YEAR ENDER - The year 2008 is here. As we usher in the New Year, it is not only important to reflect on our country’s achievements, but to also look ahead at what this year holds out for us. This year is probably one of the most significant periods in our country’s politics. It is a year when President Paul Kagame and his government will seek to consolidate their achievements over the past years while at the same time implementing new initiatives.
Already the New Year has ushered in key changes in one of the main peacekeeping operations in which Rwanda is involved.
A joint AU-UN force yesterday at the stroke of 12:00 took up the role of keeping peace from an under-equipped African Union force in the Sudanese Darfur region.
The change meant that about 3,500 Rwandan peacekeepers who have been serving under the outgoing African Union mission, have automatically become part of the hybrid force.
This transformation will certainly become a litmus test to parties associated with the peacekeeping mission in Darfur to determine whether they are willing to give peace a chance (for rebels and the Khartoum government) as well as the international community when it comes to provision of the badly needed logistics and personnel for the mission.
On the domestic scene, this year will see the country holding its second ever multiparty democratic parliamentary elections. Rwandans will yet again express their choice through the ballot as current members of the Chamber of Deputies will complete their five-year mandate come October. This will make it a busy year, at least politically.
Last year’s enactment of a law allowing political organisations to take their operations down to the grassroots should be a catalyst in the campaigning process that will precede the elections. It is now assumed that politicians and political party members are mature, that they will concentrate on selling their respective parties to the electorate by presenting the ideologies around which they plan to build the nation once elected.
Politicians will prove that manipulating the masses by fuelling ethnic tensions for their narrow personal gains is a thing of the past, and will show political maturity by trying to win the voters to their side through constructive ideas.
Still on the issue of Parliament, Rwanda will have its inaugural representatives in the East African Community (EAC) this year. Nine people will represent the country on the regional Legislative Assembly following Rwanda’s accession to EAC mid last year.
The Judiciary is yet another area that will be busy this year. After doing a fairly impressive job in 2007, Gacaca courts will be added more responsibilities and are set to prosecute category I Genocide suspects.
This category refers to people who were either senior leaders during the Genocide, masterminded the killings, or ‘rapists’, and it will certainly not be a bed of roses both for judges and witnesses. However, ours have always been achievements forged out of the odds.
Still on the justice chapter, the Genocide trials at the Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) will fold at the end 2008. Most of the unfinished cases it has been handling are expected to be transferred to Rwanda’s jurisdictions.
With this in the offing, we expect to see ‘big fish’ Genocide suspects coming to the same country where they allegedly committed the crimes, thus enabling more witnesses to show up since it does not involve traveling expensive long distances to Arusha. The fact that a big number of Genocide suspects in category I will be handled by Gacaca will help provide the required personnel and time for conventional courts of law to concentrate more on the ICTR transferees and other emerging cases.
Rwandans will continue to watch closely the relationship between Kigali and Paris following recent high-level meetings between leaders from both sides including Presidents Kagame and Nicholas Sarkozy.
Rwanda severed ties with France in November 2006 and insists that Paris meets certain terms, reportedly including admitting its role in the 1994 Genocide – which claimed at least a million Rwandans – before restoration of the two nations’ relations.
Culturally, this year promises to become a turning point among the young generation. Teams of trained and enthusiastic Rwandans are already spread across the country, to help give a lease of life to Rwandan culture and values. At least 24,000 trainers of Iteroro ry’Igihugu (a cultural education programme) concluded their training last week and, after meeting with President Paul Kagame, returned to their respective communities to re-instill the much treasured Rwandan culture among the young.
Education Minister Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya could again adorn newspaper headlines for all the wrong reasons. The issue of prevalent genocide ideology in some schools will return to haunt her this month when an ad hoc parliamentary commission set up to expound on the issue with inputs from the education ministry officials, presents its report and recommendations to the Lower House.
Depending on the commission’s findings and reactions from MPs, Mujawamariya and Joseph Murekeraho (State Minister for Primary and Secondary Education) might find themselves again on the floor of the House, and who knows?...... The continued problem of unaccredited-yet-operational universities is another issue likely to raise eyebrows this year.
On the communications scene, the recent coming of Libya’s Lap Green into Rwanda’s telecommunication industry is likely to inject in some amount of competition into the sector which for years has been dominated by MTN Rwanda. Rwandans can therefore expect to reap from this less monopolistic environment, either through reduced tariffs or efficient services.
Economically, the increasingly skyrocketing fuel prices on the international Market will continue to cast a state of uncertainty on our economy, which is expected to grow between 5 and 7% this financial year. Kigalians will however witness the construction of a multimillion dollar convention centre, which will house a variety of modern business activities, and attract more mega international conventions.
And it is our prayer that our disaster preparedness officials learnt a lesson from last year’s catastrophic floods in Western and Eastern provinces will avoid a similar incident in future.
However, there is one major issue that will stand out prominently even within the first quarter of 2008: the DR Congo-based genocidal forces – the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
On November 9, 2007, the governments of Rwanda and DRC issued a joint communiqué in Nairobi, Kenya, in which the latter committed itself to disarm FDLR by whatever means. On December 1, 2007, Kinshasa sent a signal that it was indeed serious about the agreement when it shared with Kigali a plan of action to disarm the Rwandan militias, fulfilling one of the terms in the communiqué.
Under the agreement, which was brokered by the UN and witnessed by the US and EU, the DRC is supposed to carry out the disarmament plan by March, this year. As we now count 60 to 90 days to that time, two pertinent questions remain: Will Kinshasa come good on its own promise (since it has previously reneged on many such treaties)? and does the Congolese military have what it takes to forcibly disarm this militia group which has already denounced the Nairobi pact?
In terms of security to Rwanda and the region, the eventual result of the ongoing fighting between Congolese troops and Gen. Laurent Nkunda’s loyalists, or peaceful settlement of the differences between the two sides, is another issue likely to bring about negative or positive effects on Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region as a whole, depending on the outcome. Happy New Year.