Political Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda

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Filip Reyntjens is a first-class historian and writer who pays attention to Rwanda. His works are invaluable for coming to grips with the present state of the nation as well as its recent past. Political Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda is his latest work and I just finished reading it.

Reyntjens does an admirable job of outlining the nature of the dictatorial Paul Kagame regime. While the central event of Rwandan history that most Westerners are familiar with is the 1994 genocide, its subsequent history of repression is equally horrifying. As Reyntjens puts it, “After failing Rwanda in 1994, the international community did so again in 2003 by allowing a dictatorship to take hold.”

Reyntjens shows that any semblance of democracy in Rwanda is a facade, “Rwanda is a strong case of hegemonic authoritarianism, where under the guise of seemingly regular elections in a multiparty context the polls do not perform any meaningful function other than consolidating a dictatorship.” He cites Jens Meierhenrich, who “…noted that “[ i]nstead of inaugurating constitutional democracy, the 2003 presidential and parliamentary elections paved the way for constitutional dictatorship” (J. Meierhenrich, “Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in Rwanda, 2003”, Electoral Studies, 25: 3 [2006], p.   633).”

One glaring example of this facade is the former Vice President of the Democratic Green Party in Rwanda. As Reyntjens recounts, “The vice-president of the DGP André Rwisereka was assassinated on July 13, 2010; his nearly beheaded body was found near Butare. Although the police suggested that he was the victim of armed robbery, the president of his party stated that he, along with Rwisereka, had received death threats.” This looks even darker when you consider the ruling RPF party’s oath of allegiance:

Rwisereka was a former RPF member, who had become a “traitor.” The way in which he was killed could have been a macabre reminder of the RPF’s oath of allegiance: “I solemnly swear before the men that I will work for the RPF family [“ umuryango wa FPR”], that I will always defend its interests, and that, if I divulge its secrets, I will be decapitated like any other traitor” (A.   J. Ruzibiza, Rwanda. L’histoire secrète, Paris, Editions du Panama, 2005, p.   65). This formula was confirmed to this author by several other (former) members of the RPF.

There is no space outside the purview of the ruling party, including that of churches:

Churches were also forced to select leaders that were acceptable to the regime. On the way in which the regime established its dominance over religious groups, see T. Longman, “Limitations to Political Reform. The Undemocratic Nature of Transition in Rwanda”, in S. Straus, L. Waldorf (Eds.), Remaking Rwanda. State Building and Human Rights after Mass Violence, Madison, The University of Wisconsin Press, 2011, p.  28.

This regime controls the nation down to the household level. For example:

In a sector where he conducted field research, Sommers noted that officials kept files on every household. These forms were very detailed and contained what an official called “everything that people are supposed to be doing.” “Obligations” are enforced by local-level fines. According to a local observer, the annual cost of these “obligations” amounted to more than US $ 200, more than the annual revenue of an average Rwandan. The centralized nature of “decentralization” was made clear by the fact that the performance contracts (imihigo) to be implemented at umudugudu (village) level came from the Ministry of Local Government supposedly in charge of decentralization.

Internal spying is rampant on both Rwandan citizens and foreigners:

Forced into being the “eyes and ears” of the regime, everyone spies on everyone: people suggested that there is an official, trained spy per organization and perhaps per office and that all newcomers are assigned someone to watch them.

The observant visitor to Rwanda notices this spying:

“Was the same Rwandan man reading a thin Rwandan newspaper in three consecutive restaurants where I held meetings one afternoon in Kigali spying on me (when I asked the waitress in the third restaurant to offer him a beer for me, the man abruptly left)?” (M. Sommers, Stuck. Rwandan Youth and the Struggle for Adulthood, Athens, GA, and London, University of Georgia Press, 2012, p. 51).

Rwandan Hutus have defense mechanisms to deal with this spying, as you might expect in any Police State:

“You go into a cabaret (local bar) and you hear someone ask ‘do you have a piece of paper?’ Asking for paper is a signal that a Tutsi has just come in and that they should change the topic of conversation” (E. Zorbas, “What Does Reconciliation”, p. 130).

However, many foreign observers are clueless as to the true nature of the regime, “A former police officer who was asked to assess the effectiveness of reforms in the justice system told Human Rights Watch, “You can’t understand. You see what’s on paper but you don’t know the truth. (.  .  .) You foreigners are easily tricked” (Human Rights Watch, Law and Reality, p. 44).”

Reyntjens says, “Despite its civilian appearance, Rwanda is an army with a state rather than a state with an army, and it is effectively run by a military regime.” In fact, “The central place taken by the military and intelligence services allowed one analyst to call Rwanda a “securocracy.” There is an external system and a shadow system:“[t]he administrative chain of authority – from the office of the President, to the hills – is under control of an omnipresent security apparatus, which shadows the official system.”

Paul Kagame is a killer both in his role as President and in a very literal sense:

“Investigations by the Spanish Audiencia Nacional offer other examples, as well as finding that, on or around May 12, 1994, Kagame personally killed between thirty and forty unarmed civilians using a 12.70 millimeter gun (Audiencia Nacional, Juzgado central de instrucción numero cuarto, 6 February 2008, p. 136).”

Kagame’s regime not only kills Rwandans and neighboring Congolese, but the occasional foreigner as well:

Not just Rwandans, but foreigners who witnessed killings and were suspected of informing international opinion, were targeted: among the victims of RPA killings were Canadian priest Claude Simard on October 17, 1994; three Spanish volunteers of the NGO Médicos del mundo on January 19, 1997; Canadian priest Guy Pinard on February 2, 1997; Spanish priest Joaquim Vallmajó on April 26, 1997; Belgian school director Griet Bosmans on April 27, 1997; Croatian priest Curic Vjecko on October 31, 1998; and Spanish priest Isidro Uzcudun Pouso on June 10, 2000.

Given the nature of the regime and its crimes, why is the West such a willing accomplice? Reyntjens says that this silence implicates the West in Paul Kagame’s crimes:

However, these crimes are well documented and were known at the time they were committed, which means that the international community in general, and the regime’s main sponsors in particular (the United States, the United Kingdom, and the EU), carry a heavy responsibility in their repeated occurrence.

He quotes S. Brown as saying, “Western donors (.  .  .) are complicit to the institutionalization of authoritarian rule and help undermine the same long-term goals that they profess to support.”

Real pressure from the West might actually accomplish something because Rwanda is very dependent on Western aid:

Rwanda is a small, landlocked, and extremely dependent country without much of a real economy. On average during the post-1994 period, it relied on international aid for about 25 percent of its GDP and for more than 50 percent of its budget.

When the reckoning finally does come, the West will have blood on its hands:

If and when he is prosecuted (or overthrown), this will be a major embarrassment to those – in politics, academia, the press or the business community ‒ who have given him a red-carpet treatment for so many years.[…]
“to the extent that donors fund and legitimize the government, they can be considered in part responsible for serious problems that will probably result from the government policies that they support.”

This book is a great place to begin if you want to understand modern Rwanda and its politics. Books like this should be required reading for NGO workers and other Western do-gooders who know very little about Rwanda.

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