by Ann Garrison
KPFA Evening News broadcast June 7, 2015
The new U.S. policy toward Rwanda, opposing constitutional change to allow President Paul Kagame to stay in power, has garnered wide attention. Friends of the Congo’s Maurice Carney warns that it might well change if Hillary Clinton becomes the next U.S. president.
KPFA Evening News Anchor Anthony Fest: The U.S. State Department made a surprising statement this week regarding Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Responding to an inquiry from KPFA reporter Ann Garrison, Bureau of African Affairs spokesman Rodney Ford said the U.S. will not support Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s bid to abolish Rwanda’s constitutional term limits so that he can remain in power.
Ford’s statement, reported on the websites of the San Francisco Bay View and the Black Star News, was widely shared and then reported by other news outlets including Agence France Presse, Yahoo News, Radio France International and the Voice of America. Ann Garrison has the story.
KPFA/Ann Garrison: The State Department Bureau of African Affairs spokesman Rodney Ford’s statement came as a surprise because Rwandan President Paul Kagame has been such a close, longstanding and useful ally and “military partner” to the U.S. This statement was, however, unequivocal:
It read: “The United States supports the principle of democratic transition in all countries in the region through free, fair, and credible elections, held in accordance with current constitutions, including provisions regarding term limits.”
Ford quoted President Obama’s speech in Accra, Ghana, in 2009, where he said that Africa needs strong institutions, not strong men.
“The United States believes that democracy is best advanced through the development of strong institutions, not strongmen. For that reason, as Secretary Kerry has said, we do not support changing constitutions to benefit the personal or political interests of individuals or parties. Changing constitutions and eliminating term limits to favor incumbents is inconsistent with democratic principles and reduces confidence in democratic institutions.”
“The United States believes that democracy is best advanced through the development of strong institutions, not strongmen. For that reason, as Secretary Kerry has said, we do not support changing constitutions to benefit the personal or political interests of individuals or parties.” – U.S. State Department Bureau of African Affairs spokesman Rodney Ford
Ford also said that the State Department expects a new leader in Rwanda.
“We are committed to support a peaceful, democratic transition in 2017 to a new leader elected by the Rwandan people.”
This statement comes after 2 million Rwandan signatures demanding constitutional change to abolish term limits so that Kagame can remain in power were delivered to Rwanda’s Parliament. However, Kagame’s former advisor, David Himbara, who fled Rwanda and now lives in Canada, says that Rwanda has a state administrative official closely watching every 10 households in Rwanda, and that anyone who refused to sign those petitions would wind up dead or disappeared.
David Himbara: What is going on now is that of course people are signing up, demanding for constitutional change, so that Kagame stays in power. So this is the same instrument they are using. They have forms in every 10 houses. People have to sign. If you don’t sign, then – then you’re gone. You know you have to sign. There’s no way around it.
“They have forms in every 10 houses. People have to sign. If you don’t sign, then – then you’re gone. You know you have to sign. There’s no way around it.” – Kagame’s former advisor David Himbara
You’ll see millions! Millions of people, when the time comes, marching on the streets, demanding that Kagame stays. That is how this is being done. That is the same instrument. How do you refuse? Any principled Rwandans who refuse authority, then those are the ones you’ll see dead in the lake. Those are the ones you’ll see and hear that they have disappeared. As simple as that. They’ll die.
KPFA: Kagame is notorious for invading and plundering the resources of Rwanda’s neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, so Congo activists welcomed the State Department’s position with cautious optimism. The Rwandan presidential election will not take place until 2017, said Friends of the Congo’s Maurice Carney, and the situation could change by then, especially if Hillary Clinton becomes president.
Kagame is a longtime ally of former president Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton even presented Kagame with a Global Citizen Award in 2009.
When asked about his closeness to Kagame, Bill Clinton told late BBC host Komla Dumor that the war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide crime that Kagame is accused of in U.N. reports has never been adjudicated in a court of law. Critics of both Clinton and Kagame reply that his administration and subsequent U.S. administrations have made sure that Kagame was never indicted by an international court.
Oakland writer Ann Garrison writes for the San Francisco Bay View, Black Agenda Report, Black Star News, Counterpunch and her own website, Ann Garrison, and produces for AfrobeatRadio on WBAI-NYC, KPFA Evening News, KPFA Flashpoints and for her own YouTube Channel, AnnieGetYourGang. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. In March 2014 she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for promoting peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa through her reporting.