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

Israelis Quietly Expand Enclave in Palestinian District of Jerusalem

Estimated 500 settlers, armed or protected by paramilitary police, live in Silwan among 50,000 Palestinians More

Video US, Iran Face Similar Challenges in Syrian Fight Against IS

Both Washington, Tehran back fighters battling Islamic State militants in Iraq -- but in Syria they support opposing sides in country’s civil war More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles 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.
China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Lawi
X
William Ide
October 20, 2014 10:23 AM
China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Nigeria Agrees to Cease-Fire With Boko Haram

Islamist militant group Boko Haram and the Nigerian government have agreed to a cease-fire. The Nigerian government issued an order Friday, telling all military chiefs "to comply with the cease-fire agreement in all theaters of operations. Why now and the significance of the agreement are questions on some people’s minds. VOA's Mariama Diallo reports.
Video

Video Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

The offensive by Islamic State militants against the northern Syrian city of Kobani has caused hundreds of thousands of residents to flee to Turkey. They receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from the town of Suruc a few kilometers from the border.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.

All About America

AppleAndroid