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

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to enhancement or regression of democracy for Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents 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.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid