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Rwanda Political Life 'Closed,' Says US Ambassador

Susan Rice, US Ambassador to United Nations speaks to reporters at UN Headquarters after the Security Council met to discuss the situation in Sudan, November 11, 2011.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has arrived in Rwanda for a four-day diplomatic mission focused on economic, agricultural and health development. She says despite impressive growth in these sectors, political life in Rwanda remains, as she puts it, “comparatively closed.”

U.S. ambassador Susan Rice heaps praise upon Rwanda, saying in the past 17 years, the country has made leaps in economic development, international relations, business savvy, environment, health care, technology and women’s rights.

For example, she says, spurred by the disproportionate number of men killed in the 1994 genocide that left 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead, Rwanda has skyrocketed ahead of most of the world in empowering women.

"In 2008, women took an even greater share: 45 out of 80 seats, making Rwanda the only country in the world to this day with a female parliamentary majority," said Rice. "This puts the rest of us to shame."

In her comments, made in Kigali Wednesday, Rice also called Rwanda a "friend" to whom she can speak frankly. She says Rwanda may be growing healthier, richer and more educated, but in the politically the East African nation is lagging.

"Press restrictions persist. Civil society activists, journalists, and political opponents of the government often fear organizing peacefully and speaking out," said Rice. "Some have been harassed. Some have been intimidated by late-night callers. Some have simply disappeared."

In June, Amnesty International criticized Rwanda’s human rights record, saying that last year's elections, in which President Paul Kagame won 93 percent of the vote, were “marked with a clampdown on free expression.”

The Rwandan government called that report “inaccurate.” It additionally described a Human Rights Watch report that criticizes Rwanda’s justice system as “nonsense.”

Rice also praised the Rwandan government, known for its tough stance against corruption, and Rwanda’s technological advances, saying internet users have more than doubled in the past few years. Technology, she says, will “transform Rwandan society.”