On August 13th, Foreign Policy Journal published an article by Sherelle Jacobs entitled “Paul Kagame and the Rwandan Elections: Learning the Lessons of History”, which attempts to encapsulate the unique history of Rwanda, the lead up to the elections and the future of the country. While we encourage open debate on Rwanda politics and policies, it is important to accurately capture the events unfolding in the country. The most pressing event is the recent elections, when we re-elected President Paul Kagame as our leader for the next seven years. These were the second post-genocide elections, highly watched by the international media, which proved to the world that democracy in Rwanda is thriving.
Proof of a fair and free election is in the assessments of impartial electoral observers we invited into the country to monitor the Rwandan elections. The Commonwealth’s conclusions after witnessing an efficient, calm and successful election process was one of praise:
For the 2010 elections Commonwealth Observers have found a well organised and peaceful poll. The National Electoral Commission has conducted the technical aspects very well, providing confidence to the people to turn out in large numbers. We commend the people of Rwanda for their active involvement and for their belief in the electoral process.
Rwanda continues to strive for a perfect democracy, as many Western countries do, and leads the way in instilling democratic values in the East African community. Despite the model for burgeoning democracy for which Rwanda serves, critics still mistakenly charge that the elections were unfair.
Many point to the case of Victorie Ingabire to support their accusations that the 2010 elections were not free. Ingabire lived in the Netherlands until the 2010 elections were announced, when she moved to Rwanda to run for the position of president. Upon arrival, Ingabire stood on the graves of Tutsis lost during the 1994 genocide and called upon Rwanda to remember the Hutus, a group who carried out the bulk of the killings—an act that insults the memory and recovery of the Rwandan people who have spent the last 16 years trying to move on from ethnic divisions.
It was not just her statements violating genocide ideology laws that caused her arrest, however; Ingabire has many ties to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a terrorist group who are blacklisted and still face charges for their participation in the 1994 genocide and who continue to run rampant in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This group, who still faces charges for their participation in the 1994 genocide, is causing devastation and destruction in the DRC and has been called upon by United Nations to immediately surrender to international authorities. Ingabire has been implicated by the UN report to have been working with this group and actively funding them, which increases and intensifies the killing, rape and destruction in the region. We cannot have someone who feeds such violence and hatred as the president of Rwanda.
While Ms. Jacobs clearly conducted intensive research on the state of Rwanda, many facts in her article are grossly misstated. For example, she claims Rwanda’s HIV rate is 10 percent, when in fact it is 3 percent – a figure well below what was quoted and far below the average in Africa and equivalent to parts of the United States. The article also notes that the Rwandan army and government are almost entirely Tutsi, which is again, simply not true. President Kagame recognizes that the cause of the genocide was the Hutu-dominated government, so why would he put in place another one-sided government? Having experienced the deadly effects of that type of exclusive regime, Rwanda’s government equally shares power in order to hold stability in the region. The army similarly draws from all parts of Rwanda, and includes troops from the former regime. This same army is now considered the 6th largest peacekeeping troop provider and was first to go into the Darfur region of the Sudan when the country lapsed into genocide.
Ms. Jacobs says that “the single greatest lesson of the genocide is that until ordinary people see greater evidence of social and political justice, old-established tensions and divisions will thrive.” While she has possibly traveled to Rwanda, she did not experience the genocide and cannot grasp the single greatest lesson of such a catastrophe.
The single greatest lesson from the Rwanda genocide is: never again. All our efforts within the country are to ensure we will never again have a country at war with itself, where the innocent are mercilessly killed because of an ethnic divide. Instead, Rwanda is coming together as one to prosper and move forward. And while we invite outside views on our government, others cannot know the single greatest lesson of something as horrific as widespread genocide if they did not survive it.
Rwanda is a highly-motivated, forward-thinking country that has continued to defy the odds based on our past. We have a strong leader that continues to push us economically, socially and democratically towards a brighter future. While critics can have their say about Rwanda and their perceived missteps of the country, we know that our unique history forces us to make choices that may not resonate with outside thinking. But Rwandans who lived through our tragic past are far better suited to move the country forward than individuals who have not experienced our past but try to make judgments on our future.