RWANDA: OPPOSITION APPLAUDS US DECISION NOT TO SUPPORT THIRD TERM FOR KAGAME

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On 6.04.2015, Rodney D. Ford, spokesman for the US State Department's Bureau of African Affairs, told this reporter that the US will support neither a Rwandan constitutional amendment to abolish term limits, nor another term for President Paul Kagame. I then spoke with Joseph Bukeye, the Deputy Chairman of FDU-Inkingi, the opposition party led by Rwandan political prisoner Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza.  
 
Ann Garrison: Joseph Bukeye, the US State Department said, on Thursday, that it will support neither constitutional change abolishing term limits nor another presidential term for Paul Kagame in Rwanda. Could you explain why this is so significant?
 
Joseph Bukeye: First, it is significant and historical because it comes from one of the main, longstanding allies of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) regime of President Kagame.
 
Second, it is the very first time that the US government has made it very clear that it will not support any constitutional meddling in order to accommodate the sole interest of the incumbent president.
 
Third, it will hopefully inspire the European Union, which has so far been sitting on the fence, waiting for the US and Britain to set the tempo on what to do about Rwanda.
 
AG: The first response of some American peace and justice activists is that the US has no business interfering in Rwanda. They say the US is in no position to preach to anyone about democracy. Isn’t it a little late for that, given the enormous influence the US has had in Rwanda by supporting Kagame for the past 25 years? 
 
JB: I don’t agree with those remarks at all, because injustice committed anywhere in the world is injustice committed everywhere. You cannot hide behind such selfish thinking and still hope that the USA keeps its moral and otherwise leadership in the world. When an ally misbehaves, it is your moral responsibility to advise him and eventually use pressure to bring him into compromising. When it comes to Syria, Libya, or Yemen, I don’t hear such remarks. Is this a double standard?
 
AG: No, I don’t think there’s a double standard in the expressions I’m referring to. Not at all.  Americans are by no means univocal about US interventions and I was talking about a section of the US population that has adamantly opposed the US military interventions in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere. I myself opposed all those US military interventions and I categorically oppose any US or other military intervention that isn’t approved and organized by the United Nations. Any other cross border military engagement violates international law.
 
But the US isn’t talking about military intervention. All it’s done so far is express an opinion. What else can the US do to press for a lawful transition, in accordance with the current constitution?  

JB: Besides being a political ally, the US is one of the main financial backers of the regime. When the US froze military aid of around $100,000, Rwanda pulled out of DRC, at least officially. Of course the UN Force Intervention Brigade in DR Congo was decisive in driving M23 back into Rwanda and Uganda, but the aid freeze was significant.
 
The US should do what Belgium has done, and link part of its financial aid to not changing the constitution and observing other basic human rights, such as freedom of expression. The EU is contemplating doing the same.
 
AG: Rwanda has been a key ally and “military partner” of the US. The US has made a significant investment in arming and training Rwandan troops and Rwanda contributes the 5th greatest number of troops to UN Peacekeeping Missions. Do you think this will be a factor in US response to the 2017 election?
 
JB: It is a mistake to keep on enrolling Rwandan troops in UN military operations. It doesn't make sense to send them to keep peace outside Rwanda when inside Rwanda the same troops are responsible for gross human rights violations, including those documented in the UN Mapping Report on Human Rights Abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1993 - 2003.   Payments for these troops have also become a substantial source of income for the Kagame regime, which should be checked. Like financial aid, these economic benefits should be linked to progress in human rights records. Other countries are ready to provide peacekeeping troops to take the place of Rwandans.

AG: Kagame often describes himself as a leader representing self-determination for African people. Could you comment on that?
 
JB: Self-determination goes with economic empowerment. Since the country won its independence, Rwanda has never been so poorly financed by domestic resources. The national budget is financed to the tune of over 60% by external aid. The economy is in the hand of foreign interests, and the trend does not show any sign of reversal.

Rwanda is a source of instability in the African Great Lakes Region. Rwanda has been waging proxy war in neighbouring countries. This is far from reflecting the self-determination advocated for by prominent Africans such as Nkwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, just to name a few. What kind of self-determination is it?
 
AG: Kagame may be most notorious in the West for Rwanda's invasion and resource plunder the Democratic Republic of the Congo, most recently with the M23 proxy militia.  What do you think the State Department's new policy means for DR Congo?
 
JB: It obviously augurs well for the future of all neighbouring countries including DRC. The plundering of DRC resources was made possible by the complacency of Western countries which did not want to openly rebuke Rwanda for its deeds. Besides, as we have been saying it, there will be no lasting solution to the problems of DRC, so long as the root causes in Rwanda have not been addressed. This is the first step.
 
AG: Is there anything else you'd like to say?
 
JB: We highly appreciate this US move which is in line with deep rooted, cherished U.S. values of democracy and human rights. Let’s hope that the U.S. will stay firm and support real democracy in Rwanda.
 
Joseph Bukeye is the Brussels-based Deputy Chairman of Rwanda’s FDU-Inkingi Party, which is led by Rwandan political prisoner Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza.

 

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