often grudgingly acknowledged assistance of the international community, helped to spur economic recovery. President Kagame rightly deserves his share of credit for Rwanda’s progress in reconstruction after the war and genocide.
There is, however, more to Rwanda and Kagame than new buildings, clean streets, and efficient. Rwanda is essentially a hard-line, one-party, secretive police state with a façade of democracy. The ruling RPF has closed space for political participation. The RPF does not tolerate political opposition or open competition for power.
The government ensures its monopoly of power by means of draconian restrictions on the exercise of the fundamental human rights of citizens. The press, civil society and opposition parties are deprived of freedom to operate freely. President Kagame and the ruling party that he leads depend on repression to stay in power.
Rwanda has failed to transition to good governance and democracy. The RPF manipulated the transition process to entrench its monopoly of political and economic power. Rwanda is a one-party authoritarian state, controlled by President Kagame through a small clique of Tutsi military officers and civilian cadres of the RPF from behind the scenes.
The majority Hutu community remains excluded from a meaningful share of political power. State institutions are as effective as they are repressive. The government relies on severe repression to maintain its hold on power.
The situation that prevails raises serious questions about the country’s future. Are the country’s development achievements sustainable? Can Rwanda continue to be peaceful while the government continues to be repressive and many people consider the government illegitimate? How do we balance individual freedoms and the requirement for a stable community? How should citizens respond when rulers mistake the state to be their personal estate and deprive their subjects of their inalienable rights?
Should they resist peacefully or take up arms? If armed conflict is ill-advised, given its potential to cause human suffering, how else then can citizens reclaim their rights to hold the government accountable?
What strategies would help Rwanda avoid violent conflict that appears inevitable and to set it on the path towards peaceful resolution of the problems that drive conflict in Rwandan society?
The state of governance in Rwanda cannot be discussed in isolation from the character of the RPF and the quality of its leadership because of the very dominant role that the RPF in general and President Kagame have played in the politics of post-genocide Rwanda. The RPF assumed control of government at the end of the genocide and civil war because it was the only opposition group with the military capacity to take on the organisers and perpetuators of the genocide.
At the end of the genocide, the RPF briefly cohabited in a coalition government with other organisations that had opposed the Habyarimana dictatorship. Since late 1995, the RPF has progressively assumed exclusive control of the state.
The RPF was originally established as a people’s movement whose goal was to bring together under one umbrella, individuals and groups of different political backgrounds and ideological beliefs that shared a minimum political platform to promote democracy in Rwanda. From its founding in 1979 as the Rwandese Alliance for National Union (RANU) to its capture of state power in 1994, the RPF professed a commitment to the vision of a free, democratic order under an accountable government.
The RPF is no longer the democratic, inclusive and principled organisation that its founders and early leaders and members intended it to be. The organisation has now become a caricature of its former self.
The party, like the rest of the country, is engulfed by fear, held hostage to President Kagame’s arbitrary and repressive rule.
The prime objective of the struggle of the RPF, as well other groups that rose up during the late 1980s and early 1990s to take on the challenge of opposing the Habyarimana dictatorship, was to establish democracy in Rwanda. The RPF’s management of the affairs of Rwanda since the genocide and civil war has led to reversing, rather than consolidating, the gains that the struggle for democracy had achieved prior to the genocide.
In practice, the RPF has progressively reduced the space for other political forces to operate in the country. The 1995 ousting of Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu and other critical ministers started a trend towards progressive consolidation of the RPF’s monopolistic control of the machinery of the state. The RPF has, since then, striven for unrivalled political supremacy in Rwanda.
It has achieved this political supremacy not through an open and free process of competition with other political forces, but through repressive laws, administrative practices and the use of the security services to frustrate the exercise of the civil and political rights of opponents. Not only is the opposition excluded from participating in government; it is effectively barred from undertaking any activities inside the country at all. The RPF enjoys unchallenged power in Rwanda. Rwanda is far less free now than it was prior to the genocide.
Download the document