Rwanda: Kagame, Set Me Free

We advocate for national reconciliation of the Rwandan people. However, we strongly believe that true reconciliation cannot be achieved as long as the sufferings of some Rwandans who lost their relatives during those killings have not been officially recognized.

[Op-Ed: Rwanda]

It is almost 4 months back to my homeland after 16 years in exile. It was unbearable to hear the pain and the misery of my people at thousands of miles away. Upon my arrival, the regime, the state machinery and partisan media launched unrelenting demonizing campaign. The harassment and intimidation paved the way to endless police grilling. There has been no relief at all.

The reason is just to repress my political rights, to fabricate criminal records, to derail the registration of my political party UDF INKINGI and to deter my presidential eligibility.

You may all recall that on 21st April 2010, the Rwandan government arrested me. I spent one night in jail. My home was violently searched the same night and up to date the state police have never returned our two computers, one computer of a visitor, computer programs, digital camera, disks, flash drives, cell phones, contracts, business cards, party flyers, flags and logos, passport, driving license, and all paper documents. The following day upon my request to be granted a bail,

I was provisionally released from the jail. Since then, I can neither travel abroad nor go beyond the capital city of Kigali. Held under “extended” house arrest, I also have to report to the Prosecutor’s office twice a month. In reality, as it was shortly after my return, I have no freedom of movement. The only difference is that this time it is “legal”. I am in captivity.

I know many of you are eager and thirsty to hear live our freedom message. In this attempt to freeze our political activities and to thwart the road to democracy, the government has decided to put me “in chains” but my determination is still intact.

Even though being imprisoned is something any democratic opposition leader, who is peacefully fighting against a dictatorial regime, should expect and be aware of, nobody should give up the individual liberties. I would like therefore to thank all the people who played a role in my release from jail. Particularly, I would like to thank my dear fellows UDF-Inkingi’s members, who provided me with all the necessary means I crucially needed in order to stand a trial in court. I would also like to thank the Rwandan people who came massively to my court hearing.

I am writing to thank you all for your support and your prayers, to inform you about the circumstances of my captivity and about my trial, and to strengthen you in the hope for a democratic and better Rwanda. 

This trial is trumped-up on false accusations because the prosecutor knows well that I am innocent. However, because I am engaged in a political fight, my opponents relied on media lynching of my person using public and private media and government institutions. I was even physically assaulted within the premises of an administrative building. As the time went on, my opponents came to realize that such acts of harassment and intimidation did not deter my determination. Instead, I continued to visit the Rwandan people nationwide. My opponents finally brandished the wall of laws, their own laws with their own reading.

I was repeatedly summoned, almost every week since February, by the Criminal Investigation Department until my arrest and jail on 21st April 2010.

Briefly why am I being harassed? What are the charges levied against me?

[] Promoting divisionism
[] Harboring genocide ideology
[] Creating an armed group and collaboration with the FDLR.

You all know that I am the chairperson of an opposition political party. Compared to the current regime, we see things differently on several crucial issues facing our country. We refuse to be led by a one-man-rule, a state-party system for fear of being accused of divisionism. The Rwandan Constitution recognizes a multi-party system. That means the Constitution gives the Rwandan people the right to conceive and freely express dissenting political ideas.

We attest that the Rwandan people live under the yoke of fear and ignorance. People are kept in perpetual extreme poverty characterized by widespread malnutrition and poor healthcare, especially in rural areas. Government officials are forcing people to destroy their banana plantations even though these plantations represent the principal source of income for the poor. The healthcare system doesn’t guarantee healthcare coverage for all the Rwandan people due to scarcity and high cost of prescription drugs even though every Rwandan is required to subscribe to the universal health insurance coverage (Mutuelles de Santé).

The reform of the education sector should go hand in hand with adequate infrastructures, trained human resources and relevant translated books. How will teachers deliver in languages they don’t speak? This is terrible for the quality of the education. In schools, History teachers are totally confused: the regime’s political manipulations are in total conflict with the facts.

We are not afraid to tell the world that the Rwandans are under the yoke of fear and darkness, the hunger is acute in rural Rwanda. We are against the fact that the Gacaca courts that were traditionally responsible for settling social disputes, consider cases that require special knowledge that the criminal court judges do not have. This is even more serious because it involves crimes as serious as genocide. We are also opposed to the fact that the accused in these courts have no right to be assisted by a lawyer.

Professor Andre Guichaoua, a renowned researcher from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, recently published a reference book titled “Rwanda, from War to Genocide. Criminal Politics in Rwanda, 1990-1994.” In this book, Andre Guichaoua thoroughly analyzed the Gacaca court system and found that nearly all Rwandans who were at least 14 years old and were living in Rwanda before 1994 have been dragged to Gacaca courts.

The Government machinery recently suspended two independent newspapers, split two political parties while other parties have been denied authorization to hold their constituent congress, a necessary step towards the registration of any political party. They jailed politicians such as Deogratias Mushayidi and senior military officers. If someone says that there is something rotten in Rwanda’s leadership, government officials are quick to brandish the law on divisionism.

We say we need a democratic change, more political space, freedom of speech and the President of Rwanda claims to hold us in contempt, as worthless people, criminals, and hooligans. He even boasted about how it was patriotic to shoot people in the DRC.

