A Letter To Fellow Rwandans: Together We Can Make Our Country Democratic

Dear fellow Citizens,

I send you all, my fellow citizens, warm greetings and I hope that, despite the isolating and impoverishing consequences of COVID-19, you have remained in good health and retained hope for a better tomorrow─ as you have always done during challenging times.

Fellow citizens, I write to you for four main reasons.

First, I write to share with you what I believe to be intractable problems our country faces today and which requires us all, as citizens, to know, understand their causes and, together, participate in solving them because they can be solved by our collective will, ingenuity, hard work, courage and determination working in concert.

The problems we face, as a collective, include, but are not limited to widespread injustice faced by many of our citizens, including dispossession of land and property, unlawful arrests, detention and fining citizens during this pandemic without following due process of law; criminalizing alternative ideas and opposition political activities, crippling poverty, inequality, fear of speaking up, lack of freedom of expression and association, lack of media freedom, high taxes and undermining the informal sector where many of our citizens derive a living, an economic model that favour investing in big projects and hotels that even citizens cannot access – instead of investing in local development ventures, watering cycles of violence and armed rebellion with many armed groups based in DRC, forced exile for some of our citizens and total control of political, social, and economic power by one political party, and widespread youth unemployment.

Fellow citizens, I wrote a two-part letter to the President on February 10th and 13th, 2021 about these problems and how they can be solved. I strongly believe that we can solve these challenges since they are not located in the state of nature but a consequence of our leaders’ beliefs, ideas, policies, actions, inactions and how they treat fellow citizens. I believe that through our God-given brains as citizens, ingenuity and abilities, these problems can be fought and overcome by our collective endeavours and actions.

Dear fellow citizens, it is due to belief in what we believe we can achieve working together that, on March 16th, 2021, I was part of patriotic Rwandans that formed the Rwandese Platform for Democracy (RPD) as a forum to contribute to solving these monumental problems.

We formed the RPD not because we wanted to oppose anyone but because we believe that our country needs all its citizens to contribute to its sustained development, peace, justice and collective progress.

Yet, despite having the constitution right to participate in contributing ideas on how our country can have sustainable peace, security, peace and development, a few days after announcing the formation of RPD, laughable propaganda was spread through government leaning media that I had, in 2017 attempted to rape and even one online newsletter spread the lie that we are funded by “a neighbouring country” it couldn’t even have the courage to name.

Worse, in less than a week after starting RPD, our Platform’s Mobilizing Secretary was arrested by RIB on allegations of theft, impersonation and belonging to an illegal organization. A day later, on the evening of March 22nd, I was also summoned by RIB for interrogation for attempted rape and, on March 29, RIB searched my house.

Fellow citizens, when we started our political formation, we knew that trumped-up charges would be brought against our members; some impoverished, arrested, imprisoned or worse. We spent weeks debating this and we knew that bogus accusations would be brought up both because it has been the modus operand in our country for years, and because even some within the system advised us against forming this Platform or even speaking our mind for exactly the same reason─that “the system” would make our life impossible.

However, because we love our people and country too much, we decided to speak up and offer ideas on how progress can be made, instead of living in fear. For, we believe, sustainable development and progress comes not when citizens fear but when they are courageous to understand their rights, ingenuity and ability to determine their future and collectively work to secure that desired future.

Some of our friends and colleagues advised us against forming the party saying that, if we did, we would be criminalized for it and prosecuted. But we believe that we must aspire for something higher than our own individual comfort; for in our view, we do not exist just to eat and sleep in peace or live longer in fear, but aspire for collective wellbeing and justice for all our citizens; living in fear is the worst prison.

For, in our view, we cannot have a sustainably secure, peaceful, just, democratic and developed Rwanda unless we start imagining and working for it today.

For many citizens, persecution has been a way of life for a long time. At a personal level, I have experienced persecution and blackmail since at least 2007 when I chaired a media committee of judges that was charged with studying and determining the best journalists that year and when, by consensus chose a former editor of the now defunct Umuseso newspaper as the best journalist, all hell broke loose. Regime sympathizers started attacking and even claimed I had done that, as chairperson, because I wanted to run to exile! When, together with other partners started a newspaper, The Chronicles in 2011, we were accused of being funded by “negative forces” and our journalists persecuted, one imprisoned, lured away by money and some asked to incriminate me. At the time, I was also interrogated several times in 2012 by the police.

