Alice Muhirwa on Democracy in Rwanda

The plan was to have Alice Muhirwa, National treasurer of UDF-Inkingi, the Rwanda opposition group on AfrobeatRadio on WBAI Saturday December 11, 2010. It was not to be, Alice could not make it at the allotted time. She had hurt her ankle, and her leg was in a cast. Imagine our apprehension when, since we initially had no idea what had happened to her. We tried not to put voice to our fears. In near panic, and as the air-time count down continued, we placed a call to San Francisco based journalist Ann Garrison, who has since become an AfrobeatRadio producer. Ann’s work has focused in the past few years on Central Africa, particularly, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. To our delight, she agreed to stand in for Alice Muhriwa.

UDF-Inkingi -known in French as Forces Democratiques Unitiees (FDU), “is a political framework with the goal to install the rule of law in Rwanda, underpinned by the respect of democratic values enshrined in the universal declaration of human rights and other international instruments relating to democracy and good governance.” UDF-Inking is made up of organisations and individuals from Rwanda’s political opposition who are determined to offer the Rwandan people an alternative to the dictatorial system of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Its leader Victoire Ingabire has been behind bars in Rwanda since October 14th, 2010. She had been arrested on April 21st, and released on bail, but confined to Rwanda’s capitol city, Kigali from then until her October arrest and imprisonment. Her party was never allowed to register and she was unable to speak to Rwanda’s desperately poor rural majority, who live in the countryside and survive on less than $1/day.

The Kagame regime did not allow the UDF to register as a political party but Ingabire could not even have run as an independent presidential candidate, while she remained accused of Rwanda’s thought and speech crime, “genocide ideology.” After her second arrest, the Kagame regime accused her of terrorist conspiracy.

Another of the three viable presidential candidates, Bernard Ntaganda, has been in jail since June 24th, and the third, Frank Habineza, took refuge with his family in Sweden after the Rwanda Green Party’s vice president was found beheaded in the wetlands of the Makula River in Southern Rwanda.

In recent elections, President Paul Kagame reportedly won 92.9 percent of the vote for another seven-year term, an implausible victory in any real pluralist democracy. landslide in only the second election since Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Army and Rwandan Patriotic Front Party seized power in Kigali amidst the massacres that came to be known as the Rwanda Genocide. The elections were tainted by accusations of political repression, arrests, and censorship. Before the election was over, critics of the Kagame regime had been assassinated in two neighboring countries, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and a Rwandan journalist had been gunned down in the streets of Kigali shortly after publishing a report that Kagame had ordered the assassination attempt on a dissident, former RPF general in South Africa.

The Kagame regime has suffered setbacks since the elections, including the release of the UN Mapping Report which documented the Rwandan army’s war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the massacres of Hutu civilians in D.R. Congo, and indictments of Kagame’s top officers in France.

However, the political suppression continues unabated in Rwanda. On Dec 22, 2010, Victoire Ingabire’s house in Kigali was ransacked again by security forces, barely a week after her family home in Holland was searched by authorities, ostensibly under instructions from the Rwandan government.

As it turns out, Alice was safe, despite being injured and in pain, and she graciously agreed to respond to our written questions nevertheless:

WJ: Please give us a brief background of the political environment in Rwanda as we speak?

AM: The political environment can be described as totally dry. As you know, the presidential election process was rigged and the opposition questioned it’s legitimacy. The time leading to the poll was critical, namely, the main opposition political parties were denied registration; the registered Parti Social Imberakuri was divided.

Many opposition leaders from our parties were in detention, others were out on bailed and their ability to move around was restricted. The Democratic Green Party of Rwanda’s vice president, Mr. André Rwisereka Kagwa, was beheaded. An independent journalist was murdered in Kigali. Two independent newspapers closed. While some members of the independent media were put under arrest, others fled into exile. The underlying military crisis also reached new height; Army generals were arrested, others fled into exile, and one actually survived an attempted assassination in South Africa.

As we speak, Ms, Victoire Ingabire, the democracy leader has completed two months in prison today. Mr. Bernard Ntaganda, the leader of the Parti Social Imberakuri is also in jail. Frank Habineza, the president of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda has been in exile for many months and is unable to come back into the country. Deogratias Mushayidi, leader of another political party, PDP IMANZI, is in prison along with many other political prisoners. The trials of other executive members of FDU INKINGI will start on January 5th, 2011.

WJ: On November 12, Victoire Ingabire was denied bail, can you speak to her condition? And the condition that she is held in?

AM: These charges against Mrs. Victoire ingabire are politically motivated. President Paul Kagame is involved in the process. Every hearing is a new masquerade, like Cinema series with endless episodes. New allegations; new prepared witnesses with no possibility for cross-examination; new promises of never-revealed “overwhelming evidence” and fresh discoveries. At least those who believed that there was solid evidence before the arrest and detention have seen the mirror of this justice.

