Home Special Reports Silencing The Noisy Critics In Rwanda

Silencing The Noisy Critics In Rwanda

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President Paul Kagame (L) speaks to Prime Minister Anastase Murekezi during Umushyikirano 2015. Kagame promised that Rwanda would see “less and less” of what it is criticized for

Ngabo Jean Marie was ‘kidnapped’ on the streets of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in DR Congo. The assailants were right on time – Ngabo had just been paid $2,300 by a Congolese partner after delivering sacks of peas and food items. Ngabo surfaced a day later on August 18, 2014 at the Goma-Rubavu border with wounds.

Ngabo was only a single individual from a long list of Rwandans who went missing, killed or attacked in different parts of DRC. Congolese – the ordinary people and government, have for years accused Rwanda of fomenting the war and carnage that has raged in their country. Western governments, media and NGOs went with the chorus.

The Congolese hated Rwandans so much that when a fake news item published in France on January 10, 2014 claimed that President Paul Kagame had died, there was an explosion of celebration in many cities. There was little contact between Kinshasa and Kigali. There was no promise that sour relations between the two countries would calm down. DRC reintroduced visa fees on all Rwandans. But then suddenly, ordinary Rwandans and Congolese are best of friends – and the governments are having endless meetings.

So what changed? While officially opening the Umushyikirano in December 2015, President Kagame told delegates that there was no problem accepting advice or criticism from any quarter because it could benefit us.

“Statements that acknowledge our good results while depicting Rwandans as people incapable of either thought or feeling are not critical, they are deliberately abusive,” added Kagame. “We listen, pay attention and put it where it belongs.”

More was yet to come. The President had turned from Kinyarwanda to English. “You will see less of what we have been criticized for, if what we have been criticized for has been fair, honest and true,” he noted.

DRC President Joseph Kabila (3rd Right) received by President Paul Kagame (center) at Rubavu district Grande barriere. Kabila had last been in Rwanda on official visit in August 2009

The Superstar in Kinshasa

Twelve months down the road, KT Press has documented policy changes and programs implemented that clearly point to President Kagame’s statement. Some had been implemented even before the maiden speech.

Back in DRC, the unthinkable has happened. Rwandan soccer striker Ernest Sugira is so popular that Congolese attend matches just to see him. In May this year, Sugira signed a US$120,000 deal with AS Vita Club.

However, in May 2016, when President Kagame unveiled KivuWatt Power Plant that extracts methane gas from Lake Kivu that spreads into DRC, said, “To our neighbours and friends, if you wish to put the plant to scale to serve both Rwanda and DRC, you are most welcome.”

Rwanda was also gearing up to host the 27th African Union summit in July 2016. President Joseph Kabila attended and his host President Kagame were seen talking deeply. Their discussion was evidently up to something big.

Exactly, one month after the AU Summit and without announcing via media, President Kagame drove to Rubavu border city. President Kabila also walked into Rwanda where a red carpet was rolled down for him. The two leaders held discussions on several bilateral issues and later President Kagame drove Kabila back to the Border.

Rwanda and DRC signed a free trade deal – the Comesa Simplified Trade Regime (STR). Under STR deal adjacent country members of the Comesa) agree on a list of commonly traded goods to be exempt from import duty when traded in either country. Since 2009, DRC had refused to sign this agreement yet about 45,000 traders operate across the border.

According to statistics from the National Institute of Statistics, DRC accounted for 75.63% share of Rwanda’s total re-exports in the first quarter of 2016. DRC also accounts for 65.8% of Rwanda’s total informal cross border exports.

Rwanda’s striker Ernest Sugira (R) signed a two-year contract with AS Vita Club of DRC

Wooing the critics home

In January when Rwanda hosted Chan2016 – Africa’s largest football tournament, Congolese fans were driven in new buses from the border up to stadiums. DRC eliminated Rwanda 2-1 in the quarter-finals.

Evode Uwizeyimana while exiled in Canada said it all about the government in Kigali. The BBC and VOA had him as their point man for analysis on happenings in Rwanda. Contrary voices allege that the authorities in Kigali do not tolerate criticism. Today, Uwizeyimana is State Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs. He is not alone. The voices like his are lessening by the day.

“I am not ashamed of what I said,” is how he put it during Unity Club celebrations in early November. “At some point one realizes that what they say or do is useless and have to find an alternative. Whatever I said on BBC was my opinion. Indeed, I apologize for the inconvenience I may have caused.”

In August, cabinet announced a new reorganization for the security agencies. The police Criminal Investigations Department (CID) became independent and renamed Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB). The Rwanda Correctional Services (RCS) was shifted to Justice Ministry. The Police elite training college became the Rwanda Law Enforcement Academy – also operating under the ministry of Justice.

Under the previous arrangement, investigations and eventual prosecution had to go through a single channel – which created room for influence peddling and tampering, according to local observers. For example when police officers committed crimes, they would be investigated by their colleagues.

“The investigations agency should be independent from the arresting and prosecuting arms of law enforcement,” said Justice Minister Johnston Busingye while defending the changes in Parliament.

Police cannot keep any suspects beyond the stipulated 72 hours before they are produced in court. Suspects have been set free when it emerged in court their rights had been trampled upon in whatever manner.

The ICC? Well, NOT acceptable

With the ‘Abunzi Mediation’ system, cases whose compensation value is less than Rwf 3 million, are handled by these communal sessions – which lets people address their conflicts without resorting to litigation and other retributive approaches.

Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, has been one of those very vocal voices. When he planned visit to Rwanda in January 2014, indications that followed it suggested he expected not to be allowed into the country.

And when he got here, he never disappointed. In public meetings covered widely, he made his point. “It is true that Rwanda faces a challenge in this area due to the deep social divisions that remain after the genocide. But these are not insurmountable,” he said.

“There must be space within which these divisions can be discussed and grievances resolved without resorting to penal sanctions.”

Amid the noise, his hosts particularly Minister Johnstone Busingye and Rwanda Governance Board head Prof. Anastase Shyaka, constantly reminded him it had either been done or was in the process. But many of his outbursts were firmly rejected. The UN envoy made key recommendations to the Government of Rwanda. The authorities were also preparing for the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in October.

Then in March 2016 – some 3 months after Umushyikirano, during which government had reviewed the UPR report, Rwanda confirmed it would implement “to the letter” some 50 of the 83 recommendations from the UN Human Rights Council. Government informed the UN that the others would take time to bare fruits, but will be implemented. Kigali completely declined to support seven recommendations that were found not compatible with domestic laws and the Constitution.

However, Kigali pushed back on the idea of Rwanda signing onto the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court ICC.

From December 15-16, government officials,representatives from private sector and Diaspora will convene at Kigali Convention Centre for the 14th edition of Umushyikirano. As usual, the event will be broadcast live on state media with participation from the ordinary people via SMS, call-in and social media.

Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

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