Friends of Rwanda,
We have come to the end of the year 2020 and are entering the New year 2021. On behalf of FDU-Inkingi and on my own behalf, it is my great pleasure to wish you a Happy New Year 2021.
We are conscious that many of us are going through difficult times which have been compounded by COVID 19 pandemic. However, let us not lose hope because everything has an end.
As a party, we are pleased that the year 2020 ends with the party standing in a stronger position despite the persistent onslaught by the RPF regime, oftentimes using its political cadres and friends.
We convey our sincere thanks to our companions on the journey to transform Rwanda into a peaceful country underpinned by democratic values, the rule of law, equal opportunity and social harmony between Rwandans.
We commiserate with families that will be missing their loved ones who passed away this year due to illnesses or natural causes, accident or killed because of holding political views different from the RPF ideology. We equally commiserate with families that are in limbo about relatives who have been abducted and they are not sure if they are alive or dead.
We sympathise with those who have been made homeless or dispossessed by the state. We call to mind in a special way the plight of the homeless of Bannyahe, who are so helpless now that they are asking to be taken to another country for protection and care. We commend their courage to stand their ground even though they were being battered by those who are paid to protect them. We encourage other Rwandans in similar situation to stand up and defend their rights.
Our sympathy goes to Rwandan refugees, scattered around the world especially those living in Africa and in particular those living in Congo forests where they are being hunted down relentlessly. We express our sympathy also to families of people who are persecuted left and right around the world with a deliberate aim of making them insane or simply destabilising them psychologically because they are considered to be a political threat to the regime.
On a positive note, let us celebrate the lives of those who lost their lives on the battlefield fighting for democracy, and celebrate the courage of all those who were abducted or those still languishing in prison like Deo Mushayidi, Dr Theoneste Niyitegeka, Theophile Ntirutwa, Sylvain Sibomana, other members of FDU-Inkingi and many others whose names are not mentioned here. We cannot afford to fail to mention those who are not inside prison but are persecuted because they refuse to be deterred from their resolve to tell the truth to defend democratic values and resolve to promote genuine national reconciliation.
We remember in particular those who left us this year including Kizito Mihigo, murdered in February 2020 and Venant Abayisenga abducted in June of the same year. These people are the light and the yeast for the change that we are striving for, which is: building an environment where every Rwandan lives at peace within himself and with his/her neighbor.
I also take this opportunity to thank countries and organisations that assist Rwanda although a lot of public money is squandered in funding operations to hunt down, keep in detention, get rid of or kidnap the people living abroad who hold views critical of government.
Furthermore FDU-Inkingi as an opposition party, it is duty bound to keep a watchful eye, on behalf of the citizen, on what the government in power is doing, to highlight areas where the government is failing to honour its political promise, what President Paul Kagame calls accountability.
We find it appropriate that on a day that we are closing the year, we assess where the country stands and the way forward. President Paul Kagame as the top man in running the country did his job by giving the state of the nation in his meeting with the press on the 21st of December 2020.
One other reason why we must talk about the state of the nation is because it was the target date that the RPF had set itself (vision 2020) to have moved Rwanda from among the category of poor countries to middle income countries.
Above all, the RPF has been ruling for the last 26 years. We don’t believe it has a magic wand that it has kept secret over these years to use in future and do what it was not able to do during these past 26 years.
Regarding “vision 2020”, there are other people who have made a detailed account of its shortcomings including DALFA-Umurinzi party and its document can be consulted. For the moment I don’t have time to do the same here because other people have done it. I shall dwell more on the points made by President Paul Kagame in his meeting with the press.
In his meeting with the press on December 21, 2020, President Paul Kagame made the following key points namely that notwithstanding the negative impact of COVID 19:
- The economy is doing well;
- The government gave out 5,000 tons of food to people during lockdown.
- The agriculture is performing well;
- In the education sector the government has built 22000 classrooms;
- In terms of health, the government paid health insurance for 2 million people;
- There is trust between state officials and the citizens;
- Regarding security, the President pointed out that the security situation was good at all the borders with the exception of the South and the North. He stated that discussions were taking place with Burundi to resolve the problem and hoped that the problem with the northern neighbour i.e. Uganda, would be tackled because both sides had interest in resolving it.
However, we know that the reality is different. We cannot hide the fact that what the President is saying is not true. While I cannot deny the fact that the government have achieved certain things, it is not my job to list them. It is the job of the government.
The truth of the matter is that what the government has done is far short of what it had promised to the people. This is the reason why it is high time the RPF gives way to people who can do a better job for the Rwandan people.
This is the reality about what President Paul Kagame told the press.
- The economy: it is not true that the economy is doing well because even more economically powerful countries that give aid to Rwanda, over dependent on that aid, are experiencing hardships and there are fears that some of them might suspend their aid because of that.
- Food security: We know that agriculture is doing badly because there is permanent famine now nicknamed “Nzaramba” (I shall live long). The proof is that, even though the government is well known to give false statistics to make the government look good, a recent government survey this year revealed that 33% of children under five are stunted. Another evidence is that people living near the border and particularly the border with Uganda have risked their lives crossing the border to get food and some have been shot and killed by Rwandan soldiers who are supposed to protect them.
- Food distribution: The government boasts of having provided 5,000 tons of food during lockdown. However, if you counted the Rwandan population, that is a bit higher than 12 million, and you divided them the 5000 tons of food, each one would have received half a kilo of food during the whole period of the pandemic. In fact, we have heard on media a case when a person refused to take one kilo of food given to her, because she said one kilo was not at all enough to feed her five children for a week.
- Education: It is a harrowing situation. Even though classrooms are important, and we are pleased the World Bank has agreed to give 200 million dollars to education sector, the key issue is the quality of education given. It is well known that the quality of education in Rwanda is very poor. That is why all-important people including the President Paul Kagame send their children to private schools or send them abroad for quality education.
- Trust between rulers and the ruled. We all know that saying that there is trust between rulers and ruled is total exaggeration:
- Officials especially in rural areas have adopted a culture of violence against the people to enforce government policies; The practice of whipping people which was used during colonial times is back;
- An employee including a university lecturer can be dismissed for holding a view that contradicts official narrative, even though we know that universities normally encourage critical thinking;
- Local officials squeeze money from the people through numerous onerous taxes;
- People’s houses are demolished in broad day light by the state: State official order people to destroy their own houses and when they refuse to do so, labourers are hired to destroy them, and families are thrown on the street, rain or shine; no empathy is shown to the most vulnerable: For example, a mother who had given birth pleaded with fellow lady who was leading a group of men in charge of destroying her house, to consider that she had a newly born baby and they not destroy the house, that lady who was leading the group answered that the baby was not her child and that she did not tell her to give birth that night;
- There is another example of a person killed for failing to buy health insurance in Nyagatare: when local officials came to pick him from home for failing to pay health insurance, he pleaded without success to let him free until harvest time, when he could sell his produce and pay. He was kicked and died on his way to the local administration unit.
- Security of people: it remains precarious except perhaps for state officials; Security of people is not just the absence of war; It is about individual security, which is lacking, for example:
- The violation of human rights is rampant; This is documented by independent observers including governments and independent human rights organisations.
- Anyone can be kidnapped or detained arbitrarily without any hope for redress;
- COVID-19 is used as a pretext to oppress the people and to take away the little left to live on or impose excessive fines every now and then; for example: a young lady was battered very badly for not wearing face mask, she is now suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder and has attempted suicide.
The regime is using police, the military and reservists to oppress the people instead of being used to protect them.
- Foreign policy: the Rwandan government is at loggerheads with neighbours and the Rwandan government is fully responsible for this situation; Rwanda has become a pariah state in the region because of its destabilisation policy towards neighbours, plundering resources of other countries etc.
The activities of the East African Community are almost at a standstill when the President of Rwanda is the chair.
Generally speaking, when you look at foreign relations especially with neighbours there is hardly any tangible indicator that things will improve soon; For example: Rwandan newspapers close to the government are criticising Ugandan government leaders who are campaigning for the forthcoming elections; It is puzzling to think of improvement in relations when papers close to government are criticising Ugandan authorities.
In all this, what we consider to be the most grievous sin committed by Inkotanyi is the destruction of the Rwandan society, by depleting the core values that glue it together and define Rwanda as a nation. When they are absent then everything else you are doing becomes a waste of effort.
These values include trust, conviviality, solidarity, mutual respect, moral integrity, dignity. All this is gone because of the policy of forcing people to spy on each other; being shameless, once abhorred in the Rwandan society, has become a norm; going for easy life at the expenses of self-respect is common.
Sowing hatred as part of a divide and rule tactic and lying have become a norm. The value of human life has fallen. It is a harrowing experience when you hear of people being battered and hear stories of people who have survived torture chambers. There is a growing and tolerated culture of violence and intimidation, both verbal and physical, towards people critical of government policies. For example: radio and TV channels that call for violence against people critical of the regime are tolerated by relevant state agencies.
In consideration of this it is not surprising that in the world happiness index report 2019, Rwanda scored the 150th position among 153 countries surveyed. Rwanda came behind all her neighbours. It is a serious problem that has to be resolved for Rwanda to move forward. Those buildings and roads will serve nothing so long as the problem of depleted social capital is not resolved.
The discrepancy in the assessment between one made by Rwandan officials and the reality on the ground is troubling. It could either be that, and it happens in a dictatorship, officials produce statistics that please the boss for fear of punishment if they said a bitter truth, alternatively the overall boss demands that the numbers be inflated in order to be able to sell an image that the country is doing wonders. The country cannot develop when the leadership is behaving this way, because the real problems remain under the carpet and remain unresolved.