When I recently heard such utterances I felt deep sadness. I truly respect the President of Rwanda. I am a mother I will never dare to insult him even thought he insulted me. Such a speech was delivered during the 16th commemoration of the genocide against the Tutsis and a week after before both chambers of the Senate and the National Assembly. Although I was outraged, I did not deem necessary to respond, there was nothing I could say about it. Whoever says this is not acceptable is accused of divisionism. Should we shy to denounce these utterances simply because they are from a head of state or his government? No.  

I and the political party I chair, UDF-Inkingi, which was created in 2006, we recognize that in 1994, in Rwanda, there has been genocide against the Tutsis. We also recognize that during that time, before and after, there have been crimes against humanity committed against other groups of the Rwandan population. These are facts we witnessed but also recognized by the United Nations, Resolution No 955 of November 08, 1994. We also believe that anyone who has responsibility in those unspeakable killings against humanity should be held accountable.

This is what the current regime calls harboring genocide ideology or genocide denial.  

We advocate for national reconciliation of the Rwandan people. However, we strongly believe that true reconciliation cannot be achieved as long as the sufferings of some Rwandans who lost their relatives during those killings have not been officially recognized. We need to encourage Rwandans to talk about the tragedy with no taboo, to bring them together in order to set solid guidelines for a long lasting settlement. Justice needs to be fair and not selective. 

On 1st May 2010 late night, the regime masterminded the profanation of the symbol of democracy by exhuming the rests of Mr. Dominique Mbonyumutwa, the first President of the Republic of Rwanda. This is a wrong signal to the Democratic and Freedom values in Rwanda. Those manipulations of national history to suit the regime’s interests are sidelining the state, becoming a separate entity from the whole society.   

I refer to my speech of 16th January 2010 in Kigali upon arrival: “I am a daughter and a mother, moved by the misery and humiliations of my people. I don’t need an army to defeat the dictatorship. All we need is determination, commitment and patience. The sacrifices of all committed people will overcome our misery and this endless crisis in our motherland. (…) We don’t need another war in our country. Too much blood has been poured. Enough is enough…”

Why do they want me to collaborate with rebels? I don’t need them. They have been tackling each other for over 16 years. We need to bring this to an end. We need peace. We condemn the politics that killed nearly 5 millions of our Congolese neighbors since 1996.  

Those who have fought, have they achieved long lasting peace? No. Why should we be inspired by a failure?
They will parade dozens, hundreds of ex-FDLR, to accuse us of any thing they want.  Our answer remains the same; the war is not an answer. How one can achieve anything with that kind of paraded colonels? Why have they kept them in military facilities since 2009 before I came back home, and are making big cases of them now?

The political decision to register our political party in the country to compete with this regime was not an easy decision that we took recklessly. We first put together our ideas, thoroughly analyzed many ways we should use and related consequences in order to solve the political deadlock. We chose the non-violent way in our fight for freedom, justice and democracy.  

FDLR rebels are Rwandans. They need sincere guarantees prior to repatriation. Those involved in crimes await fair justice. Others deserve a normal socio-professional life. If you jail a politician on suspicions of talking to elements of a rebellion how you can assure them to come home and be safe?

We are in total disagreement with the current government policy of “poaching” some FDLR leaders, while encouraging the use of force against the others.  

I therefore solemnly set the goal that if the Rwandan people trust me and elect me as President of Rwanda; my government will hold direct talks with the FDLR. They are Rwandans and have no other country on this planet. However, those who are responsible for crimes of genocide or crimes against humanity will face justice.  

“I am not bringing an army with me”. There is a very capable army is in the country. As long as the army will opt for political neutrality and work towards the fulfillment of the duties of maintaining integrity and sovereignty of the country, protecting the Rwandan people, ensuring peace and security in the region, and protecting government institutions issued from genuine democratic processes, I will always believe in that army. 

The Rwanda Defense Force is a key factor for the stability of this country. Many Rwandans respect the motto saying: “In the RDF, good leadership; discipline; mutual trust and respect between members; respect for the law and enduring loyalty to the constitution, are the cornerstone of our success and constant ability to be a force for good”.  In this respect, we strongly advocate for professionalism, carrier stability and leadership empowerment.

I therefore take this opportunity to inform and assure soldiers within the RDF, who were not aware of this understanding, that this is indeed our position on the problem regarding the Rwandan army. 

We call upon partner countries and the international community to support our efforts to bring about a lasting solution in Rwanda. Development indicators are encouraging but will remain fragile as long as they lack a solid foundation, as long as Rwanda is a one-man-rule. Proponents of the current regime have touted its benefits, such as faster economic growth, more economic opportunities and higher standards of living. However, this process is bypassing big swaths of particularly vulnerable populations. Large segments of the population face crushing poverty.

There will be no lasting stability and no sustainable development without democracy, without fair justice, without the rule of law, without a genuine reconciliation. Those who believed that stability and development were possible in Rwanda without democratization have seen the limits. We strongly believe that long-term, sustainable economic and social development requires democratic governance rooted in the rule of law.

I would like to finish this message by calling upon the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, to let me recover my full freedom and liberties, so that I can enjoy my political rights which are the reason I came back home from exile, hold the constitutional congress of my political party, register the party, compete during the elections and let the Rwandan people decide.  

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza is chair, UDF INKINGI, an opposition party in Rwanda

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