Rwanda’s Opposition Leader Ruffles Feathers on Genocide

Recently, a Rwandan opposition political leader returned home after 16 years outside of the country. She is the first woman to attempt a run at the presidency of Rwanda. Upon landing at the Kigali Airport, Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza headed to the genocide memorial at Gisozi. During an interview with a member of the media, she expressed words that virtually every Rwandan living inside Rwanda is too terrified to utter. She said that the memorial shows the genocide committed against Tutsis in Rwanda but leaves out massacres committed against Hutus. In Rwanda, it is a cardinal sin to mix these two issues. The issue of genocide against Tutsi’s is well acknowledged and is a reminder of Rwanda’s dark past. What is intriguing is that it is sacrilege to acknowledge that there were crimes against humanity and massacres committed against Hutus. The major issue with these crimes against humanity is that they were committed by the RPF (Rwanda’s current ruling party) as Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations have pointed out time and time again. The big issue with Ms. Umuhoza’s speech is that she is telling an “inconvenient truth”.

As soon as Umuhoza made these comments, government newspapers such as New Times, government officials, other government sponsored media organizations, and several genocide survivor organizations went on a full blown attack against the politician and called for her prosecution on charges of divisionism and genocide denial. The question here is this: how does saying that Hutu’s were killed deny that Tutsi’s were killed? How does saying that Americans were killed in the recent earthquake in Haiti deny that Haitians were killed? This genocide denial charge and divisionism are crimes that the Rwandan government added to the tiny country’s laws in order to muzzle opposition and to silence any voices of dissent. It was predictable that Ms. Umuhoza would face such talk and it is conceivable that she may have to answer to these charges in court.  This will be Rwanda’s way of blocking her candidacy to the presidency as she poses a real threat to actually win Rwanda’s upcoming elections if they are held in a free and fair manner.  President Paul Kagame and his cronies will stop at nothing in order to retain power in Rwanda.  However, saying that Hutu’s were killed is far from saying that genocide did not take place in Rwanda.

It remains to be seen whether Umuhoza’s party will be allowed to function inside Rwanda. There are virtually no opposition parties in Rwanda. The country is essentially a one party state that is run similar to many of the former communist countries in terms of governance. Last year, an opposition party; Social Party – Imberakuri (PSI) was allowed to function in Rwanda. This major landmark in Rwanda’s political sphere has produced numerous appearances by PSI’s leader Bernard Ntaganda before the Rwandan Senate to answer to charges of divisionism. They are threatening to suspend his party from the country’s political scene.  The Green Party has attempted to formally register and been denied time after time. The Green Party’s gatherings have been characterized by attacks and beatings of it’s members and leaders by Rwandan government forces. With outrage of unfounded claims of divisionism and genocide denial, Rwanda’s muzzling of opposition and voices of dissent, Umuhoza’s party have an insurmountable task on their hands to get the party officially registered.  In the end, Rwanda is proving what many have said for years that opposition and disagreement with the government is met with zero tolerance. Freedom of speech, a fundamental right was dead long ago.

13 responses to “Rwanda’s Opposition Leader Ruffles Feathers on Genocide

  1. The problem with Human Rights Organization is their sturbon (and often dishonest) refusal to put words and acts into their right context when it comes to Rwanda. Mrs Ingabire is not the first person to mention RPF crimes. Many within and without Rwanda have been doing that. Of course the RPF-led government and the Tutsi survivors do not particularly enjoy this. But the government itself repeatedly acknowledged serious crimes commited by RPF soldiers during the civil war. Kagame himself does not deny this. Read his own article in Phil Clarck’s book “After Genocide (2009)”. Some (not all) of those RPF soldiers were prosecuted and emprisonned. What the genocide survivors, the government and a large number of Rwandans do not tolerate is indeed the MIXING of this reality with that of genocide. They have good reasons for that… From the very beginning of the genocide, this was the primary tactic used by the ‘genocidaire’ to minimize the importance of the massacres and divert the world’s attention. A number of western governments and agencies served as the enthusiastic relays of this theory, continuing to call the ‘two belligerents’ to stop the killings and negotiate until the end of the genocide. It is not a coincidence that Mrs Umuhoza choses to make such statements right at the Genocide Memorial. Nor is the fact that her second visit was to the home of Mbonyumutwa ( the first leader of PARMEHUTU) or her repeated use of the word Nyamwinshi (‘the majority people’ a direct reference to the 1994’Hutu Power’discourse. This is part of a deliberate strategy of provocation. She will most likely continue to escalate her rhetoric, leaving no choice to Kagame’s government (and the judiciary it controls) but to react and then accuse him (with the help of HR organizations) of repressing a critic and presidential candidate.

  2. Mrs Victoire Ingabire, whilst one must applaud her courage to go back to Rwanda and try and make a difference, my concern is that she has fallen into the trap set by Kagame; he needs opposition on the ballot paper in order to legitimize his already assured victory in the eyes of the RPF donors. I doubt she consulted with Twagiramungu about such a move of trying to contest an election against an entrenched incumbent who controls a politico-army machine. Her only viable option is to refuse to participate in the sham of an elections because most assuredly, this time next year her usefulness to the RPF elite would be done and she would be back in Europe.

  3. Pingback: Let’s Put Rwanda’s Latest Major Internal Terrorist Act in Perspective « Back To My Roots

  4. Realistically speaking, Kagame et al recognize that genocide affected all Rwandans including Hutus and Twas. But as a political strategy, they have maintained that genocide was committed only against Tutsis. And while it’s served well in Africa and the rest of the global community for the past two decades, it is increasingly losing its hold and its novelty, and in actuality becoming more and more extremest. Which as you can imagine will not serve them well in the new decade, and as more and more time progress.

    Humans lives should not be used as leverage in political power struggles, and this is disgusting. Way for Mrs. Umuhoza to point it out.

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  6. Faustin Rukundo

    it is a shame to see what UK and USA are doing in Rwanda, supporting a murderer like Paul Kagame. what kind of support does Tony Brair give to Rwandan President this is ridiculous. Its time when the world should put the issues of population before individual protection

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  8. Hi M.Jack, excuses me but i have to tell you you are a lie like RPF , you said a large number of Rwandans do not tolerate is indeed the MIXING of this reality with that of genocide? how do you know that? did you ask them?

  9. Kampala: Since her return to Rwanda as a presidential candidate, Victoire Umuhoza Ingabire has animated media interest. The main issue in her campaign is her claim that “those who killed the Hutu in the 1994 genocide have not been tried.” This is another way of saying the Rwanda Patriotic Front (read the Tutsi) is guilty of genocide against the Hutu.

    Many people expected Ingabire to be arrested. She has not, at least not yet. Ingabire is good analytically for those interested in African politics. Her claims have formed a decade-long academic obsession by scholars on Rwanda most of whom are either French or enjoyed close links to the government of the late Juvenal Habyarimana.

    Ingabire’s main campaign theme demonstrates the major challenges African nations face in seeking to establish democratic systems. In the West, elites share an agreement on basic national values; there is a political culture built around shared beliefs that define the terms and scope of political discourse. Electoral campaigns are therefore guided by what is accepted as legitimate debate and what is not.

    I currently live in the world’s leading democracy, the United States of America. Here, the terms of the debate are clear, violation of which generates strong societal sanctions. In the last campaigns, Barack Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, made remarks considered injurious to the national consensus. There was broad-based condemnation of Wright’s claims that forced Obama to disown him. Equally, if a politician in America denied the Jewish Holocaust; it would be their last day in politics. Every political party would denounce them; mainstream media would shun them, and most civic associations would follow suit.

    Political elites in Africa lack these shared national values that define the nature and scope of political discourse. This partly explains why electoral competition degenerates into violence; victory is seen as a defeat of one group by another; not a triumph of one idea over another. Yet it is in our immature nations with less educated electorates where democracy demands a lot of responsibility from our leaders.

    Were there Hutu civilians who died at the hands of the RPF in 1994? I think so. But this was never RPF’s official policy. Any soldier who killed innocent civilians was punished. Are there some who for some reason were not punished? Very likely! However, the broader point should not be ignored: RPF ended genocide in Rwanda. It became the moral conscience of the country in its moment of national catastrophe.

    During the Second World War, it was the official policy of the Western allies to bomb centres of German civilisation and civilian settlement. Estimates suggest that more than four million German civilians were killed. Now just imagine a presidential campaign in Germany, UK or USA in 1960 where a candidate was saying: “Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt should be alongside Enrick Himmler and Herman Goering at Nuremburg for trial.” That candidate’s career would just die.

    It is unacceptable to attempt to create moral equivalence of the crimes of the Nazis with those who saved Western civilisation from fascism. Churchill and Roosevelt, whatever their acts or omissions cannot be put in the same dock with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Scholars like Gerald Punier and my own friend Prof. Rene Lermachand who argue genocide of the Tutsi against Hutu cannot make a similar argument in regard to Churchill and Roosevelt.

    On 9/11, America lost 3,000 people at the hands of Al-Qaeda. In response, the US invaded Afghanistan and later Iraq to fight a “war on terror”. Thousands of Iraqi and Afghanistan civilians have died in air raids. However, a politician in the US cannot last one day in politics if – on this basis – he equated George Bush to Osama bin Laden.

    Therefore, for a presidential candidate in Rwanda to say those who ended genocide should share the dock with those who orchestrated it; that victims of genocide should be tried alongside its architects, is irresponsible, insensitive and not worth being a leader. Whatever their mistakes and miscalculations, the RPF sought to end genocide – just like the UK and US during the Second World War sought to defeat fascism.

    Rwanda today faces a great opportunity of deepening its democracy and of expanding its spheres of free expression. But it equally confronts a challenge of how to pursue this vision without igniting the forces of ethnic polarisation that contributed with such vengeance to the fragmentation of society and allowed evil to almost dismember it.

    Ingabire stands at an historical moment to assist the process of democratisation in Rwanda. This requires the ability to appreciate the fragility of the political settlement in the country. She needs to reassure those who feel endangered ethnically that there can be debate without stoking the fires of hatred. Even if she were to become “the” legitimate voice of opposition in Rwanda, her claims show that she lacks the strategic foresight to help consolidate the platform for free expression in that country.

    Given the emotive power of ethnicity especially in Rwanda, it is easy to rally a political following by making ethnic claims. But it is also extremely dangerous. Those who desire to see growth of a strong and viable opposition in Rwanda need to be cognisant of this fact. But if the opposition that grows focuses on scaring those who hold the instruments of control, we can say kwaheri to the democratic experiment.

    Rwandans have strong and burning policy issues to battle today – on economic growth, infrastructure, health, education, agriculture, industry, services, urban planning, corruption, housing, the quality and effectiveness of institutions of government – the list is endless. It seems that opposition politicians in Africa often lack the ability to offer a real alternative to incumbent regimes at the level of public policy. This possibly explains why they retreat to identity claims to secure political support.

    Sadly for Ingabire, many countries in Africa can afford ethnic politics. Rwanda cannot. In ignoring the lessons of history, she is actually undermining the very process that allowed her to return home. Hopefully, the people of Rwanda will have the wisdom to look at the content of a candidate’s policy proposals not their ethnicity in making electoral choices.

    Andrew M. Mwenda is the Managing Editor of The Independent magazine in Uganda

    • Dear Jean,

      Thank you for the post. It appears it was copied from a magazine in Uganda. My apologies if I am mistaken. Several points from the author are very misleading in regard to Rwanda and in the region as a whole.

      1. The author claims that Rwanda has several issues to battle today; the major issues in Rwanda were not mentioned including HUMAN RIGHTS, RECONCILIATION, JUSTICE, and POVERTY (look outside Kigali). All of these areas have been a total failure in a country where you cannot mention ethnic groups but at the same time changed the name of the Rwandan Genocide to “Genocide of Tutsis”. Which one is it? Ethnicity or no ethnicity? The Gacaca courts that convict and imprison people for not giving false testimony. The use of false witnesses, and those proven innocent remaining imprisoned and sometimes dying in prison after their charges have been dismissed.

