Please ignore Rwanda. Parliamentary elections are coming up in Rwanda this September, and the world should ignore them. You read this correctly. I am not asking for election monitors, nor intervention, nor even international observers. We already know how these elections will turn out, so why bother? The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) candidates will win an overwhelming majority, and the country will go on as it has since the genocide.
In 1994, I tried desperately to get the world to pay attention to the atrocities that were being perpetrated in my beloved Rwanda. I saved as many people as I could directly and tried to use my voice to speak out to the international community and save others. At the Hotel des Milles Collines, we called desperately for help. Using a secret fax line that the killers did not know about, we sent faxes day and night to Brussels, London, Washington, DC and to the United Nations, etc. I was disturbing every NGO, every media outlet, every government official that I could contact. We were begging for someone to end the slaughter.
Today, Rwanda is a different country. The violence today is more hidden but even more insidious in my home country. Much of the open violence has moved next door to the Congo where men, women, and children are raped and killed by Rwandan militias everyday.
However, there is political repression and control. Dissent is not allowed in Rwanda, not in public speeches, in the press, or certainly not for political candidates. Individuals who speak the truth about this repression are intimidated, jailed or disappear. When two people stand and talk, suddenly a local defense force member shows up to listen and monitor the conversation.
Rwanda is an open prison.
Journalists are threatened, exiled or killed like Charles Ingabire. Potential opposition politicians are prevented from registering their parties, threatened, harassed, jailed, and again killed like Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, the Green Party Vice President, when the opportunity presents itself. Green Control of dissent in my home country by President Paul Kagame and his RPF party is, unfortunately, nearly complete. As President Kagame recently said in a speech, there is no political space in Rwanda, it is fully occupied.
When we talk about “democracy” in other countries, most in the West picture something like the system we enjoy here in the United States. Political candidates vying for elected office. Reasonably free and fair elections, where almost anyone can join the process. But in Rwanda, this does not exist. Rwanda is like the Soviet Union under Stalin, where one man and one party determine who gets elected, and the citizens have no choice. And as has happened in many other places where this situation occurs, the party in power wins the “election,” and continues to rule for its own benefit.
We need to remember that the act of holding an election is NOT the only element in a democracy, it is one of many. Free speech, freedom to associate with others, free press, and freedom of political action are just some of the other things that are also essential, and none of these exist in Rwanda.
So this year, I choose not to join the chorus of people who will inevitably say that the Rwanda elections are corrupt and must be watched closely and monitored. This is not the real truth. The truth is, the Rwandan Constitution of 2007 is the corrupt document, set up by and for Paul Kagame and the RPF. And that constitution made everything that is happening today “legal.” The RPF has institutionalized and legalized its complete control of Rwanda so that they do not need to steal votes at the ballot box, instead, they simply prevent other parties from getting on the ballot. When the system is rigged for those in power, they simply use the system to maintain their power – they don’t have to “cheat” in ways that will be visible to others.
So today I take the radical step of asking you to not bother intervening in Rwanda. There are upcoming Parliamentary elections in September. I say to you, the international community, please don’t bother. Don’t call for transparency, don’t send election monitors, don’t bother looking at this Rwandan election. Please stay away.
If you want to help Rwanda, look deeper at the authoritarian government that gets away with these sham elections every cycle. Stop turning a blind eye to Kagame’s iron-clad control of Rwandan society. Press his government to really open up and allow the full freedoms that are needed for democracy. Apply even more pressure to stop the illegal support of the war in the Congo, which supplies much of the resources needed to let Kagame and the RPF continue to run Rwanda.
But please do not further legitimize the Rwandan government by pretending that these elections are anything but what they really are: a sham. Nothing more than political theater to prop up the party that supports the dictator.
Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation