Rwandan Opposition Reacts To RPF Oppression
Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, chairperson of Rwanda’s opposition coalition, FDU-Inkingi is spending her 236th day in Kigali’s Central Prison, and the eleventh (11) consecutive week in inhumane isolation, which experts and party members have called “some kind of torture.” She is denied visits from members of her political party. On Friday June 3, 2011, visitors attempting to visit her at the maximum prison were ordered manu militari by Nyarugenge District police chief Mr Mutezintare to vacate the prison premises.
Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza’s trial, which has been postponed three times already, is now scheduled to begin on June 20, 2011. AfrobeatRadio’s Wuyi Jacobs speaks to FDU-Ikingi’s treasurer Ms. Alice Muhirwa in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, about the upcoming trial, which is most unlikely to fair or independent trial for Victoire Ingabire. The interview was broadcast on AfrobeatRadio on WBAI 99.5 FM on Saturday June 4, 2011.
AfrobeatRadio/Wuyi Jacobs: Welcome to AfrobeatRadio, Alice.
Alice Muhirwa: Thank you, Jacobs.
AfrobeatRadio: Could you describe the political space your party is working in in Rwanda as we speak? Is there freedom of speech, or do you always face the risk of arrest for what you say?
Alice Muhirwa: I may say the political space here in Rwanda is highly closed. As you know, our political party registration has been denied several times. Many members of our party face serious threats of arrest and intimidation of all sorts. Even the vice president was fired out from his job last year.
But we are not alone in this struggle. The Green Party faces the same problems, their vice president was beheaded last year. They were also denied party registration for similar reasons.
The PS-imberakuri party is facing same threats. And so is the Ubuyanja party of former President Bizimungu and Charles Ntakirutinka.
A long list of independent media editors are exiled from the country. I can name also two female journalists who have been sentenced for a long time, fourteen and twenty one years. Everyone and anyone who is attempting to open up a divergent voice from the ruling government, or the RPF, is getting trouble.
It is clear that the government or the RPF is not yet ready to open a real political space, for a real opposition, people who can really challenge them.
For us, we are feeling the danger every single day, but we believe in change. We have a common understanding of our country’s concerns and how to rebuild it. If South Africa can succeed, why not Rwanda? Positive change is possible. It may involve a lot in terms of people, sacrifice, and time, but we will continue until we get an effective reconciliation based on the truth of our own history.
AfrobeatRadio: Perhaps very soon, Victoire Imuhosa’s trial will begin. She has been in jail for many months now. Close to one year. The Rwandan government have stated that they can’t and don’t influence the judicial sector. I am wondering what your opinion of this is?
Alice Muhirwa: Whatever they may say or are doing is just to impress the international community that they are transparent, and the judiciary is independent. But as you know, we have seen how the government has interfered in her case.
The president himself, I remember the interview he gave in the Ugandan Daily Monitor on 5th May 2010 where he mentioned that “before she came to contest in these elections she had been doing things that, in the end, would put her into trouble and she knew that. We have evidence, which has been brought to her attention and about 10 things she has been denying. Now she’s saying that seven of them are actually true and this has come as a result of the overwhelming evidence that was put in front of her.” That is the end of the quote.
Even the General Prosecutor as well has said that, since April 2010, they have had enough evidence to bring her in court, and yet his team requested the judge to prolong her detention three times with excuses that they need more time to collect evidence, and to submit interrogatory requests to some countries. They are doing this to break her spirit. We know that. If they had enough evidence since April 2010, why have they waited up May 2011 to open her trial? If the judicial system is really independent as they claim.
I guess it took some time to construct charges against her, and to look for people all over the country to act as witnesses against her. We are aware of their tricks. We believe that she will never get a fair and independent trial in Rwanda.
But for us, democracy starts with a cause. And we really know that she is innocent of the charges against her. As the chairperson of the opposition parties, she did nothing other than to criticize the major responsibilities of the ruling government. Kept in or released from prison, she switched on a light; no more silence in our hearts. We shall consider her our symbol of democracy.
AfrobeatRadio: How do you think the international community can help Victoire in the situation that she is in right now?
Alice Muhirwa: The international community has been supporting Rwanda, particularly in the aftermath of the genocide. In order to sustain the achievements and fruits of this support, it is important that they also get involved in the democratization process, and with human rights and freedoms in Rwanda.
They need to put pressure on the regime to release all political prisoners and to open up the political space. They should leave no stone unturned until Victoire and opposition leaders are set free. It is a shame to offer red carpet to oppressors and dictators. The strength of the international community needs to be seen, and now.
Wuyi Jacobs: The BBC recently reported on an alert by the MI5 that Rwanda opposition figure are in danger of being assassinated by the Rwandan government. I thought that was quite unusual, given that for the most part, the Rwandan government has been the darling of western governments and in the press here. I’m very interested to know what your party thinks of that?
Alice Muhirwa: For your information, it’s not the first time that the ruling government has assassinated or organized the elimination of Rwandans in exile. Our memories still recall Seth Sendashonga killed in Kenya; Kayumba Nyamwasa, who was shot in South Africa. And there’re other people who were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But it is the first time that MI5 has taken the responsibility to assure the security of those British based Rwanda nationals. Even if the ruling government rejected the accusation, saying that they can’t assassinate or follow Rwandan citizens in the UK, and the Rwandan foreign affairs minister added that amongst the opponents, those two figures mentioned don’t really pose any problems to the ruling government, and that maybe the MI5 got wrong information, or they have to check their sources again. But the MI5 have never said that those Rwandans in the UK are lying.
