News / Africa

Legacy of Genocide Fuels Political Repression in Rwanda

Michael Onyiego

In the 16 years since the genocide, Rwanda has received nearly universal acclaim for rebuilding its shattered society and re-branding itself as a new "African Tiger."  But concerns are being raised that the legacy of that brutal event has been manipulated for the benefit of the ruling party.

During the past decade, Rwanda has undergone a seemingly impossible transformation.  The tiny central African nation, plagued by the 1994 genocide in which an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsi's were killed by the country's Hutu majority, has been tirelessly engaged in a campaign to reunite the country and change its international image.

President Paul Kagame has used his considerable authority to quickly rebuild the country, both economically and socially. Mr. Kagame has pushed for the elimination of ethnic identities in favor of Rwandan unity and laid the groundwork for significant investment throughout the country.

The president's government accountability programs have all but eliminated corruption in Rwanda, a minor-miracle in East Africa, and free primary education is nearly universal.

The country is now working to become the African hub of information technology by the year 2020, a growth strategy modeled after the "Asian Tiger" economies of the 1980s and 1990s.  There is also a monthly day of national service, called Umuganda, during which citizens contribute to public works such as planting trees and cleaning streets.

President Kagame has essentially run the country since the end of the 1994 genocide, after he led the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front's campaign against the Hutu government.

The president has been lauded as an African hero, receiving praise from world leaders such as former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.  The president also has near universal support among Rwandans. In the country's two presidential polls, Mr. Kagame was elected by more than 90 percent of the vote.

But Mr. Kagame's government has drawn sharp criticism in recent months.  The country has come under fire for controversial laws in effect to prevent "sectarianism" and the promotion of "genocide ideology."

In a new report, Amnesty International warns the laws are too vague and had been abused by the government to silence opposition.  The report, entitled "Safer to Stay Silent," charged the laws promoted self-censorship among Rwandans.  But Rwandan Media High Council executive secretary Patrice Mulama said the laws were necessary given Rwanda's history.

"Hate speech is never appropriate in any democracy, in any society, because it burns; it kills people," said Mulama.  "That is why, world over you have laws against discrimination, laws against segregation, laws against hate speech and stuff like that.  You must remember that this is a society that is recovering from a genocide, in which hate speech and racist speech had a very strong role in orchestrating."

In the lead up to the August 9 presidential election, the government was accused by rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders, of suppressing opposition and, in effect, guaranteeing the president's re-election.

Opposition newspapers, such as Umuseso and Umuvigizi, were handed suspensions by Rwanda's Media High Council for publishing articles that allegedly incited public instability or promoted genocide ideology.

Opposition figure Victoire Ingabire was also charged with promoting genocide Ideology.  Ingabire, who had planned to challenge President Kagame in the election, argued that crimes had been committed by both Hutu and Tutsi populations during the genocide.

Ingabire remains a controversial figure in Rwanda, but the author of the Amnesty report, Erwin van der Borght told VOA that legitimate calls for accountability deserved a hearing in Rwanda.  The author urged Rwandan authorities to review the controversial laws in order to prevent further abuse.

"It is obvious that the Rwandese authorities, like any government, have a responsibility to ensure that hate speech is clamped down on, and that incitement to violence and discrimination and the people responsible for that are investigated and prosecuted," said van der Borgh.  "The problem is that with the Genocide Ideology law is the Rwandese government went too far in restricting freedom of expression.  We see that it is being abused and misused against political opponents, human rights activists and the media."

Controversy has erupted during the past week that could challenge the traditional narrative of the Rwandan genocide.  An upcoming U.N. report, leaked to the media has found the Rwandan Patriotic Front was involved in killing thousands of Hutu refugees in Congo before and after the genocide in Rwanda.

While the Rwandan Patriotic Front has maintained its efforts in Congo targeted Hutu militias, the report found evidence of large-scale human-rights violations committed against civilian populations.

The Rwandan government has blasted the report, calling it "immoral and unacceptable" and accused the United Nations of hypocrisy, citing the organization's failure to respond to the 1994 killings.  The central African nation has threatened to withdraw from its U.N. obligations if the report is published.  And, it has been revealed the government has completed a plan to withdraw its peacekeepers from the U.N. mission in Darfur.

You May Like

Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

Although international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the Islamic State group, analysts say conflicting alliances could escalate fighting More

Asia’s Middle Class Changes Demand for Wheat Grain Exporters

Changes in tastes and diets are boon for wheat exporters such as Australia and the United States More

S. African Comedian Taking Over Popular TV Show

Mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah, who is loved for his edgy jibes about race and language, is taking the helm from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show in US More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More