      2. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza was very specific about the RPF crimes. They are WAR CRIMES. That is different from genocide. However, impunity is the reason why there has been over Seven (7) million people killed between Rwanda and Congo since 1990. Impunity must end. There is no excuse for killing indiscriminately unarmed civilians. The RPF did. Whether it was official or unofficial policy, the perpetrators must face charges and face justice they denied their victims. There is no lasting peace without justice.

      3. Your example about the US and about elites, the author sounds prejudiced or discriminatory. Politics and democracy in Africa should not be for the elites only. Look at South Africa as an example that Rwanda should follow.

      4. It is not Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza who is stopping the competition of ideas. It is President Kagame and the RPF. Take a look at how many government officials flee the country and are subsequently accused of genocide. It is not Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza who accuses everyone of “genocide ideology” in order to politically sideline them, imprison and torture.

      5. The RPF and the FDU of Ingabire Umuhoza both do have policy proposals. In this case, the opposition does have alternative policies unlike the other African opponents you mention.

      6. I find this to be very cynical

      “Were there Hutu civilians who died at the hands of the RPF in 1994? I think so. But this was never RPF’s official policy. Any soldier who killed innocent civilians was punished. Are there some who for some reason were not punished? Very likely!”.

      There is plenty of documentation for those who would like to know, there are plenty of survivors, who survived the RPF killing machine between 1990 until now. Have you never heard of the Kibeho massacres where ten thousand (10 000) people were killed? That is just one simple example. If the author takes a little bit of time and visit the North of Rwanda (Former Byumba and Ruhengeri areas), he/she might get a better understanding of the RPF crimes since 1990. Does the author have documentation of these soldiers who were punished by the RPF for war crimes against civilians? Is the author talking about the phantom trials in Rwanda of no more than Five (5) RPF soldiers? Wow…so hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians killed by the RPF were killed by 5 people (2 or 3 were foot soldiers by the way)?

      7. Is the author serious with the claim that

      “Her claims have formed a decade-long academic obsession by scholars on Rwanda most of whom are either French or enjoyed close links to the government of the late Juvenal Habyarimana.”

      ?? I am wondering where the author has been? Has the author been hiding under a rock or in the back of president Kagame’s pocket? Forty (40) senior official and military men of the RPF have been indicted in Spain. Does the author have links between the SPAIN JUDICIAL system and Habyarimana? How about the various American and British nationals who have learned extensively about the Rwandan issue and are now of the same view about the War crimes committed in Rwanda? How about the Ugandans that think the same for that matter? How about HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH and AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL. Are they French or were they close to Habyarimana?

      8. Ingabire Umuhoza returned IN SPITE of the repressive political process in Rwanda not because of the process in Rwanda as the author would like us to believe.

      Overall, the author does a good job of trying to justify the RPF Junta’s hold to power and a good job providing excuses by comparing western events in USA and Germany that are incomparable to Rwanda. The author takes apples, oranges, and beans and tries to compare the three in an attempt to defend the RPF position vis a vis Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza.

    • Jean, I dont know when your essay ends and where Andrew Mwenda’s begins. I am suspecting that part of the article is your, since from what I know Andrew Mwenda is a practicing journalist living in Uganda and not in America as part of the first half of the article mentioned.

      This weak paralleling of RPF response to the genocide with the Allies bombing of Germany or American reaction to the Al Qaeda 9/11 bombing is frequently used. I alway wonder if those who use this comparison know how oversimplistic they are being.

      Americans who have killed possibly over 1 million Afghans are not Afgani’s and the Allies who killed millions of Germans are not Germany’s. They do not live in the same society which each other, so they don’t have to deal with the reality of the fact they killed millions of those countries civilians in a defensive response.

      In addition, unlike Allies and American responses in which civilian causalities were “collateral” damage, in Rwanda and East Congo this were revenge killings.

      But, there is a great point that gets lost in all this. Its that fact that hundreds of thousands of people designed as Hutu were killed, many estimated showing that even more of them were killed than Tutsi, during the genocide and after the genocide.

      But the numbers IS NOT THE POINT. The point is that in addition to the hundreds of thousands of innocent Tutsi killed during this period, there were hundreds of thousands of Hutu killed. But it is only the death of Tutsi that are being memorialized in that nation, and being set up as the political narrative, through the commeration of “genocide of the tutsi.”

      That is a ghastly. The fact that Kagame says ethnicity does not exist, but changed the name from Rwandan genocide to genocide of the Tutsi. People don’t realize, political narrative is not about logic, its about inclusion. The genocide that not happen over night and Hutu’s are not more monsters than Tutsi. A genocide of Hutu happened in 72 in Burundi. The first democratically elected president of Burundi was killed in 93 by Tutsi military and than just one year later the president who replaced him, was killed in the same plane with Habyarimina.

      All are victims. The average Hutu in Rwanda feared the RPF was going to do the same to them. It was not hard for the exlusive Hutu Akazu clan political elite to use this history to scare the Hutu people so they can maintain their power for their own Akazu clan benefit. The history itself was very persausive.

      Those Hutu how did not delve into this “reasonable fear” where killed by hundreds of thousands, with their Tutsi brethen. RPF comes in and many of their army men kill hundreds of thousand more innocent Hutu in Rwandan and East Congo. At the end of the day innocent Hutu and Tutsi are killed close to a million.

      On top of that paranoid common Hutu who feared through manipulation and some logically sense making that a Tutsi RPF military was going to come and commit genocide on them and install a killer Tutsi military regime like in Burundi , they also begin victims of history of the region.

      This is not Germany, and the Tutsi are not Jews. Jews did not use to rule Germany, Jews did not invade and rule Germany. This is not Afghanistan. The RPF is preceding over a nation seeped in a region with a history of Tutsi domniation and repression, superiority complex and Hutu subjection. Which continues until 15 years ago in Burundi, which resulted in genocide in Burundi and the deaths of close to a million Tutsi and Hutu, which resulted in genocide in Rwanda and the death of over a million innocent Tutsi and Hutu.

      This is the problem the RPF faces in their memoralizing the tragedy of 94 and incapulating it in a nutshell of genocide of Tutsi. It excludes the death of half, if not more of humanity during that time, that is its own citizens. It hads the origin of Hutu anger and Tutsi suspicsion under coercive legal threats of “genocide ideology or denial” as if history and the death of a gross amount of innocent Hutu does not have a right to stand next to what happened to innocent Tutsi in 94 as a memorial and a way to renew Rwanda.

      Ironically, in this white washing of Rwandan history (which would explain the genocide and thus humanize the average Hutu who participated in it), a whitewashing which leads to Tutsi looking at Hutu as some kind of sub-human villians, as if this fear came from nowhere, and in the RPF exclusively memorializing the death of Tutsi to the absence of the death of innocent Hutu, the RPF is sadly sowing the seed of future Hutu extremism.

  10. Thanks Jean for sharing this article from the Independant.
    As for Mr Eric Brown’s spirited response I have no choice but to respectfully suggest that Mr Brown should choose between being a Human Rights advocate OR an anti-RPF political activist.
    Am I the only one here to think that his comments undoubtedly (and disturbingly!) belong to the latter category?

    I will come to every one of his 8 points soon. Just felt I had to express my preliminary views at this point
    Please do not censure this sir.

    • Dear Patrick,

      Have no fear. Every comment on this blog is published. Human Rights Activists are always accused of being politically anti systems that suppress human rights. Once the RPF stops killing people by the millions and starts respecting human rights including allowing legitimate political opposition, once the RPF stops using a human catastrophe such as the Rwandan genocide to justify stifling individual human rights, I am very sure that I will only have praise for them. By the way, I am hoping that day comes sooner than later. I am looking forward to debating my points with you.

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