US Congress puts Rwanda on the spot
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’.
Members of Kura Yangu, Sauti Yangu civil society organisation demonstrate seeking dismissal of the national electoral body secretariat in Nairobi.