AfrobeatRadio: Many people in the West, in America, believe that Rwanda is a model developing country and a democracy. Many investors are coming to Rwanda to invest in your economy including prominent actors from Hollywood, I am sure you have heard of that, and these people present a very different picture other than the one you are presenting here?
Alice Muhirwa: Those people from the West still consider Rwanda a favorite country to invest because they think it is the only country with stability and security in the Great Lakes region for the past five years.
However, there are some other reports released recently which have ranked Rwanda’s economy 80th out of 139 ranked countries. For example, the report on global competiveness for 2011 released by the World Economic Forum; this report reveals fifteen problematic factors in doing business in Rwanda. I can tell you quickly the indexes. The first is access to financing with an index of 24.9. The second is the tax regulations. The third tax rates, saying that tax rates in Rwanda are high with an index of 13.9. The fourth is inadequate infrastructure indexed at 10.9. The fifth is inadequate workforce at 9.6 percent. The sixth, poor work ethic in the nation’s labor force and the Inflation at 3.6 percent. Foreign currency regulations is indexed at 2.1 percent. Poor public health, 2.1 percent. Corruption 0.6. Crime 0.4 and government instability is 0.
So, according to these figures, people from the West only consider the government instability which is indexed at zero percent, and the rate of corruption which is a 0.6 percent. Compared to other countries, the corruption is still high and government instability as well.
Other factors, such as loan access, tax regulation inflation don’t really affect the international investors because they save their money in their own countries. That doesn’t really affect their capital.
As for democracy in Rwanda, the political space is still restricted as I told you. Even the international communities have reacted on that recently. I remember the European cooperation minister, Ben Kinapen, during his visit to Rwanda, insisted on political reform. Some others as well, including Olivier Chastell, the Belgium cooperation minister, have reacted to this. We have some information from the UK that the Queen herself wants the Rwandan government to stop intimidating the opposition.
AfrobeatRadio: How have these foreign investments affected the Rwandan people? Has it improved your lives?
Alice Muhirwa: It is very dangerous. The country is becoming more capitalist day by day. According to the figures I gave you above, we don’t have an adequate educated workforce, and for a capitalist society, it is a critical point to determine an efficient salary which can sufficiently face those tax regulations, high tax rates and inflation, or to face the market of goods and services. As a consequence, people are failing to save some money in their accounts, and their accesses to loans have become impossible. That’s how these foreign investors are affecting the national economy in discreet way. This type of economic system affects rural areas more than cities, and that also affects people from the lowest economic level, such as teachers, police, nurses and soldiers, they really suffer greatly. This class is most affected by this type of economy, and these people end up becoming voluntarily unemployed.
Wuyi Jacobs: Who owns Rwanda? Do Rwandans, I mean common people and average Rwandans feel that they own their own country?
Alice Muhirwa: I may say Rwandans are still not really interested and concerned with these issues because Rwanda has known so many crises economically, politically and also many Rwandeses are young. The Rwandan population, according to recent statistics recorded by the National Division Statistic, and released in a report shows that the Rwandan population is made up sixty-two percent young people. And those young people have seen a lot during the Genocide, and even after Genocide. They have survived so many crises, and they are not confident of themselves. They are still thinking that there is going to be someone else to prepare their future.
They are not truly involved in the country’s concerns. We may need some other particular initiative from young people from all over the world. If I say that, I don’t mean only young people who are Rwanda, I also call on young Rwandan living outside the country.
It is the time now to work together, to look for our own future, to start to think about how to build a good country, with hope, peace and reconciliation.
AfrobeatRadio: In what condition is Victoire being held right now?
Alice Muhirwa: She is still detained. She is awaiting her trial. The trial was postponed on twentieth of June, (2011) and most probably she will see her lawyers this coming week. They are still working on the file, but because the file has many pages, it is now a file of two thousand four hundred pages (2400). It has to be translated to English because she has a defense team of British lawyers.
It has a lot of work on it because the so called co-accused revealed so many contradictions. They need more time to cross-check so many allegations brough by the prosecutor.
AfrobeatRadio: Does she have access to visitors? Are you allowed to see her?
Alice Muhirwa: It is now ten weeks since she has be denied access to get a mass visit as it used to be. Normally, members use to attend every Friday to visit her. They have since refused to give us access to see her. They said that she must choose only five people who will come regularly to pay her visits. She doesn’t have contact with anyone on the outside. She can’t know anyone who will come to visit her if she can’t get in touch with anyone. It is just an excuse to isolate her.
AfrobeatRadio: So for ten weeks she has had no contact with the outside world?
Alice Muhirwa: Yes [No she has none]
AfrobeatRadio: Do you know if she is held in isolation?
Alice Muhirwa: Yes, she is not detained in the lady’s hall as other normal prisoners. She is detained in a self contained room. She just has one cellmate with whom she shares everything. She is not allowed to go for collective activities like church service, collective sports, meetings. She only gets five minutes per day to get out and get her meal, and return to her cell.
AfrobeatRadio: Thank you very much, Alice, for talking to us, and we hope you remain safe yourself.
Alice Muhirwa: Sure
This interview was broadcast on AfrobeatRadio on WBAI 99.5 FM on Saturday June 4, 2011. AfrobeatRadio broadcast every Saturday from 4:00 to 5:00 PM EST. Streams live at www.wbai.org.