She shares her prison cell with two female inmates brought in by the special police. We bring food for all of them every single day. Visits are heavily monitored and last only 10 minutes. Party members from all over the country are rotating to see her once a week.

WJ: What is she really charged with? And what are the prognosis of of her defense team?

AM: She has not yet been officially charged to date. Today, Dec 15, 2010, the detained opposition leader, Mrs. Victoire ingabire was taken to the High Court for a fresh bail appeal. This time the Prosecutor affirmed that the Criminal Procedure law gives him the right to request the extension of provisional detentions up to 12 times. Meanwhile there is no rush until they complete the evidentiary edifice on which they construct their case:

  • Genocide ideology
  • Divisionism
  • Formation of a terrorist organization- Threats to national security by act of terrorism
  • Smear campaign of rumors against the state and its institutions

They keep on changing the charges. A final charge list will be given when the evidentiary stage opens.

WJ: What has absence meant to her family and the party and other opposition?

AM: As a normal family, they miss her. They always call me to find out how she is keeping up. It has been a year that she has been away from home. Her detention is torture for a loving mother who’s family has deep affection for her. They are a very lovely family.

As for the political party, she is our hero, our democracy icon. She is a national symbol. A source of courage and determination. We believe in change; the wind of change is here, we feel it, and its coming our way. We believe in unity. If South Africa can succeed, why not us?

WJ: She is not the only opposition figure held in jail, who else is being held?

AM: Within FDU-Inkingi; there are 14 other people under arrest recently in southern and western provinces in order to produce new witnesses with guilty plea deals. There are also other political figures such as Bernard Ntaganda (chairperson of imberakuri PS), Deo Mushayidi, Charles Ntakirutinka, and others.

WJ: Lt. Aloys Ruyenzi, former RPA officer and close bodyguard of Kagame revealed the untold and horrendous stories of Kagame’s secret killing grounds, torture chambers, and the systematic killings of critics. Can you speak to these revelations?

AM: Those are testimonies of people who say they are “eye witnesses” and I have no authority to challenge what they say. It is only a court of law that can cross-check, confirm or reject these allegations. Information about the criminal responsibilities of the regime’s leaders is largely available. Look at the UN Mapping report in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Crimes against humanity, war crimes. They are accountable. But there is no Court to hold them accountable.

WJ: What is your reaction to the UN Mapping Report on the Congo released in October?

In the FDU-Inkingi, one of our key political principles is the rule of law and the eradication of impunity. We are not too concerned about the judicial terminology of the crimes committed in the Congo, whether they are “genocide” or “war crimes.” A court of law, an international Court of law will determine that. Those who are supporting silence and injustice on those crimes in Congo and in Rwanda have reasons to be silent. They have a lot to hide.

WJ: Can you speak to Rwanda Human Rights Report submitted to the Parliament? Has it been released publicly?

This report submitted to the parliament has not yet been made public but it is out. It is confirming what many are saying openly. A judiciary under the bayonet, illegal detentions, and violations of laws; the delays of court processes, namely the failure of the Gacaca system; it even mentioned some hair raising cases.

There is no justice here. No law. No life.

WJ: Many journalists and opponents of the government are in exile, or have been assassinated, some even in exile. Are you afraid for you life or your safety?

AM: Yes, I am and I feel the danger every single day.

Fear. It used to silence people, to intimidate and even to kill. There are many examples, but I still believe that change is possible. I believe in an open dialogue. That democratization is a process which has initiators. Together we can build a better future for the coming generation by understanding each other, by emphasizing fundamental human rights, and by instituting an open political space and free speech in the media.

As long as we are being denied the right to register our political party, we are not safe. Many of our members are being intimidated. Even the ones from the executive committee have been sacked from their jobs. Some have received and continue to receive blackmails and serious threats.

Democracy activists in a dictatorship are taking a big risk. We have to take it. The cost is high in terms of victims and time, but the fruit is worth it; a long lasting solution.

WJ: Is there something you’d like to tell the outside world?

AM: Don’t fail Rwanda again.

Your silence is killing people and it is killing democracy. Don’t allow political prisoners any more on this planet.

The international community preferred to remain silent during the 1994 genocide. After that disaster, they helped in reconstruction and rehabilitation. They failed in reconciliation. They provided donations, increased aid as a sign of recognition. But again they are silent when the country is sliding back there and into dictatorship. Why can’t they understand Rwanda is on the edge? I think the easy way to promote peace and security is to prevent such type of crisis by helping people to open up a sound political space, to defend human rights and justice, and to support peace and reconciliation, not only in terms of financial assistance, but in terms of a result-oriented approach involving all stake holders and not only the ruling system.

WJ: What in your or the opposition’s opinion is the responsibility that President Kagame bears in the current political situation and in the UN Mapping Report?

AM: He is “the strong man”, the decision maker, the leader. He is answerable. This should never a be a question. He is the number one responsible person.

by AfrobeatRadio