Rwanda: Political oppression or insurance of civil stability

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US-based Human Rights Watch has accused Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame of attacking and intimidating his critics in the run-up to Augusts’ presidential election, but President paul Kagame insists he is trying to keep Rwanda peaceful and stable.

On Wednesday, one of President Kagame’s strongest opposition Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza was arrested on charges that include working in partnership with a terrorist organization and denying the genocide.

Ms. Ingabire’s residence had been surrounded by heavily armed security forces. The once exiled politician had complained that she had been hassled since her return from exile in January. In May, one of her aides was reportedly jailed.

The opposition party, the Unified Democratic Forces has called her arrest illegal and demands her immediate release. However, President Kagame who insists he respects human rights but will never tolerate anyone undermining peace and stability in Rwanda has dismissed the accusations as mere rumors.

According to the Jurist Legal Intelligence report on Rwanda, the largely Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), after its military victory in July 1994 became the principal political force and controls the military and the government of National Unity in Rwanda.

In the past, opposition parties such as the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND) were outlawed along with other pro-genocide Hutu political parties. Although all political parties are represented within the Transitional National Assembly, policies are influenced greatly by President Kagame and the RPF.

Former President of Rwanda, Pasteur Bizimungu [First president after the genocide, a moderate Hutu] became increasingly critical of the RPF regime and was ousted in March 2000. He attempted to form an opposition party, but was not allowed to do so and was imprisoned 2002–07 for treason.

Human rights groups noted the subsequent disappearances of political figures associated with the opposition parties, including at least one parliamentarian serving in the National Assembly.

In 2003, the RPF regime held its first elections. Kagame was elected president with 95% of the vote, facing no real opposition. Meanwhile the RPF won a landslide victory in the assembly elections, with opposition parties being banned until just before polling began.

President Kagame commanded the (RPF) rebel army that ended the genocide and has been a driving force in Rwandan politics ever since. He is viewed by many political observers as autocratic.

As an English-speaking Tutsi with some U.S. training, he has insisted on material and financial support for repairing Rwanda’s infrastructure with a guiding philosophy of self-reliance.

Though elected, he rules like an authoritarian. But in his emphasis on self-reliance he is driven by capitalism, pride, indigenous traditions, and a prickly nationalism that insists on finding its own path to success.

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