Hate media, violence, dehumanizing opponents, acts of terrorism, cynical apologies for violence, threats, and the quest to remain in power at all cost were some of the elements leading up to the Rwandan Genocide in 1994. Today, we are seeing similar behavior and talk coming from Rwanda. Politics have become interesting lately, to say the least. Since the return of Rwandan opposition leader Mrs. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza on January 16, 2010, a refugee for 16 years, the Rwandan government has found itself in unusual territory and an awkward situation. Constantly on the defensive, the government created a number of high profile blunders. The language coming out of Rwanda is eerily similar to that of pre-genocide Rwanda. Let’s hope that cooler heads prevail and that the end is the opposite of what we saw sixteen years ago.
Upon her return, Mrs. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza visited the genocide memorial at Gisozi and pronounced that the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis as well as the perpetrators of crimes against humanity against Hutus should all be brought to justice. This did not sit well with Rwanda’s elite of the ruling party, the RPF. No Rwandans inside the country have ever so loudly demanded that crimes committed by the RPF and Rwandan president Paul Kagame’s troops be prosecuted. Make no mistake, the RPF committed major atrocities against both the Hutus and Tutsis of Rwanda. Anyone who does not believe this fact is either not informed enough, or a cynical RPF and Kagame apologist. This demand for justice by Mrs. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza infuriates the Rwanda government for many reasons.
One of the reasons this puts the Rwandan government in a quagmire is that not only did the RPF troops led by General Paul Kagame commit these crimes against humanity, they have also been able to keep Rwandans silent about this. In Rwanda, it is taboo to talk about ethnicity. Everyone is Munyarwanda or Rwandan. Ironically, the Rwandan government has changed the term “Rwandan Genocide” to “Genocide against the Tutsi’s”. On one hand Rwandans are supposed to be Rwandas only but the genocide was not committed against Rwandans, it was committed against Tutsis. However, no one in Rwanda can question such illogical tripe lest they are accused of being “genocidaires”, “genocide deniers”, “genocide negationists”, or “divisionists” or all of the above. When I visit Rwanda, people talk to me in whispers with much trepidation while continuously scanning their surroundings. However, Mrs. Ingabire Umuhoza’s remarks must hit home with the RPF officials. The truth hurts and if prosecutable, it makes them nervous. Mrs. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza’s comments, if echoed by millions of Rwandans will bring President Paul Kagame and his cronies to their knees.
Reason number two is that it threatens the Rwandan government’s biggest diplomatic tool: the Rwandan Genocide. Rwanda has continuously used the guilt of genocide to get their way with the international community. Anytime President Kagame is on the defensive, he goes on the attack and blames everyone for not doing anything during Rwanda’s dark hour. This method has proved successful because international community members are quickly silenced. In Rwanda, it has also proven to be a strong tool to silence opposition. When Rwandans makes a critical comment of the government, they are quickly blamed of taking part in the genocide and they are jailed. If not implicated directly in the genocide, they are punished using ambiguous laws related to the genocide. These include laws of “divisionism” and “genocide ideology”. Good luck figuring out what these laws mean and how they are defined or when they are applied. Anything that criticizes the government can be prosecuted under these laws.
Upon hearing the remarks by Mrs. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, government officials along with pro government media started a smear campaign against the first woman to announce her intentions to run for president. As usual with any critics of the government, she was accused of divisionism and genocide ideology. They called for her to be prosecuted. They sent people to follow her and monitor her every move. On February 3, she was summoned to the Kinyinya government office by Mr. Shema; the local government leader. She was called to receive official documents. Upon her arrival at the office with her assistant Mr. Joseph Ntawangundi they were attacked by a mob. Mrs. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza managed to escape unharmed, although her purse carrying her passport was stolen and returned by police days later. Mr. Joseph Ntawangundi was beaten by the mob for about 45 minutes, stripped of his clothes and his glasses stolen. He sustained injuries that required a visit to intensive care. The police on the scene did not intervene and Mr. Shema did not attempt to call for help for Mr. Ntawangundi. On February 5,The New Times, a pro government newspaper reported that Mr. Ntawangundi had been sentence to Nineteen years of prison in absentia by a Gacaca court (courts where no one is trained in the area of laws that prosecute genocide). Go figure.
According to a statement from the FDU Inkingi, Mr. Ntawangundi left Rwanda in 1993 and never returned until 2010. This means he was not in Rwanda in 1994. However, Gacaca courts’ incompetence is a discussion for another day. A day after the report, Mr. Ntawangundi was seized and jailed. In the media, the Rwandan police first tried to justify the well coordinated mob attack by saying that the mob was angry about the victims’ politics. This would be a funny explanation if it wasn’t for the fact that an actual attack on real human beings occured. The police later changed their story saying that Mrs. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza and Mr. Ntawangundi skipped the long line and angered the crowd.
As if it was not enough, the media preaching hate for Mrs. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza began to call her IVU (translated in English as ashes). The pro government New Times repeatedly called her IVU similar to the way the genocidaires called Tutsis INYENZI (cockroaches) in 1994 to dehumanize them. During the same period, President Kagame had a press conference where he threatened that laws will do their work after the honeymoon (referring to her recent return to Rwanda). Doing work is also a term that was used by the genocidaires in 1994 meaning to kill. In this case, there is no doubt that President Kagame was referring to the earlier mentioned ambiguous genocide laws. Sure enough, Mrs. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza was summoned to the police to answer to charges of “divisionism” and “genocide ideology”. Surprise surprise. She has been summoned a second time to answer to these charges again.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ntawangundi is in prison and the police continues to harass Mrs. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza. The Green Party and other opposition has been denied official authorization to meet because the notary in the office is on maternity leave. This is awfully similar to the events leading up to the genocide when administrative unwillingness led to the transitional government forming. Meanwhile, the Rwandan senate continues to harrass Mr. Bernard Ntaganda of PS-Imberakuri with accusations of divisionism. In their desperate attempt to hold on to power, the Rwandan government is stopping at nothing out of all options. Now, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty Internation and other human rights organizations are calling for it to loosen its tight grips on the freedom and rights of the citizens of the country. Knowing that they have killed 5 million people in neighboring Congo it would not be surprising if they killed others in masses in their desperate attempt to hold on to power and avoid facing justice for their crimes.
On night of Friday January 20, three grenade explosions occured in Kigalin in three separate places. Various reports put the initial toll at one death and eighteen injured. The explosions were in public places including a building that houses several businesses, a bus station (such places are very crowded anywhere in African countries), and a restaurant. Indeed this act of terrorism is very cowardly but not unusual in Rwanda. In the period leading up to the genocide in 1994, there were deadly grenade and bomb blasts on a regular basis. The Rwandan government must ensure security for all of its citizens. Recent events though tend to point at the government of Rwanda having a hand in this as in the previous incidents of violence against the opposition. It is also curious that these events are taking place in the midst of political issues where the Rwandan government has found itself in the midst of politically motivated violence, imprisonment, and violence.
It appears to be a difficult period to be a Rwandan, especially a Rwandan who dares stand up against President Kagame. Let us hope those who stood by while a million were killed in Rwanda and while five million died in Congo will now rise to the occasion and make sure that it never happens again. Is kagame and the rpf preparing a genocide?