If Rwanda is an African model, then stability is key

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame. Picture: Madoka Ikegami/Pool Photo via AP/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

A quarter of a century ago, in Rwanda, you stood a higher chance of getting flowing blood instead of running water if you opened a tap. That is, of course, if you were in one of the few areas that had access to piped water infrastructure. Elsewhere, poverty, pain and disease festered and the horror of death lurked, awaiting to claim the next victim. And there were many of them! Many stories of the suffering endured during this period are yet to be told in full, and many more will never be told in full for they bring into question the entire concept of humanity itself.

Regardless, a quarter of a century ago, a people decided to defy death, took a stance against an ongoing genocide and fought for freedom, dignity and prosperity. The Rwanda that is familiar in popular imagination today –  environmentally clean, economically growing and politically stable – is the result of the sum of all the people who have chosen to be makers of their own history, not bystanders singing redemption songs to a selfish and disinterested international audience. It is a country that has vowed to never again go through the pain and suffering it did, losing over one million lives to ethnic chauvinism. It is also a country that, in building the future it desires, has come under severe criticism at best, and under serious attacks, some of which are – in fact – a threat to national security.

In building the new Rwanda in the aftermath of a horrific genocide, certain adjustments have had to be made resulting in a lot of people who previously enjoyed various privileges and the exercise of unaccountable power either being brought to justice or, fleeing the country altogether, turning themselves into fugitives from justice. Historically, the loss of unaccountable power and excessive privilege, especially in the political arena, has often inspired fightbacks aimed at regaining such power and consequently, privileges. In the case of Rwanda, after 1994, the fightback has also included even those who fought against the genocide but only with the intentions of removing, from power, the perpetrators so that they could replace them without fundamentally changing the order that had encouraged and empowered ethnic chauvinism. In doing so, they have refused to be subjected to public accountability – one of the founding values of a new Rwanda – and they have attempted to use their positions of power, and historical role in fighting the genocide to refuse being questioned by the people they claim to have liberated.  Most of them have since coalesced under the banner of the RNC.

The RNC was formed in December 2010 in Washington DC by General Kayumba Nyamwasa, Colonel Patrick Karegeya, Theogene Rudasingwa, and Gerald Gahima (Mr. Karegeya’s January 2014 murder in South Africa remains unsolved). These four men were senior military and political leaders of the RPF until they fled Rwanda between 2004 and 2010, and as such played important roles in creating the post-genocide order they now want to see overthrown. They claim they fled Rwanda to escape persecution for legitimate policy dissent. There does not appear to be any evidence of this beyond their own claims. The Rwandan government has long asserted they fled to avoid being held accountable for corrupt activities. This goes unmentioned in the documentary flighted on  BBC. But this is only its least egregious silence about the RNC.

The RNC entered into a formal and open alliance with the Unified Democratic Forces (FDU) and is concentrated in Western Europe, with branches in North America and Africa.

The FDU coalition’s core party, the Republican Rally for Democracy in Rwanda (RDR), was established in spring 1995 in eastern Congo (then Zaire) by the fugitive military leaders of the 1994 genocide, to replace the “interim government” which had just carried out the genocide. Several of the RDR’s founding leaders have since been convicted of genocide by the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and several of its current leaders are the subjects of Interpol warrants based on Rwandan genocide charges. UN experts have documented supportive links between the FDU and the FDLR. The President of both the FDU and the RDR, Victoire Ingabire, has been convicted in open Rwandan court on charges of genocide denial as well as subversion related to her ties with the FDLR and her plans to create an armed group of her own.

The ideology and goals of the FDU, like those of the FDLR, demonstrate continued loyalty to the Hutu Power coalition which perpetrated the 1994 genocide. Of itself, the RNC’s alliance with the FDU demonstrates a complete lack of scruples.  But there is more. The RNC is reported, largely in Rwandan and other African media but also in several UN reports on the Congo, to have its own ties to the FDLR and allied armed groups in Congo. These reported ties include meetings with FDLR leaders in eastern Congo, Tanzania and South Africa, and, as documented by UN experts, a significant volume of telephone communication between the RNC and FDLR as well as the provision of money and communication equipment to an FDLR faction by an RNC coalition partner, General Emmanuel Habyarimana, resident in Switzerland.  

Finally, the government of Rwanda has since 2010 named the RNC as a leading organizer, along with the FDLR, of the recurrent grenade attacks in different parts of Rwanda which have killed and maimed scores of Rwandan civilians, as well as two recent assassination plots aimed at the present Rwandan leadership. All this can be summarised as a direct threat to Rwanda’s national security, peace and stability.

As Rwanda’s profile grows, and as the country takes up various positions of responsibility within numerous pan-African institutions such as the African Union (AU) and EAC, the attempts at destabilisation are likely to escalate. If not countered, they may pose significant threats not just to Rwanda itself but to several countries as well. It is, therefore, imperative that all peace loving Africans  pay proper attention to outfits such as the RNC, who harbour aspirations of promoting violence and the destruction of democratic institutions by mobilising and emphasizing ethnic difference while disregarding popular democratic will. Africa should not entertain such bigotry and chauvinism in the name of democracy because such aspirations are opposed to democratic culture. On its part, Rwanda has to continue sticking to principles of democracy by ensuring that the space for political participation remains open while putting in place national security mechanisms that can prevent the country from sliding into its horrific past. Hence the timing of the “Inquest” is because the prosecution couldn’t provide any proof to link Rwanda Government, this is now a desperate attempt to drag the case and make Rwanda look guilty in court of public opinion!

It has been a lot of work to get Rwanda to the place it is today, 25 years after the genocide. Key parts of this work have only been possible because of pan-Africanism – a cherished value in Rwanda after 1994 – and it is important that these bonds are strengthened in fighting against all those who do not share in the vision of a united, peaceful, democratic and prosperous Africa. If Rwanda is the contemporary model for African development, then its stability must be prioritised by all.

Ali Naka is a practicing Pan Africanist.