US Congress puts Rwanda on the spot

The East African - - NEWS - The Eastafrican

A JOINT RE­PORT

THE US says Rwanda needs to do more to ex­pand space for po­lit­i­cal dia­logue and com­pe­ti­tion, and to take steps to­ward a demo­cratic tran­si­tion of power.

US Act­ing As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary, Bureau of African Af­fairs Don­ald Ya­mamoto, said this dur­ing a Con­gres­sional hear­ing dubbed “Rwanda: Democ­racy Thwarted” on Wed­nes­day in Washington chaired by Christo­pher Smith of New Jersey.

The put Rwanda’s demo­cratic cre­den­tials on the spot, with two Rwan­dan dis­si­dents — Dr David Him­bara, a for­mer close aide of Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame, and Maj (Rtd) Robert Hi­giro, an ex­iled army of­fi­cer, ap­pear­ing to tes­tify against Ki­gali.

Mr Ya­mamoto, de­scrib­ing Rwanda’s re­la­tion­ship with the US as ‘close but com­plex’, said that his gov­ern­ment recog­nises the re­mark­able gains Rwanda has made over the past 23 years, re­cov­er­ing from the 1994 Geno­cide against the Tutsi but has se­ri­ous con­cerns over democ­racy and rights.

“Over the past 23 years, Rwanda has made re­mark­able re­cov­ery from this tragedy. Rwanda’s record on hu­man rights and democ­racy, while im­proved in some ar­eas, re­mains a con­cern,” Mr Ya­mamoto said.

“From 2000 to 2015, Rwanda’s eco­nomic growth av­er­aged be­tween 7 and 8 per cent, and Rwanda cur­rently ranks 56th out of 190 coun­tries in the World Bank’s Ease of Do­ing Busi­ness Index – the sec­ond­high­est in Africa,” he added.

Mr Ya­mamoto, said that de­spite th­ese pos­i­tives, the US con­tin­ues to have se­ri­ous con­cerns about weak demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions, free­dom of speech, and re­spect for hu­man rights in Rwanda.

He main­tained the US con­cerns over the 2015 amend­ment of the con­sti­tu­tion to al­low Pres­i­dent Kagame to seek a third term, point­ing out that in the run-up to the de­vel­op­ment, they en­gaged in ex­ten­sive public and pri­vate diplo­macy, urg­ing Pres­i­dent Kagame to hon­our the com­mit­ment he had made to re­spect term lim­its.

“We con­tinue to pub­licly and pri­vately em­pha­sise our con­vic­tion that con­sti­tu­tional tran­si­tions of power are es­sen­tial for strong democ­ra­cies ev­ery­where, and that ef­forts by in­cum­bents to change the rules to stay in power, weak­ens demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions and un­der­mines longterm sta­bil­ity.

Mr Ya­mamoto said that the Au­gust 4 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in Rwanda il­lus­trated that democ­racy is far from per­fect, with no­table short­com­ings in the poll.

“We are con­cerned by and are fol­low­ing closely the case of Diane Rwigara, one of the three dis­qual­i­fied pres­i­den­tial as­pi­rants. Po­lice raided her home on Au­gust 29 and ar­rested Ms Rwigara and two of her mother, Ade­line Rwigara and sis­ter, Anne, on Septem­ber 23. We un­der­stand the au­thor­i­ties have un­til Septem­ber 28 to press charges,” the US of­fi­cial said.

In Ki­gali, Deputy Po­lice spokesper­son, Linda Nku­ranga, con­firmed on Fri­day to The Eastafrican that Ms Rwigara is sched­uled for court af­ter her file was handed over to the pros­e­cu­tion.

Lobby groups abroad

Po­lice in­ves­ti­gated her for forgery, tax eva­sion, trea­son, in­cit­ing public in­sur­rec­tion, di­vulging con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion and cre­at­ing an il­le­git­i­mate move­ment.

The US urged the gov­ern­ment of Rwanda to al­low op­po­si­tion fig­ures, jour­nal­ists, and civil so­ci­ety to con­trib­ute to Rwanda’s fu­ture be­cause it is cru­cial to build­ing the knowl­edge-based econ­omy Rwanda seeks to fos­ter.

Prior to the hear­ing, it was re­vealed that Dr Him­bara and other dis­si­dents who fled Ki­gali, through lobby firms in the US pay large sums of money to push for the hear­ings, which are used as plat­forms to dis­credit the Rwan­dan gov­ern­ment.

A search on the US Se­nate Query the Lob­by­ing Dis­clo­sure Act data­base shows that Dr Him­bara, who also ap­peared as a wit­ness on the same com­mit­tee, has paid tens of thou­sands of dol­lars to se­cure hear­ings.

Rwan­dan of­fi­cials took to so­cial me­dia to mock the hear­ings, which they say is aimed at dis­cred­it­ing the Rwan­dan gov­ern­ment, terming it ‘democ­racy for sale’.

Pic­ture: File

Mem­bers of Kura Yangu, Sauti Yangu civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tion demon­strate seek­ing dis­missal of the na­tional elec­toral body sec­re­tariat in Nairobi.

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