In almost every way, important historical events of the years 1959 to 1962 constituted a series of wasted opportunities for Rwanda. Those events should have enabled Rwanda to enter the bold new era of independence under vigorous leadership that would have reflected the full make-up of the Rwandan society, with a democratic government, guaranteed rights for both political and social majorities and minorities. Furthermore, a national identity should have enabled a precedence over ethnic loyalties, and a commitment to innovative public policies and service as well as rule of law that would have benefited all Rwandan citizens. None of this happened fully, instead the ethnic cleavages deteriorated resulting in bloodshed and thousands of displaced Rwandans seeking refuge in neighbouring countries
In midst of the displaced Rwandans refugees, a 2 years old named Paul Kagame was amongst them. Like other refugees, he ended up in a refugee camp in Uganda where life conditions were appalling. He found himself, scorned by local citizens, living in harsh conditions and deprived, socially, and economically. Additionally, his dear father passed away when the young Paul was 9 years old and he missed his funeral. In other words, he became a victim of historical circumstances.
These experiences of being a refugee and related harsh conditions undoubtedly became the most influential factor for Paul Kagame “childhood dream”; a dream of being able, one day, to live in his native country as free man, a dream of being called a Rwandan not a foreigner and a dream of having choices and opportunities.
In his early adulthood, the refugee problem and unpleasant treatment from authorities at the time forced him and others comrades to join a Ugandan rebel group led by Museveni. This is a decision he took alongside his comrades as result of the anger of being persecuted and the need to protect themselves against the Ugandan government that was harassing Rwandan refugees at that time. As result of that rebellion, Kagame began the war experience. He witness deaths, killings, fighting and assassinations at a very young age. Most importantly, he learnt about the power of a gun that allows you to create fear, to coerce people into believing in your ideals and to gain power over others.
Research has demonstrated that children exposure to war have very important consequences including aggression, anxiety and depression, anger and personality disorder. As consequence, such myriad can create perfect recipe for disaster in later life for some individuals. I have no doubt that these experiences as a young person have influenced Kagame actions, behaviours in one way or another.
In 1990, he became a refugee warrior, determined to make his childhood dream a reality when as part of The Rwandan Patriotic Front , he invaded Rwanda and eventually took the power in July 1994.
After helping Museveni to get to power, he eventually became a leader of a rebel group that took the power in Rwanda in 1994. With the victory, his childhood became true. Not only he managed to return in his home country but also he became its leader.
By arriving in Rwanda, Kagame childhood dreams became a reality. However, this dream is currently becoming a nightmare as he has realised that if he leaves the power, he will definitely deal with justice for many crimes he is alleged to have masterminded.
In fact Kagame journey to power was marked by thousand of deaths and human right abuses. Unlike in 1970’s. 1980’s and early 1990’s when some African leaders were not blamed and pursued for crimes committed against their own people, currently State sponsored crimes and crimes against humanity are brought to justice at various national; regional and international jurisdictions.
The only way to avoid prosecution and possible arrest is for Kagame to remain on the power where the presidential immunity can guarantee his protection against any potential justice pursuit and arrest. To achieve that we have recently witnessed various manoeuvres of people petition, referendum that will lead to a change of the constitution in order to allow him to stay on power until 2034. Consequently Kagame finds himself trapped on the power.
What could be the solution?
It is very right and important that many Rwandans and Congoleses who have suffered or became victims of Kagame alleged masterminded crimes get justice. It is also right and important that opposition parties and activists keep their determination to bring about democracy, freedom, political participation and justice. However, there are procedural issues here.
I identified two alternatives possible options. In one hand, bearing in mind that Kagame is trapped into his adulthood nightmare, which drives him to put up strong barriers around his power (such as using oppression, militarisation, constitutional change, assassinations of opponents) any forced attempts to move him out of power would certainly result in bloodshed.
In this case, justice seekers, democracy and rights activists should consider if it is using force to remove him would be wise to undertake a path that would cost some human lives in order to achieve justice and freedom.
Considering that the fear of prosecution is the main reason that Kagame is barricading himself behind the power, the alternative and the bloodless pathway would be therefore guaranteeing him immunity of prosecution, if he agrees to move out of the power . This this should be negotiated at the national, regional and international level.
This solution would be understandably hard to swallow for Kagame regime victims, considering the suffering he has inflicted on them. Nevertheless by looking beyond own human desperate need of justice and considering that more people might became victims in the process, they would hopefully be able to consider it.
It would be in the best interest of Kagame to accept this alternative if proposed, because despite all his actions to maintain him on the power, soon or later he will end up prosecuted and he will go down in history as one of the most ruthless authoritarian leader that Africa has known.
In the other hand, the other option would be to move Kagame by force. No one can predict the immensity of such action consequences in terms of human lives, infrastructure destructions as well as negative impact to the economy. I much hope that Rwandans will never take this path.
Hence, I am making the following calls:
To Rwandan political opposition: It is a noble cause to fight and seek for free political participation, rights and liberties. However, you choice to fulfil those objectives should consider all peaceful options possible. Thus your actions should be innovative and driven by strong human life values and principles of freedom.
To Rwandan freedoms, human right defenders and civil society: It is unequivocally important to ensure that your advocacy, monitoring and awareness raising of human rights abuses are effective and unbiased, in order to be the true voice of those in need, You should also actively facilitate to bring at various important decision making tables, all Rwandans needs, grievances, concerns and fears.
To victims of Kagame regime: Justice is important and should be delivered. But in special circumstances, history has taught us that that justice might be achieved without punishment, for instance, through truth telling and forgiveness for the benefit of reconciliation and sustainable peace. South Africa is a typical example where they solved their issues under such process same as in Spain after Franco dictatorship and in Northern Ireland as part of their peace process.
To president Kagame: You are very much aware that clinging on power will resolve your fears in short term. Your best choice and alternative entail providing freedom to your people first and negotiate yours with them afterwards. You owe it to your people and to your reputation but most importantly you owe it to Ivan, Ange, Ian and Brian because your choice will undoubtedly affect them in the future. Finally you owe it to your great childhood dream, a dream you had at Ntare School in Mbarara, Uganda as a young, innocent refugee boy.
May peace, freedom, justice and harmony reign in Rwanda.
René Claudel Mugenzi