Tuesday, August 24, 2010

‘Mr. Kigali’ gets 93% over-kill as Rwanda awaits King Kigeli

By Asuman Bisiika

On September 6, Paul Rutagambwa Kagame will be sworn-in for a second and last term of office as President of Rwanda. As was expected, he easily won the August 9 presidential poll; the talking point though has been the 93% victory.

At one of the radio talk shows on which I am a regular, the show host said it was not a landslide but a tsunami. Does the 93% over-kill represent Kagame’s level popularity in Rwanda? No, please no.

In the first place, the question of Kagame’s popularity should not arise because an electoral process, whether won by 100% or slightly less like it was in the August 9 poll, would not do justice to his larger-than-life national profile.

As I have said elsewhere, President Kagame’s participation in the political leadership of Rwanda (don’t mind winning elections) is out of legitimacy, not tangible electoral popularity. His people’s attempt to portray the 93% as a measure of popularity is actually misplaced.

Rwanda’s political dynamics
After the genocide, the victorious RPF made what they called the RPF Declaration of 1994. This declaration overwrote (was supreme over) the Constitution and the 1993 Arusha Peace Accords, the two documents on which Rwanda was to be ruled in a power sharing deal.

The essence of the RPF Declaration of 1994 was that all political players in Rwanda are sort of co-opted to the RPF (ok, at least to their viewpoint).

So, for one to participate (well, and winning) in elections in Rwanda, it is has to be on the terms of the RPF. And since Paul Kagame, the ultimate ‘Mr. Kigali’ is still in the electoral mix, he deserves all the votes. Don’t mind that the 93% figure has parallels with elections in Mobutu’ Zaire (now Dr Congo) and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

Kagame’s 93% score should be viewed in this light: President Museveni holding elections in 1990 at a time all the political elite had been co-opted into the National Resistance Movement. Would any one be surprised if Museveni won with 95% in 1990?

As I have said elsewhere, the national civics in Rwanda must fit in the thinking of Gutahuka (return of Rwandan refugee), Gubohoza (the RPF liberation or the hegemony it created) and Itsemba Bwoko (Genocide). Needles to say, the custodian of these ideals is the RPF led by Kagame.

He led the 1959 Tutsi refugees back home in 1994, he organised the return of (the 1994) Hutu refugees in 1997 and he led the forces that stopped the genocide.

When I was in Prison, I learnt that the return of the Hutu refugees in 1997 meant a lot to them; in the same way the Tutsi’s return back home in 1994. Incidentally I learnt a lot about Rwanda when I was in prison than all the time I was wining and dining at the exclusive Jali Club with Hutu and Tutsi leaders.

To understand Gutahuka, one would have to appreciate its character. It was a mass wave of whole communities fleeing their homes; an event that has been indelibly written in the collective history of both Hutus and Tutsi. This character contrasts the new wave former state functionaries fleeing the country (some through the airport) after falling out with the establishment.

The most important aspect of Gutahuka also comes with feeling of defeat that led to Guhunga (exile or refuge) in the first place. And since the Gutahuka was on the terms of the leadership, there is always a sense of submission (both passive and active) to the forces that organised or led the Great Trek back home.

Regular visitors to Rwanda like Andrew Mwenda (editor of The Independent news magazine) who think Kagame’s popularity derives the state’s delivery of social services may need to know that Rwanda had a very strong social welfare regime during Habyarimana’s time.

So, whereas there may not have been electoral thefts, the environment under which the elections were held was not sanitised enough for a liberal and informed civic participation.

Super hero Kagame
Kagame is actually like Rome’s Julius Caesar and the so-called first triumvirate. But like Caesar, the challenge is how he uses his super hero status. Which brings us to the question: is Kagame stifling the opposition or the country lacks a credible opposition?

In a recent interview, Kagame said, and rightly so, that it is not his job to create the so-called credible opposition. It was a good quote yes, but he was merely politicking. A credible opposition can only exist where there is open debate on national issues. In Rwanda, one such issue is the call for the restructuring of state power and authority by returning the former king as a titular head of state.

It sounds crazy, but I lived in Rwanda long enough to know better. I had my own verbal brawls with President Kagame over Omwami Ndahindurwa Kigeli, Rwanda’s last king. In my personal assessment, if Kagame is ‘Mr. Kigali’, Omwami Kigeli is the only counter-hero to Kagame’s super hero status.

The other option for the political opposition is to wait Kagame out till 2017 when his last constitutional term of office expires. The assumption is that if he stays in power, he will have to come up with some ‘political bargain’ that will result into ceding of some political space.

If he leaves power, his absence would involuntarily create some political space as the new leader would lack Kagame’s national and international profile and appeal.

So, those threatening war like the exiled former Security Chief Patrick Karegeya, may end up playing into Kagame’s hands. Bwana Karegeya, revolutions are no longer sexy.

RPF weaknesses
The RPF government changed the name of the genocide from the Rwanda Genocide to the Genocide of the Tutsi. This represented a clear RPF failure to project itself as a mass party on the platform of Gutahuka, Gubohoza and Intsemba Bwoko.

Their failure to promote the 1997 return of Hutu refugees as part of the national homecoming narrative and the self-destructive promotion of the RPF as a partisan interest group complete with a business empire completes the picture.

Since political activism can only take place in (or under) the RPF, any exclusivity in the party narrows space for national debate. That’s why there are these fall outs within the government (forget the party). And because of this exclusivity, former RPF luminaries like Gen. Kayumba Kanyamwasa, Col. Patrick Karegeya, Ambassador Theogene Rudasingwa and many others find it hard to mainstream their grievances into a horizontal national debating platform. The only way out is to flee out.

It is now wrong to portray the power structure in Rwanda in the light of Hutu-Tutsi formations. It is about “those in power and those out”. Those in power may be Tutsi but they don’t represent the Tutsi as an ethnic entity. And as a government, they would even feel uncomfortable with the Tutsi label.

Thing is: whoever challenges (or fundamentally disagrees with) those in power, whether Hutu or Tutsi, would face the same fate: prison or exile. I think that explains the wave of Tutsi fleeing the country. ENDS
The author is a socio-political analyst with very keen interest on the Great Lakes region. He was the founding editor of The Rwanda Herald.


  1. "I had my own verbal brawls with President Kagame over Omwami Ndahindurwa Kigeli, Rwanda’s last king. Seriously Mr. Bisiika, are you trying to earn cheap popularity? In what capacity did you have 'verbal brawls with Kagame over Umwami?" who are you? what political status did you have while in Rwanda for you to stick it out with Kagame over Umwami? Last time I checked you were a mere journalist trying to make ends meet in Kigali. If you asked a question to the President about the issue of Umwami, does this amount to a verbal brawl which you refer to as if you were debating with him at a political forum?

  2. Does the short stint that you had in Kigali make you an 'expert' on Rwanda politics? no! the shallowness of your analysis shows you have no clue