Rwanda's Kagame Was Greeted By Angry Toronto Protest
[Commentary by Emmanuel Hakizimana and Gallican Gasana]
Rwandan President Paul Kagame was greeted with protest in Toronto on Saturday, September 28, at an event he called "Rwanda Day 2013," during his recent North American tour that included Canada.
As soon as it was announced as an upcoming event, Canadians from the African Great Lakes Region petitioned the Canadian government to deny Kagame an entry visa, because of his crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide, which have been well documented by United Nations experts, as well as by major human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Global Witness. Native Canadians joined emigré Canadians from the African Great Lakes Region, especially those from Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Repubic of the Congo, in an intensive information campaign, and all the hotel managers who were approached with offers for hosting "Rwanda Day," featuring President Kagame, turned it down with polite regrets. The Rwandan President was eventually admitted into Canada, but he was met with one of the angriest Stop-Kagame protests yet.
"Rwanda Day 2013" organizers had decided to make do with a flea market warehouse at Downsview Park, outside Toronto. Throngs of demonstrators went there as well, and divided themselves into groups so as to be present at each of the many warehouse entrance points. Their sign boards featured victims of President Kagame’s regime. Many of those images offered appalling glimpses of torture and of women being taken away to be gang-raped. Weeping Congolese protesters told stories of their mothers and sisters who had been gang-raped by M23 rebels, supported by Kagame’s regime, which supplies soldiers, weapons, and ammunition to M23 and even commands it from Kigali. Protesting against such horrendous violence against women, three young members of the "Femen" movement of Québec, two young ladies and one young man, stripped themselves naked above the waist. Writings on their chests read: “Kagame Guilty of Rape.”
The protest in Toronto came after many others during Rwandan President Paul Kagame's stays in North America, Europe, and Australia. This time though, and contrary to his usual pattern, Kagame did not hurl insults at his political opposition and at protesters while speaking to his supporters, many of whom had also travelled all the way from Kigali. He even went so far as to mention that “a framework to discuss issues is needed and nobody should oppose it.”
Although it is still a timid overture, this change of tone was a surprise to many, and it is already being called "the Kikwete effect." In a side meeting, on the occasion of the 21st AU summit on May 26th in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania suggested that, for peace to come back to the African Great Lakes Region, the Rwandan and Ugandan presidents, whose troops and/or proxy militias have been in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1996, should consider negotiating with the militias made up of their own citizens who have fled across their borders into Congo. At the time, the Kigali regime reacted fiercely and President Kagame even vowed to retaliate with an attempt against the life of President Kikwete. But actors in the long Congolese crisis take Kikwete's proposal that it's time for Kagame and Museveni to negotiate with their own people in Congo quite seriously.
Could it be that President Kagame is also finally coming to terms with the inescapable truth, that he cannot shun talks with his opposition forever? If so, it is a step towards peace in the African Great lakes Region.