Strategic errors haunting Rwanda’s opposition

Published by Madeleine Mukamabano
On 14 August 2017 at 08:40
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This question about the weakness of Rwanda’s political opposition parties is an interesting one. Is the opposition weak in Rwanda because it is not given space? Is it because it’s persecuted? Not accepted? Or are there other reasons?
When I look at it, just as an analyst, but one who also sees what is happening or has happened in other African countries, which I know very well, I think that in the aftermath of the genocide, Rwanda’s opposition parties committed a strategic error. These (...)

This question about the weakness of Rwanda’s political opposition parties is an interesting one. Is the opposition weak in Rwanda because it is not given space? Is it because it’s persecuted? Not accepted? Or are there other reasons?

When I look at it, just as an analyst, but one who also sees what is happening or has happened in other African countries, which I know very well, I think that in the aftermath of the genocide, Rwanda’s opposition parties committed a strategic error. These parties regarded the genocide as just a footnote in the political history of the country. However, genocide was destined to become, in every way, a defining moment in the political life of this country.

After more than a million deaths and more than a million killers, politics could not continue as business as usual, with political games, diatribes. People were afraid, they were paralysed. People were trying to forget what had just happened — both victims and killers. Their view of politics could no longer be the same either. There was no going back.

So, the political parties in Rwanda, some quite powerful like the MDR, which was considered the main opposition, viewed Rwanda as observers would. You didn’t see the leaders of this party travelling across the country to reassure people. You didn’t see them going to console victims. On the contrary, they resumed controversy, as if the genocide had been a mere interlude.

And during that time, they let Kagame do what I would call the “dirty work”: secure the country, reassure both killers and victims. The opposition parties were either doing nothing or running across Europe crying for help from NGOs and donors. I’ll always remember FaustinTwagiramungu in Geneva.

While the country was in chaos he was demanding that aid be blocked until after elections. He was of the view that the elections would be held as quickly as possible, while the country was still full of dead bodies, while more than two million people were in the refugee camps in Goma.

It is this strategic error that had people thinking … well, Kagame scares people, no one knows the Rwandan Patriotic Front, they are foreigners…also, the Tutsi are now more a minority than ever in the country…therefore it will only last a short while, they are only readying the path to power for us.

Except that, during that time, a relationship was being forged between Kagame, in fact I would say between those in power (the RPF and all who participated) and the people. And this relationship was different from the one we were used to with Mobutu, statues everywhere etc ... This one was almost a moral contract: “I put in place everything you need, security, training, a government, and you, you work and develop the country. For a country where there was no unifying element, to put it crudely, it’s the stomach that brought people together. Because they saw what they could gain, and they turned away from the massacre that had just taken place. Killers working hand in hand with victims, for outsiders it’s often shocking to see these young people in cooperatives, some were in prison not too long ago for genocide, but they are now working with the victims. And I believe that it is precisely because of the shift in priority from empty politics to development.”

This is indeed the political error of opposition politicians, the likes of Faustin Twagiramungu who came up with the slogan "ntorampore" (vote for me, I’ll revenge you) that referred back to the killings. Did the Hutus want to say “now that we have a Hutu president let’s revenge?” No. I think they were trying to forget what they had done.

But when I look to the future, I see changes. I was delighted to see the debates on taxation. Because I think what interests people is not whether so and so will be a senator or not, and so on. Instead it is how does this benefit me? Are we going to lower taxes? If they are reduced, will the government continue to sponsor scholarships for children?

Will we continue to fund health insurance for children, etc. There is a "win-win" relationship between the leadership and the people. And I think the younger generations of politicians will understand that; because, without that, politics is meaningless.

As told to Aimable Karirima, Brussels Igihe Correspondent

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Former Journalist with France Culture, Madeleine Mukamabano

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