FACTBOX – Key political risks to watch in RwandaJambonews | Category: News analysis
KIGALI Feb 1 (Reuters) – President Paul Kagame’s landslide election win in August 2010 paves the way for political continuity at a time critics accuse him of turning the screws on his rivals and dissenters.
Victoire Ingabire, one of Kagame’s chief political opponents, remains in detention after authorities said she had been implicated in an investigation into a former rebel commander facing terrorism charges.
Former chief of staff Kayumba Nyamwasa and a former chief of military intelligence Patrick Karegyeya have been tried and sentenced to 20 years in jail in absentia by a military court.
Other Kagame allies turned foes, former director of cabinet Theogene Rudasingwa and former prosecutor general Gerald Gahima, were also sentenced in absentia for threatening state security and insulting the president among charges. The four exiles accuse Kagame of conspiring to have them jailed on politically trumped up charges.
The reputation of Kagame, long a favourite with foreign donors, has also been dented by a U.N. report charging his army with committing war crimes in Democratic Republic of Congo.
The International Monetary Fund projects Rwanda’s economy will grow 6.5-7.0 percent in 2011-12, higher than for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. Rwanda is also developing its nascent capital markets and has just held a successful first initial public offering.
Here are some of the risk factors:
Kagame’s election win underlined his domination of the political arena. He has been praised for restoring stability after the 1994 genocide and engineering Rwanda’s rapid economic recovery and its vision to be a middle-income country by 2020.
Investment doubled to $1.6 billion in 2009, a year after the country was named top global business reformer by the World Bank. But critics accuse Kagame of being authoritarian and of trampling on media and political freedoms.
What to watch:
- The arrest of Nyamwasa. Rwanda has issued a notice to 188 member states of Interpol to have the convicted exiled army officer arrested and extradited to Rwanda. Nyamwasa has been accused of harbouring and training a group of close to 200 militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo with intent to destabilize the region and particularly Rwanda. The four exiled army officers say they are innocent and have challenged the government to produce evidence other than their writings and press interviews that they claim are protected by constitutional guarantee of free speech.
- Trial of Ingabire. Ingabire remains in detention and the case remains a major test of the independence of Rwanda’s judiciary. Legally, the charges should be dropped, or a trial should start. Ingabire was originally refused bail on the grounds that her release could threaten state security. Ingabire denies funding FDLR rebels and says her detention is politically motivated.
- A court summons for American lawyer Peter Erlinder. Erlinder was arrested in May on charges of genocide denial after he flew in to represent Ingabire. He was released on bail a month later on health grounds. The government says it is not ruling out issuing an arrest warrant under an international jurisdiction if Erlinder does not honour the summons. Erlinder’s case has also caused friction between Rwanda and the Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, where Erlinder is defending genocide suspects.
- Arrest of Paul Rusesabagina who saved 1,200 people from genocide in events depicted in the Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda”, over allegations he helped fund a rebel force. His detention would likely generate more media interest than any crackdown on Kagame’s other critics.
- Outcome of French inquiry into shooting down of former President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane in 1994. Any repeat of the 2006 claim by a French judge that Kagame’s forces were to blame could harm diplomatic relations with France.
Diplomats and sources close to the government say rifts within the Tutsi elite, including those in exile, risk undermining national stability.
The Ministry of Defence has said senior party and army officials in exile are not a threat. However, there is a risk Kagame’s erstwhile allies, who are sounding increasingly belligerent, could coalesce into a serious opposition force, or form a rebellion of their own.
Kagame’s war on graft, which has led to Rwanda being ranked the least corrupt nation in east Africa, has seen former political associates locked up.
Diplomatic sources say the arrest of Congolese Tutsi rebel Laurent Nkunda has also fuelled tensions within the ruling elite. A U.N. panel reported in 2008 that the Rwandan army had supported Nkunda’s rebel war in eastern Congo. Rwanda government officials say they are in talks with counterparts in Democratic Republic of Congo to find a common ground on Nkunda.
General Nyamwasa, Kagame’s former chief-of-staff turned arch-critic who fled to South Africa in February, has formed a political body that includes other former high-level political and military allies of Kagame, also now exiled.
Nyamwasa’s political group has formed an alliance with Ingabire’s FDU party criticizing the government for alleged harassment of the media and intimidation of the opposition.
The alliance says it wants to eradicate alleged human rights violations in Rwanda and create a political environment that will nurture democratic governance.
What to watch:
- Signs of deepening rifts within the military. Some observers say Nyamwasa’s political moves could expose further divisions within the ruling party. What would come out of the alliance between Nyamwasa and Ingabire’s party and how government in Kigali would react to it could expose weakness among a section of political elites close to Kagame.
- The fate of Nkunda. Nkunda’s arrest heralded a new era in relations between Rwanda and Congo. But what happens to Nkunda could still influence relations. Congo wants him extradited for war crimes, but Rwanda says it should be done in a way that it avoids “conflict of law”. If Nkunda were to stand trial in Congo, and he confirmed the U.N. allegations of Rwandan support, it would be embarrassing for Kagame and could harm relations with Congo anew.
Land-locked Rwanda depends on its neighbours for the safe passage of its petrol, diesel and heavy oil which must be transported by truck from ports in Kenya and Tanzania.
- Any violence around Uganda’s elections on Feb. 18 could also isolate Rwanda by disrupting transport links via Kenya.
By Kezio-Musoke David
Editing by David Clarke