Burundi has received far greater vilification from the West compared to Rwanda which has supported rebels in neighbouring countries and whose government is accused of widespread assassinations and forced disappearances targeting the opposition and the media. Burundi appears to provide perfect cover for the odious Kigali regime and its backers abroad.
As Burundian voters went to the polls on Tuesday, the U.S. State Department warned that “elections held under the current conditions in Burundi will not be credible and will further discredit the government.” It also said it planned to suspend partnerships that it hasn’t already suspended with “anyone promoting instability in Burundi through violence.”
Will those “promoting instability through violence” include the renegade Burundian military officers who staged a failed coup attempt in May, then fled to Rwanda and declared war on Burundi? Will it include Rwandan military and political support for a rebel force?
And why did the State Department accept the “credibility” of the presidential election in Rwanda, Burundi’s neighbour and ethnic twin, in 2010?
Aug. 9 will mark the fifth anniversary of that 2010 Rwandan presidential election. When it was announced that the U.S. and U.K. would send election observers that year, Rwandan American legal scholar Charles Kambanda, a former member of Kagame’s ruling party, told KPFA Radio that there was nothing to observe.
“We’re not talking about the election day,” he said. “We are not talking about a few hours after elections or before elections. We are looking at the entire social, political environment before, during and after the elections. Anybody who has been following involvements in Rwanda knows that it is impossible to have free and fair elections, so why do people seriously think of going there to observe elections?
“Which elections are they going to observe? There is NOTHING to be observed because what we have is a one-man show. What we have is a situation where they have created the so-called opposition. RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) has kicked out all the potential political opposition leaders. They are either in prison or they are already dead or in exile.”
Victoire Ingabire attempted to stand for the presidency in Rwanda in 2010. She has been in prison since, and prison authorities have refused to let her meet with the lawyers preparing her appeal to the African Court of Human and People’s Rights.
Victoire Ingabire tried to run for president in 2010. She was not quite in prison by election day, but she had, since April 1, been under house arrest, forbidden to leave Rwanda’s capital to speak with the country’s rural, subsistence farming majority.
She was finally imprisoned on Oct. 14, 2010, two weeks after the release of the U.N. Mapping Report on Human Rights Abuse in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 1993-2003, which documented Kagame’s army’s atrocities in Congo and said that an international court of law would likely rule that they included genocide – meaning the ethnic massacre of Rwanda Hutu refugees and Congolese Hutus.
No such international criminal tribunal has ever been convened.
An international criminal defense attorney traveled to Rwanda in May to defend Victoire Ingabire while she was still under house arrest, but he was thrown in prison for “denying” Rwanda’s constitutionally codified, legally enforced genocide history.
Victoire Ingabire remains behind bars today, convicted and sentenced to 15 years on preposterous charges of terrorism, urging Rwandans to rise up against their government, and “genocide ideology,” which means challenging President Paul Kagame, the Rwandan government or the constitutionally codified, legally enforced genocide history.
Last week Victoire’s party reported that prison authorities have refused to let her meet with the lawyers preparing her appeal to the African Court of Human and People’s Rights, have confined her in harsher isolation, and have even taken away her books and hymnals.
Bernard Ntaganda, another 2010 presidential contender, was sentenced to four years in prison long before the polls for organizing an illegal gathering, “threatening state security” and “inciting ethnic divisions.” Regarding those ethnic divisions, Ntaganda had actually said: “The problem in Rwanda is not Tutsi. The problem is not Hutu. The problem is a small group of people, a small group of people who have between their hands all power, government power. They have the wealth. And they have the majority of Rwandese, who are very poor.”
Deo Mushayidi, former president of the Rwandan Journalists Association, was sentenced to life in prison after a summary trial way ahead of the polls in 2010. Mushayidi is a Tutsi who lost his entire family in the Rwandan massacres.
Rwandan journalists Agnes Uwimana and Saidath-Mukakibibi were imprisoned ahead of the polls for writing a series of articles that criticized President Kagame and other officials and, like Victoire Ingabire, challenged Rwanda’s constitutionally codified, legally enforced genocide history.
There was no credible investigation of the June 25, 2010, murder of Rwandan journalist Jean Leonard Rugambage or of the July 14, 2010, murder of Rwandan Green Party Vice President Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, whose body was found beheaded by the banks of Rwanda’s Makula River.
Nor has there ever been any Web accessible report of any investigation into the July 15, 2010 murder of international criminal defense lawyer and University of Dar Es Salaam professor Jwani Mwaikusa. Professor Mwaikusa was at the time preparing his client’s appeal to the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda’s Appeals Chamber.
During the 2010 World Cup festivities in Johannesburg, South Africa, a team of assassins shot former Rwandan Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa in front of his home, then followed an ambulance to a hospital, where they tried and failed again to kill him before being arrested.
Rwandans died in grenade explosions, as they have in Burundi, but after the Aug. 9 polls, Rwanda’s Election Commission announced that Kagame had won a thoroughly implausible 93 percent of votes cast. The U.S. and the rest of the “international community” blessed the results and turned their attention elsewhere.
Enemies of the Rwandan government have since been assassinated, disappeared and threatened with death or deportation in Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, Kenya, Europe and Canada. A 2012 U.N. Group of Experts report said that Rwanda’s defense minister, who reports, of course, to President Paul Kagame, was at the top of the chain of command of the M23 militia guilty of mass atrocities and the displacement of another million people in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Nevertheless, U.S. Rwandan military partnership has been strengthened, U.S. and U.K. aid to Rwanda has continued to flow, and though Kagame is not so secure in the West as before 2010, he has never been subjected to anything like the vilification now heaped on Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza. No matter how violent and lawless Burundian coup plotters and rioters are, the U.S., the E.U., most of the Western press and even U.N. human rights investigators blame it all on President Pierre Nkurunziza.
Nkurunziza is damned for seeking a third term in office, even though that is exactly what Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Congolese President Joseph Kabila have already done. Both Kagame and Kabila were, like Nkurunziza, appointed to their first terms and both went on to claim the constitutional right to be elected twice by universal suffrage, amidst harrowing election violence and media and political repression, but without protest by the U.S.
Now there’s a raft of bogus headlines about Kagame’s “consultations on his third term,” which is really his fourth. Kagame was appointed in 2000 and elected, reportedly, by universal suffrage in 2003 and 2010. That will make Kagame’s next term his fourth, and of course he’s on his way to a forever term by abolishing term limits. Grim as that may be, however, why is the discussion of Rwanda and Burundi so dominated by term limits?
Isn’t it more important that Victoire Ingabire and Deo Mushayidi remain in prison in Rwanda, that Rwanda is harboring renegades who’ve declared war on Burundi and that the U.S. is trying to oust another popular Hutu president? I’ve not heard anyone deny that Pierre Nkurunziza is hugely popular with Burundi’s very poor, rural, Hutu peasant majority. The Burundian opposition, whose voices have been so amplified by the international press, simply leave the country’s very poor rural majority out of their conversation.
The danger of mass violence is no doubt great, but why is the West blaming it all on President Pierre Nkurunziza? Shouldn’t we instead stop and reflect on the assassination of three Hutu presidents that turned the African Great Lakes Region into the killing ground it became in the 1990s? Burundian President Melchior Ndadaye in 1993, Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira in 1994. No one has ever been prosecuted for the catastrophic murders of Presidents Habyarimana and Ntaryamira, and the region’s deep wounds remain unhealed.
The BBC documentary “Rwanda’s Untold Story” exposed some of the lies told about Rwanda and the African Great Lakes Region since1994. “The Deluge,” a film about genocide and the plunder of Central Africa, aims to bring much more of the truth to light. To see how you can support this film in progress, visit the website, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75po4B0NWK0
* Oakland writer Ann Garrison writes for the San Francisco Bay View, Black Agenda Report, Black Star News, Counterpunch and her own website, Ann Garrison, and produces for AfrobeatRadio on WBAI-NYC, KPFA Evening News, KPFA Flashpoints and for her own YouTube Channel, AnnieGetYourGang. She can be reached at [email protected] In March 2014 she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for promoting peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa through her reporting. This article was previously published in Francisco Bay View.
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