Support real freedom and democracy in Africa
by the Africa Faith and Justice Network, Friends of the Congo, Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, International Humanitarian Law Institute of Minnesota, Foreign Policy In Focus, Mobilization for Justice and Peace in Congo, Africa Action, Chicago Coalition for Congo, Foundation for Freedom and Democracy in Rwanda, Shalupe Foundation and Organization for Peace, Justice and Development in Rwanda and Great Lakes Region (OPJDR)
President Obama said, in his 2009 speech in Accra, Ghana, that America should support strong institutions and not strong men. However, in the case of Rwanda, this has been no more than rhetoric. Rwandans, like most Africans, cheered Obama’s election, hoping that it might signal a new, more peaceful and cooperative relationship between the U.S. and Africa, but Obama has expanded AFRICOM, the U.S. Africa Command, and now he remains silent as Rwanda’s strongman, President Paul Kagame, prepares a sham presidential election to retain his brutal grip on power.
On Aug. 3, in Washington D.C., we, a coalition of Africa advocates, will gather at the National Press Club to call on President Obama and the U.S. State Department not to recognize the legitimacy of Rwanda’s upcoming Aug. 9 election results and to stop militarizing Africa and supporting repressive regimes.
“The U.S. policy has been to support strongmen,” says Maurice Carney, executive director of Friends of the Congo. “And at the head of the class is Paul Kagame, who has received military support, weapons, training and intelligence and as a result has been able to invade Rwanda’s neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and sustain proxy militia fighting there to rob the Congolese people of their natural resources. He has contributed to the death of over 6 million people in Congo and to the destabilization of Africa’s whole Great Lakes region.”
Assassinations, arrests, disappearances, imprisonment and torture of both politicians and press critical of Kagame have led up to Rwanda’s Aug. 9 presidential polls, and now the question is not “Will Rwanda’s August 2010 election be free and fair?” but “How much more violence will the population suffer from Rwandan police, military and security operatives?”
And how much longer will President Obama continue to support the brutal Kagame regime in the heart of Africa, even though 40 of Kagame’s top officers and officials have been indicted in both Spanish and French courts for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide? Kagame himself has not been indicted by these courts but only because he is a sitting head of state and indictment would therefore be a declaration of war.
“Kagame is doing everything he can think of, including killing journalists, jailing and torturing political opponents and denying political opponents their constitutional right to register their parties to exclude them from the election. Because as soon as he loses the presidency, he is likely to be tried for all the mass killings he ordered,” says Rwandan exile, writer and activist Aimable Mugara, who now lives in Toronto.
All the viable opposition has been kept out of the election, but four Kagame allies have agreed to stand so as to make it appear that Rwanda is having a real election.
Leading presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, who was arrested and indicted on trumped up charges to prevent her from registering to run against Kagame, has said that she will not vote and has urged other Rwandans not to vote either. “We know that the military and police will use violence against the population,” Ingabire said, “but we have to fight for our rights. There is no reason to vote if you don’t have a choice.”
In May, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson announced that the U.S. government plans to send a dozen teams of election observers to Rwanda before the Aug. 9 polls, but many Rwandans now say they will only be wasting U.S. taxpayers’ money.
“There is no reason to vote if you don’t have a choice.” – Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza
“Why do people seriously think of going there to observe elections?” asked Charles Kambanda, an American of Rwandan origin, former member of Kagame’s RPF Party and former professor at Makarere University in Kampala, Uganda. “Which elections are they going to observe? There is nothing to be observed, because what we have is a one-man show. What we have is a situation where the government has created the so-called opposition.
“Foreign election observers planning to go to Rwanda to observe the ‘election’ this August are wasting time and money,” said Aimable Mugara. “I would recommend that they stay in their countries and write their reports based on all the insane actions Gen. Kagame’s ruling party has taken since the beginning of this year, actions that make this so-called election null and void.”
The United States government has provided not only election observers but also over $1,034,000,000 in United States taxpayer-funded foreign assistance to Rwanda since 2000. An additional $240,200,000 is proposed in the president’s fiscal year 2011 budget.