In the 20 years since genocide, Rwanda’s government has fostered the appearance of national progress while focusing its machinations on concentrating power along ethnic lines. Rwanda has not reached reconciliation, healing, or equality, increasing its risk of another round of national upheaval.
On the 4 July, Rwanda's sole ruling party, the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), celebrated Liberation Day. On the first of July, Rwanda should have celebrated its independence from Belgian colonial rule slightly over five decades ago. And on 7 April, amid pomp and circumstance, the RPF and its dear leader, Paul Kagame, commemorated twenty years after the genocide of 1994.
During such events, ordinary Rwandans are harassed and coerced to turn up in tens of thousands to celebrate RPF's ‘achievements’. They are forced to listen and clap to Kagame's now familiar vitriolic monologues in which he denounces those he falsely labels RPF's ‘disloyal’, ‘corrupt’ and ‘genocidal’ enemies.
For the majority of Rwandans, liberation, independence and ‘never again’ have just become slogans empty of meaning. For the freedom fighters of 1959(MDR-PARMEHUTU) and 1990(RPF) who shed their blood, millions of Rwandans who perished during these periods and since then, their deaths have been in vain. 4 July, 1 July and 7April have lost the promise enshrined in the revolutions that defined these periods, and have been turned into deceptive rituals to display the national flag, sing the national anthem and intimidate Rwandans into silence and inaction.
Paul Kagame's and RPF's 20 year rule has been overall a reign of terror characterized by a distorted and deceptive narrative that criminalizes Hutu in particular and all his opponents in general; over-reliance on violence and war-making nationally and regionally; ‘Tutsi-fication’ of the leadership of the military while eliminating real and potential competitors; transformation of the ruling RPF into a rubber stamp to enforce his will while eliminating real or perceived contenders to power; usurping and over-centralization of legislative, executive and judiciary powers; closure of political space for political parties, civil society, independent media and intellectual activity; personal control of a financial empire that is spread across public and private sectors; and a mindset of a serial killer and mass murderer who relentlessly acts with impunity.
RPF claims progress on the socio-economic front. Given the destruction of genocide, civil war and the destruction of 1994, it is significant. However, RPF built on previous achievements of the Kayibanda and Habyarimana regimes. It did not start from scratch. Rwanda's kings who ran the nation for centuries, and the colonialists who ran it for six decades, have a claim on the aggregate of Rwanda's achievements. Moreover, Rwanda's development is too dependent on massive inflows of foreign aid, and therefore not sustainable because, among other things, it is not broad based. The inequality rate in Rwanda is one of the highest in the world, with rural populations benefitting little and economic resources concentrated in the hands of a Tutsi clique around President Kagame and his family, and the capital city, Kigali. In deadly conflicts that have defined Rwanda's post-colonial order, even the modest economic progress registered over the years is swiftly undone when Rwanda descends into chaos and mayhem.
Most importantly, Rwanda's cyclical and destructive conflicts are not primarily about economic growth, though it is an important factor. The primary contradiction and risk factor in Rwanda is the structure and exercise of power, narrowly built around ethnic cliques. Control of the state ensures access to resources and, up to a certain limit, to survival. Ultimately, when the regime of the day is challenged sufficiently, it trips and the clique in power cannot protect itself or the ethnic group it claims to represent. That is the common experience of 1959, 1973, 1994 and, sadly, the upcoming scenario.
RPF stands at critical juncture, when it is all clear that it has chosen the path of another civil war and bloodshed. Not only has it wasted the sacrifices of many Rwandans, it has missed the opportunity to effect fundamental change in the aftermath of nationwide and regional trauma it contributed to and yet was incapable of orienting towards a genuinely transformative future.
Fundamental change in Rwanda must be structured around national unity that recognizes ethnic (and other) diversity; respect for fundamental human rights; democracy and the rule of law with Rwandan unique characteristics; growing and shared prosperity; and creating enabling conditions for peace, reconciliation and healing in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region.
It is possible to achieve such evolutionary change, through a negotiated and peaceful process. It is now the eleventh hour. President Paul Kagame and the RPF have rejected this evolutionary and peaceful pathway. By resorting to killing and jailing the proponents of peace and closing political space, the Kigali regime is tripping Rwanda beyond the tipping point, into a violent revolutionary process with many unknowns. Judging from the past, each successive round of violence is more destructive than the previous one, since the protagonists are aware that the stakes are extremely high.
The only definitive prediction is that history will justly and very harshly judge Kagame and the RPF, the losers in the looming revolutionary upheaval.
Until now, the winners in Rwanda's revolutionary contests take it all, and the losers suffer in humiliation and defeat. The winners of the current contest must stop, once and for all, this vicious cycle. To do that, they will have to be magnanimous in victory, re-imagine a common future for all Rwandans and reinvent options for authentic reconciliation and healing at last.
* Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa was President Paul Kagame’s Chief of Staff, Rwanda’s Ambassador to the United States, and Secretary General of Rwanda’s ruling party, RPF. He is currently the Coordinator of Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and the author of ‘Healing A Nation: A Testimony’
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