Rwanda’s Paul Kagame Tightens Hold on Power
AARON MATE: It’s the Real News, I’m Aaron Mate. Rwandan president Paul Kagame is in his third term of office after winning reelection last month. Kagame received a whopping 99% of the vote. His critics say he has held onto power through authoritarian means. His main political challenger, Diane Rwigara, was barred from running against him and this week was put in jail. Supporters say she’s being targeted as part of a crackdown on dissonance. Kagame has been in power for 17 years, but under the new rules could remain until 2034.
Claude Gatebuke is executive director for the African Great Lakes Action Network. Claude, welcome.
CLAUDE GATEBUKE: Thank you.
AARON MATE: Thanks for joining us. So set the scene for us and talk about Kagame’s reelection last month.
CLAUDE GATEBUKE: Kagame’s reelection with 99% of the vote. I think it … The score alone, 99%, speaks to the lack of [inaudible 00:01:11] in the “election” that Rwanda just held. I called it coronation process, because it was basically Paul Kagame running against Paul Kagame and either way Paul Kagame was gonna get almost 100% of the vote. And what he did in the process was not only bar his main challenger, Miss Diane Rwigara, which is very similar to what he did in 2010 when he also barred Victoire Ingabire from running, both who are women, from running, and harassed and disappeared some of the supporters. But this goes a long way back. He’s hanging onto power because he has to. He needs to for his own survival, and for his own self-preservation because of the way he came to power in Rwanda. He came through a war, he invaded the country, his soldier killed hundreds of thousands of people on their way to … During their four year war. And then, that war led to, it culminated into a genocide. The genocide took a million lives, and stamped another two million into exile.
And then, afterwards, he invaded the Congo, and committed more atrocities to the tune of six million innocent victims. So without presidential immunity, Paul Kagame has a risk of being prosecuted internationally. Also, his soldiers have already been … They already wanted. Some of the top military men in Rwanda are wanted internationally on international warrants for acts of terrorism and massacres that they committed both in Rwanda and the Congo, and he does not want to face the same fate. As a result, Paul Kagame who himself said in 2012 that it would be, and I’m quoting, “It would be a personal failure if I did not leave power in 2017 because I would have failed to groom a successor.” He did exactly that. He confirmed his personal failure by not only changing the Constitution, that would have stopped him from running in 2017, and he staged a referendum, a “referendum” that was rushed, it was done in one week and the political maneuvering resulted in the extension of his terms to the year 2034.
Now, consider the referendum, he won … He was confirmed at 98 point something %, almost 99%, just like the election, and it was recorded that only 10 people in a population of 10 million, opposed his running again. Now fast forward, two years later, he stages the election in which he harassed the opposition, he barred his main opponents … By the way, one of his opponents was actually barred from entering the country, which is Father Thomas Nahimana who had announced his presidential candidacy but was refused entry into the country twice. Then, fast forward, Diane Rwigara comes on the scene, is very popular, is popular with the media, is popular with the people, and they stopped her from running on the claim that she did not get enough signatures from the Rwandan people to run, even though she had almost doubled the number of signatures required.
Then, fast forward to this week. The same exact thing that happened to the last serious opponent to run against Kagame. She was attacked in her home by members of the security forces, her mother and her siblings all put in handcuffs. They searched the house, they took all the money out of the house. Cell phones, laptops, all means of communication and the documents, and they locked them up for a whole week. It wasn’t until earlier this week that they were produced in another … In a movie-like scene where the police showed up at the house with ladders and, and climbed over the fence, went inside, and arrested them officially, officially arrested them. The reason they’re being pursued, one is related to the election. The government is claiming that she forged some of the signatures that she got for her election qualification. The second is against the whole family, the family is a very wealthy family with a large business empire, and the government is claiming that they have evaded taxes and owe over six million dollars in taxes. And how convenient that this is all happening after she challenged him to the election. There was no issue with taxes last month, no issue with taxes last year, no issue with taxes two years ago, and never an issue with taxes and it’s just now starting today. Just like what happened seven years ago.
AARON MATE: Right, Claude. Okay. So I want to … If you can address two things. The first is that, from the outside, the way Rwanda is discussed, it does appear that Kagame has a considerable base of popular support inside his country. Is that a correct characterization? And the second thing is … I’m wondering if you can address, is that he also enjoys a great deal of Western support. When he’s talked about by the “international community,” he’s often described as being a force of stability inside of his country who helped raise the economy and get the country back on track after the genocide.
CLAUDE GATEBUKE: Yes. I will spend a little bit of time on the first one and a little bit more time on the second one. The first one is not something that can necessarily be taken seriously, because this is something that happens with every dictator. You look at any dictator in the past, and look at how popular they appear. People are walking in the middle of the night to [inaudible 00:08:15] and line up and travel miles to go to the rallies that Kagame is holding by the security forces and the local authorities. So people are forcing to go and to show support. The other is, if you think about, if you go to say the polls and you’re voting and you have a soldier out there looking at how you’re voting, what would you do? I think every person, a lot of people, would go ahead and vote for Kagame because they’re gonna suffer consequences for not doing that. But that is an appearance. When you look under the surface, just like the economic mirage, when you look under the surface people are very unhappy, and this is the reason why he does not allow serious opponents to run against him because he could actually lose. In a true election, he would lose.
On the second one, it is true that he enjoys a lot of international support. Part of it is justified by the claim that he stopped the genocide which I survived. I witnessed this genocide, I saw people and I can still hear people’s cries and screams for help. And the one thing that is conveniently left out by almost all international institutions including the court, the international criminal, that the ICTR and the ICC and all of the other international tribunals is the fact that he actually sparked the genocide by shooting down the plane of his predecessor. This is known. There is a BBC documentary called Rwanda Untold Stories that actually details from his own associate how he committed that act. He is invited on a recurring business to top American universities such as Yale and Harvard, he wines and dines with some of the global big men such as Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister, and US former president Bill Clinton.
He gets a lot of support, a lot of money, from both the United States and the United Kingdom. In fact, last year, the US sent almost a quarter billion dollars to Rwanda and this is only in disclosed aid. All of this justified under the guise that Rwanda is well-developed. If you look at just the city of Kigali, it is true that Rwanda looks a lot different than it looked in 1994 and before. Part of it is, of course, a function of time, technology and everything. Part of it is due to the efforts of the Rwandan people and what the Rwandan people have done to develop the country. But you look outside of Kigali, and you’ll see that people are still living in the same way that they lived in the 90s and the 80s. People are poor. Right now, Rwanda is experiencing a famine and no one is talking about that. 150 thousand people are threatened to death by this famine to the point that people have actually started exiting the country to seek greener pastures outside of the country.
There is also research that shows that some of the reports on economic development is actually fake. There was a British firm that was in charge of reporting Rwanda’s economic development and poverty reduction that pulled out, and refused to sign on the report on Rwanda having reduced poverty by 6% when in actuality, from their perspective, it showed that Rwanda was going backward and poverty had increased by 6%, so it was the opposite.
The other thing is, if you ever have a chance and read “The Last Journalist in a Dictatorship.” It’s a book by a journalist talking about how you have all these roads, all of these beautiful infrastructure but no one uses it. You have these roads and no one travels on those roads, because people are afraid. These are a façade, a show, for the tourists and those from the outside who show up in Rwanda and will visit Kigali for a day or two and leave with an impression that the rest of the country is the same way. The last thing I would like to add on that development piece, actually two this, is how was it achieved? One, on one hand, it was through foreign aid, but the other was through plundering the Congo, which Rwanda invaded in 1996 and occupied and still today continues to claim and support rebel groups inside of the Congo to loot and steal and plunder resources from the Congo. Rwanda exports [inaudible 00:13:27], which is a resource that Rwanda does not have in its soil, and it’s one of the highest exporters in the world.
The second piece is, what price are the Rwandan people paying for this great look of development? One is, poor people are rounded up, and you can find this in reports by human rights watch and other organizations that shows the Rwandan poor people are rounded up, put in jail, and in some cases young children, minors, are sent to islands such as the [inaudible 00:14:04] Island, without even their parents knowing where the kids have been sent. Also, today, there is a policy in Rwanda just released I believe last week to ban all street vendors. So what’s been happening for months, street vendors have been harassed by security forces. They’re taking their property, they are beaten … Some of them beaten to death. Last year, Mrs. [inaudible 00:14:32], 28 year old street vendor, was beaten to death by security forces because all of these are elements, and these are people, but the government considers them elements that do not keep Kigali clean. And in order to keep it clean, you basically have to remove the poor people and the people who give the appearance of the poverty that they’re experiencing. In some policies, they’re taking away their livelihood. Those are the two elements that are contributing to both the look and the appearance, but also the actual development. The plundering of the Congo is a big, major piece of what we’re seeing as the development of Rwanda.
AARON MATE: Claude, we have to leave it there, but I want to thank you for enlightening us on two really undercovered topics. Not just Rwanda, but also the Democratic Republic of the Congo. So thank you. Claude Gatebuke, executive director for the African Great Lakes Action Network. Thank you.
CLAUDE GATEBUKE: Thank you so much for having me.
AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on the Real News.