There are recent indications that demonstrate that the RPF is not prepared to change its governance strategy.
- Indiscriminate use of violence, coercion and terror against anyone suspected of holding a different ideology from RPF one’s. Some of the most recent example indicators include:
- The murder of Kizito Mihigo 38 years old, we call him a saint; a Tutsi survivor of genocide assassinated because he held a view on genocide calling for empathy for everyone who lost a loved one, whatever the means used and the legal definition of the crime, a narrative that is different from the official narrative.
- The abduction of Abayisenga a 29-year-old; a Hutu student disappeared because he gave an interview where he described his torture at the hands of the state security organs.
- The decision to rendition, at a very high financial cost; Paul Rusesabagina, a Hutu whose mother is a Tutsi, a citizen of the European Union and beneficiary of the highest US civilian decoration. He hid Tutsi in Hotel “Mille Collines”.
Taking such outrageous decisions show that RPF is not likely to change its political behaviour.
- Recent policy decision on education, hope for the future of Rwanda. In January 2020 for the 3rd time in 11 years, the government has changed the teaching language. The government has ordered that teaching would be in English from primary school, a language that many teachers in the country cannot understand or speak. We are all aware that the change will affect 90% of children who are unable to afford to enter the schools of the rich. It means that 90% of children will be deprived of the equal opportunity to grow with the necessary academic tools to achieve economic well-being. We can also add 33% of children who are stunted and will not be able to achieve much in education because of limited intellectual development due to stunting.
- Agriculture stunting is caused by bad agricultural policies; We have agricultural experts and FDU-Inkingi tried to advise the regime on what to do; However, the RPF government ignored us.
- The economy: It will be hard to change the policy: the economy is controlled by the ruling Party RPF and a narrow but well controlled power base: the elite, higher functionaries, military and police officers, key party officials, and businessmen close to the government. As it is the nature of dictatorships, the countervailing powers like Parliament, Senate and civil society are too weak to challenge the misallocation of resources by the executive power which puts resources into projects that don’t have real positive impact on ordinary peoples’ lives like Arenas, hotels, conference halls, golf courses built to impress foreigners.
Any attentive observer, be Rwandan or foreigner, will realise that the current policy can only lead Rwanda to another catastrophe. Sadly, like any state power holders, especially whom the access to power have pulled out of abject poverty as it is the case for some of the RPF leadership, find it hard to imagine losing power because of fear of losing everything.
What I have said is not aimed at discouraging people, but to allow people to know the real problems that the country faces in order to make plan to pre-empt any new catastrophe in Rwanda. It is possible. But it will be possible if each stakeholder did what they are required to do.
- The first option for the RPF is that, if it is confident that it is popular, it should allow other political contenders to take their political programmes to the people and let the people choose the programme they deem most helpful.
The 2nd option, probably the better option, is for the RPF to accept dialogue with the opposition and agree on a common programme that would bring durable peace and economic well-being to Rwanda. I would also invite President Paul Kagame to consider the response of late President Julius Nyerere when the people rejected his decision to leave power saying that as “father of the nation” he should not leave. He gave three reasons why he had to leave:
- After 23 years in power, you have no better ideas even if you were given another 23;
- To prove that the system you set up is working, you need to walk out and see it work without you;
- When you overstay, you overshadow other emerging leaders who fear to challenge you.
- The Rwandan political elite should avoid exploiting people vulnerabilities i.e., grief and other problem to canvas support for their selfish political ends. They would be no different from the RPF that exploits a national grief, the genocide, to get rid of anyone who is critical of its policies.
- The Rwandan people in general should shed off their fear of their leaders and make them accountable and remove them if they cannot perform and doing it without fear or favour and be ready to make the necessary sacrifices to defend their liberties.
- Friends of Rwanda are asked to enforce the agreement signed with the government that disbursement of aid would be conditioned on respecting human rights.
- Members of the Commonwealth: the commonwealth summit is taking place in Rwanda in June 2021. The members should demand the Rwandan regime to respect the core values of the commonwealth regarding democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and real political pluralism.
I would like to end this message by calling to mind, for the benefit of Rwandans, the following advice of Martin Luther King Jr. when he was leading the movement on equal rights for black Americans saying: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”.
Altogether Hutu, Tutsi, Twa, Abanyanduga, Abakiga need one another, we need one another. We will be strong, and Rwanda will be strong when we work together. Let a Munyarwanda be treated as a human being before being treated as a Hutu, Tutsi, Twa, Umunyanduga or Umukiga. If we observe this advice nothing will be impossible to achieve as one people.
As a party, we shall never be diverted from our resolve to build a Rwandan nation with a government that is chosen by the people and where each stakeholder feels part of it.
Long live Rwanda, Long live Rwandans and long live genuine friends of Rwanda.
I wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year.
London December 31, 2020.