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The dangerous act of Rwanda’s Parliament

With the decision by parliament to remove constitutional term limits to allow Kagame to rule for life, Rwanda has now entered a dangerous period of escalation. Anger, frustration, miscalculation, another wrong decision or unforeseen event could easily trigger another round of devastation.

The 14th of July 2015 will always be remembered as a day in infamy in Rwanda’s entire history. In a joint session of Parliament, legislators unanimously voted to remove term limits, thus paving the way for President Paul Kagame to rule for life. This deliberate and yet fateful decision by Rwanda’s rubber stamp parliament was preceded by the equally irresponsible and dangerous decision by the ruling Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) to abide by President Kagame’s will to remove the term limits. Equally cynical has been the manipulation and coercion of ordinary Rwandans to gather 3.7 million signatures demanding amendment of Article 101 of the Constitution to allow President Kagame to rule for life.

Following this familiar enactment and orchestration of “popular will” by the ruling party, the people and the parliament, the next logical sequence will be a referendum and 2017 elections. In both, a “landslide victory” is inevitable to conform to the will of President Kagame. The reader is reminded that both Rwanda’s houses of legislature (celebrated abroad for having the largest number of women!) are not elected by the people but nominated, either directly by President Kagame, or through the ruling party RPF which must execute his instructions.

The majority of Rwandans, Africans and those in the international community familiar with Rwanda’s tragic past are wondering why our country’s rulers are prone to commit the same costly mistakes.

During the last days of Rwanda’s Monarchy before the 1959 revolution, the Kayibanda regime before the 1973 military coup, the Habyarimana regime before its fall in 1994, and now the Kagame regime in its decline to an inevitable end, Rwanda’s ruling elites behave in similar fashion to varying degrees. They ignore the warning signs. They selfishly rally to the absolute ruler. They amplify their ethnic identity, threatening shock and doom for their “fellow Hutu” or “fellow Tutsi”. As the crisis gathers momentum, they demonize the “others” to appease the ego of the ruler. In their final days they may then try all sorts of dirty schemes, including total elimination of the “others”.

These end-game strategies and actions always fail to save the ancien regime. The narrow clique of political, military, business and social elite of the ancien regime become the losers in the violent contest that ensues. They then find themselves hunted, exiled, and at the mercy of the new political-military clique under a new hero-savior. The vicious cycle repeats itself as the stakes become higher with each successive round of cut-throat competition among the elites vying for power at all costs. The losses of one side are the gains of the other. This is the underlying cause of cyclical violent conflict in Rwanda, with the attendant refugee crises, genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and regional wars.

There are two additional factors to note in the cyclical pattern of violent conflict in Rwanda. The first is international, and the second, regional.

In their ascendancy to and maintenance of power, elite factions in Rwanda have always found foreign benefactors to help. From 1959 to 1994, Belgium and France helped the “Hutu” regimes under President Kayibanda and President Habyarimana. From 1994 to date, the United States and the United Kingdom emerged as the generous shield around the “Tutsi” regime of President Kagame. Yet, these regimes do finally falter and collapse despite this Western support, which is often wrongly accused as the source of Rwanda’s problems when things fall part.

Instability, death and destruction in Rwanda always have regional dimensions as well. Since 1994, the Kagame regime has sponsored instability and terror in the Great Lakes region, with far reaching consequence in the Democratic Republic of Congo where some six million have died, by some credible estimates. As the crisis in Burundi unravels and deepens, the Kagame regime’s disruptive arm is all too visible for those who care to see. The regime’s propensity to make enemies among fellow Africans is only surpassed by the apartheid regime of South Africa while it lasted.

Rwanda has now entered a dangerous period of escalation. Anger, emotion, frustration, miscalculation, another wrong decision or unforeseen event could easily be the powerful trigger to another series of catastrophic consequences.

The psychology of President Kagame leads us to a track record of taking very risky gambles without calculating the cost (the shooting down of the Habyarimana plane; the assassination of President Laurent Kabila and the wars and massive human rights abuses in DRC; fighting Ugandan troops in DRC; the imprisonment of President Pasteur Bizimungu; the imprisonment of FDU-Inking President Victoire Ingabire; the assassination of Seth Sendashonga; the Kibeho massacres; the assassination of Rwandan bishops; the diplomatic fall-out with South Africa after the assassination of Colonel Patrick Karegeya and failed assassination of General Kayumba Nyamwasa; his insults to Tanzania’s President Kikwete; his current proxy war in Burundi; his public denunciation of France, Spain, the United Kingdom and the West regarding the arrest of General Karenzi Karake in London, etc). The most likely scenario is that the regime will run full throttle to crown Kagame as Life President in 2017, irrespective of outcomes.

The Kagame regime has coerced ordinary and fearful Rwandans, used a rubber stamp ruling party, and a rubber stamp parliament to choose a path in which civil war, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity seem inevitable. He has ruled with, and gained from, impunity long enough to believe that he can always survive any calls for accountability. He believes that his reign must endure till death so that he may not face justice, even if many more millions of Rwandans and Africans must perish in the process.

All Rwandans must learn from their past. We all must rise and resist the dictatorial regime’s attempt to extend its illegitimate and unconstitutional mandate that has been characterized by horrendous human rights abuses and impunity; total closure to participation of independent political parties, civil society, media, and intellectual activity; sectarian security institutions; ethnic polarization; regional destabilization and absolute rule.

Africa and the international community must learn from past mistakes in Rwanda, and rise to the occasion to stop appeasing and supporting the Kagame regime while its institutions, including the parliament, become tools of undemocratic and unconstitutional rule. Instead, Rwandans must be helped to build a free, united, democratic, just, and prosperous nation that is as peace with itself and with its neighbors.

Rwandans, Africa and the international community must work together to deny the Kagame regime a chance to throw Rwanda into another hell of civil war and genocide.

* Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa, Coordinator of Rwanda National Congress (RNC), formerly held positions of RPF Secretary General (1993-1996), Ambassador of Rwanda to the United States (1996-1999), and Chief of Staff for President Paul Kagame (2000-2004). He has testified before French Judges Marc Trevidic and Natalie Poux in the investigation of the shooting down of the President Habyarimana plane in 1994, as well as before the Spanish Judge Fernando Andreu Merelles in the case in which General Karenzi Karake and others are indicted. He has authored ‘Healing A Nation’ and ‘Urgent Call’.



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