In addition, I also know many young men and women, businessmen and women who have, over the years, left the country to start life elsewhere due to persecution, crippling taxes, and criminalizing alternative views as well as impoverishing or imprisoning anyone suspected of being in “opposition” or being critical of government.

Therefore, persecution is not new to our citizens; but it is our responsibility, as citizens, to work together to end it if sustained progress is to be made possible.

Secondly, I also write to you, fellow citizens, because I believe our country is at the crossroads and needs your services to determine which route to take at this critical juncture in the life of our nation.

At the moment, we, as a nation, are faced with two options: contributing to nurturing the ongoing societal radicalization watered by injustice, inequality, endemic poverty, persecution, criminalizing opposition politics and promoting a single voice in politics, or rejecting this and support the politics of compassion and ideas, justice, equality, liberty, freedom and opportunity for all citizens. It is the latter that waters sustainable peace, security and development, and its this politics we have embraced and support.

Fellow citizens, it is my considered view that the ongoing radicalization of our society has produced two categories of citizens: “saints” and good citizens who obey the ruling party and follow whatever government says without questions, and on the other side, “criminals” who speak up against the injustice meted out to fellow citizens.

Today, anyone who speaks up against ongoing injustice is either labelled a genocidaire and genocide denier or immoral─with preferred charges ranging from being called corrupt, rapist, thief, treasonous et cetera.

Of course, neither injustice nor criminalization of alternative political views or even punishing dissent is new. Gregoire Kayibanda tried it by dividing the country along ethnic lines and eliminating all members of the opposition after independence; he forced thousands into exile and only members of his party, MDR were considered “good” citizens.

When Kayibanda was overthrown in 1973, Juvenal Habyarimana, who removed him in a coup, promised development. Instead, the new president eliminated all major supporters of MDR, and Kayibanda himself died of hunger and many of his ministers “disappeared”.

To Habyarimana, good citizens had to belong to his party, the MRND that he founded in 1975. But as his predecessor, Habyarimana died an untimely death when his plane was shot down trying to land from peace talks in Arusha on April 6, 1994.

Fellow citizens, we call on you to join our fight for democracy, to end this cycle. For, if we collectively do this, long after we are gone, our children and grandchildren will determine whether, democracy defeated flourished or otherwise. What I know, from history is that, good triumphs over ill and like they say, “the arc of history always bends towards justice”.

Third, I also write to you, fellow citizens to share with you how the human mind works and how the mind can generate wealth and happiness as well as how living in fear undermines human creativity, peace and happiness.

Dear fellow citizens, the mind is more creative when it is allowed to be free. Under fear, the mind retreats and produces sadness, depression, poverty and underdevelopment. Therefore, the government’s actions that instil fear in our citizens impoverishes them and the country.

In times of glaring injustice, individuals can take one of three options: watch in despair and frighteningly decide to be bystanders or collaborate with rights abusers. Alternatively, they can refuse to be cowards and take action to change the situation to conditions of dignity, protection of the sanctity of individual life and freedoms, and in the process contribute to rule of law and democratic practices.

That being the case, we in RPD took the choice of refusing to live in fear and instead stand up for freedom for all our people and contribute to our nation’s development.

In writing about the problems our country faces and proposing solutions on how they could be solved, I knew I could face jail or worse but I decided that, instead of living in fear, it was better to speak up and face the consequences.

Fellow citizens, I must end my letter reminding that what kept our nation together long before colonialism and ethnic politics arrived was a bond of trust between our ancestors, a story of common origin, a common past and future and core values of love for each other, compassion, patriotism and consensually accepted government that constituted the social contract citizens had with their government.

Thus, we must all work to rebuild and sustain that social contract. Remember that, as David Roothkope once put it, “Providence never intended to make the management of public affairs a mystery to be comprehended only by a few persons of sublime genius”, but a collective endeavor.

I wish you all, fellow citizens, God’s blessings and working for the collective wellbeing of our nation.

Yours sincerely,
Christopher Kayumba,
RPD President