By Jean Rukika
The word “democracy” was heard in Rwanda for the first time in 1961 when the UN Secretary General authorized a plebiscite for Rwandan people on the country’s future system of government. Thus, the plebs had to choose between the royalty and the republic. The crowds chanted anti-royalty slogans saying, “We need the republic but first of all democracy.”
Since then democracy received a welcome move to the Rwandan institutions. In 1961 Mr Grégoire Kayibanda replaced President Dominique Mbonyumutwa to put an end to the transition that followed the abolition of kingly institutions in 1960. Kayibanda won the election with 34/44 of the vote through an indirect suffrage by the Parliamentarians. In 1965 and 1969, President Kayibanda earned landslide victories at elections through universal suffrage. The then Constitution stated that the President of the Republic should be elected for a term of four years renewable twice.
While President Kayibanda was at the end of his third term, Maj. Gen. Juvénal Habyarimana aided by ten senior officers mounted a coup and they overthrew the President on 5 July 1973. This military coup became a sharp thorn in the shoe of democratic process in Rwanda. President G. Kayibanda and his men ended up in prison where most of them found death and the coup became a catalyst for regional divisionism between the north-westerners and the Southerners.
Though President J. Habyarimana started uglily, he ended beautifully.
In 1976 President J. Habyarimana suspended all political parties and he institutionalized a monoparty system around his party MRND (Mouvement Révolutionnaire National pour le Développement). This means that Habyarimana was the sole presidential candidate imposed to the people, a thing that violated the people’s rights and democratic principles because the voters had no way to choose between more than one candidate. This monoparty lasted until 1991 when, under the pressure of the international community, President Habyarimana opened the gates for multiparty. With the era of multiparty system in Rwanda, opposition parties operated freely and the Habyarimana administration allowed alternative policies proposed by opposition militants to deal with the country’s problems. That’s why I have said that Habyarimana started uglily to end beautifully. President Habyarimana died heroically on 6 April 1994 as he was returning home from Arusha, Tanzania to negotiate peace with the RPF (Rwandese Patriotic Front). Habyarimana was shelled in his plane by RPF commandos as it was planned by Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame and American President Bill Clinton. At several instances, Kagame has bragged to be responsible for the assassination of J. Habyarimana as a way to recite his epic poetry.
The death of the popular president J. Habyarimana triggered the genocide drama of 1994. Although the genocide was planned by Kagame and Clinton, it was carried out by RPF operatives with the help of the meanest intelligences of Rwandan society. Three months after the assassination of President J. Habyarimana, the belligerent RPF took power. On 19 July 1994, Pasteur Bizimungu became President of Rwanda with Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame as his Vice President at the same time Minister of Defence. President Bizimungu resigned from the office in 2000 as the power-hungry Paul Kagame kept tormenting him from right to left butting in all his decisions.
Kagame led the transition for three years and he suppressed the post of Vice President. In 2003, Kagame ran for the first election. At this time democracy suffered a terrible blow. Therefore, there were more than six political parties in the country, yet none were admitted to provide for presidential candidate to challenge the RPF candidate Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame. The so-called opposition parties had no other choice but to work from the armpit of the victor RPF and doing the opposite involved the risk of death or prison. During the election of 2003, the fugitive ex Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu and Dr Jean Damascene Niyitegeka presented themselves as independent candidates to rival President Kagame but each of them nearly ended tragically. F. Twagiramungu escaped death from arm’s length and Dr J. Damascene Niyitegeka was pursued by Kagame’s Gacaca machine courts till he was thrown in prison in 2008 after being sentenced to 15 years unjustly.
In the election of 2010, Victoire Umuhoza and Bernard Ntaganda stood up to challenge Kagame’s presidency. Now Kagame sought for whatever possible means to move the goalposts. Hence, Kagame’s judiciary police trumped up charges that threw Victoire Ingabire and Bernard Ntaganda in jail. B. Ntaganda was sentenced to four years of imprisonment and V. Ingabire is serving fifteen years in prison.
In the last election of 4 August 2017, the same totalitarian scenario played back. Father Thomas Nahimana (a Rwandan who lives in France) wanted to participate in the election but Kagame ordered Rwandan migration services to deny Nahimana a visa.
Then Diane Rwigara and Gilbert Mwenedata rose as independent candidates. The latter had no sooner denounced the RPF dictatorship in their manifestos than they were eliminated from the list of eligible candidates. So far, the Rwigaras’ law case in the Kigali court remains a microcosm of the Kagamist regime’s ferocity, oppression and totalitarianism. Nearly every issue in Rwanda ends up in a micro colliding between Kagame and whoever is the opponent of the RPF regime.
The Kagame administration is a sycophantic oligarchy made up with ministers, parliamentarians, army generals, police officers and civil authorities who tend to compromise in every duty they perform to conform with the despotic aspirations of President Kagame. In Rwanda, no state institution even the Supreme Court is above the fray. They’re all involved in murky partisanship.
Briefly speaking, where is our country coming to? The history of democracy in Rwanda has been a ridiculous thing. Habyarimana overthrew Kayibanda and amended the Constitution to stay in the office for life. Kagame killed Habyarimana, jailed Pasteur Bizimungu and got the Constitution amended to be the eternal president of Rwanda. Surely there has never been room for democracy in our country. Kagame has tightened the political space and it is likely that the country Rwanda is heading for a more dramatic apocalypse as results of Kagame’s harsh rule.
We Rwandans have to decide our nation’s political destiny. Since our Heads of State have failed to materialize democracy in our land of a thousand hills through evolutionary process and rather inherited it political unrests generating a thousand problems, then we have to achieve our democracy by means of revolutionary process.