HUYE — Authorities at the National University of Rwanda (NUR) have suspended the students’ guild elections, allegedly over ethnic divisions.
The campaigns that had entered their final phase of electing an Executive Committee have reportedly been marred by series of negative campaign including, rigging, blackmail, negative alliance to win the elections and genocide ideology.
According to a release from NUR, the decision to suspend the elections was reached at the university security meeting held on March 20, 2008. The meeting brought together members of NUR Management Committee and security organs in the Southern Province.
“…following alarming signs of divisionism based on origin, language and so called ethnicity that appeared during this year’s campaigns for the elections of class and Faculty representatives at NUR, the Rector (Silas Lwakabamba) decided to postpone the elections for the AGEUNR executives,” the release reads in part.
On March 25, Prof. Lwakabamba, held a general meeting with the students in which he announced the disbandment of the arbitration committee - a committee that was charged with organising elections and a nullification of all previous election results. The Arbitration Committee was reportedly suspended for not playing its required role during the elections.
According to Lwakabamba, the University authorities moved in after realising that candidates vying for the different posts were being driven by other interests other than serving fellow students.
“We received reports that some candidates were being supported by people from political parties who were laying ground for the upcoming parliamentary elections. Some candidates were doing so purely for material gain. We have put in place a team to investigate these and other allegations to do with ethnicity and Genocide ideology exhibited during the campaigns. The findings will be made public soon,” Lwakabamba told The New Times.
The University management committee together with students and security organs agreed to conduct a thorough impartial investigation with an intention to identify people who openly uttered genocide and extremist ideologies during this year’s elections.
“Sanctions will be taken if necessary,” the release reads further. There are reports of writings in classes at the Faculty of Medicine with messages depicting Genocide ideology. Police is investigating the writings.
It is not the first time that elections for the students’ guild are marred by accusations of divisionism based on origin or language (Anglophone versus Francophone).
Gad Murenzi, who unsuccessfully contested to represent the Faculty of Medicine, said some students openly uttered negative statements during campaigns and that on polling day that could have affected the final results.
“I did not dispute the outcome of the election but utterances made during and after the elections moved me to write to University authorities to investigate them for the sake of the whole University community,” said Murenzi. He was cagey on revealing the alleged utterances stressing that the matter is still under investigation.
Jean-Marie Louis Hahirwabasenga, another candidate from the Faculty of Social Sciences alleges that there was open rigging of the elections.
In a letter addressed to the arbitration committee, whose copy The New Times has seen, Hahirwabasenga claims that the number of votes counted was more than the number of people on the voters list.
However, Ramla Nyirabahizi, the President of the disbanded arbitration committee said that the elections were conducted in a democratic environment and were thus free and fair.
“We are still waiting to know why the committee was disbanded. We still insist that the elections were free and fair. We did not receive any complaints of divisionism based on language, origin or any thing to do with Genocide ideology,” said Nyirabahizi.
She added, “We called upon the student’s community to report any cases of Genocide ideology but no one came up.”
On the claims of vote rigging, Nyirabahizi said that other voters were appended on the original list because they had registered late.
She explained that the candidate’s polling agents signed after the elections to certify that there were no incidents of irregularities.
However, according to the outgoing guild President Geoffrey Gasasira, the decision to suspend the elections was timely.
“The tension was high especially as campaigns moved towards the election of the executive committee, a committee vested with a lot of powers in running student affairs. We are waiting for the report of the investigation and hopefully the culprits will be brought to book,” said Gasasira.
The University has come up with suggestions which include a review of the student’s constitution (AGEUNR).
“…Basing on the fact that material and financial advantages may influence students during elections, it was suggested that their use be cut so that only those who accept to serve voluntarily can offer their candidacy. It was also suggested that the constitution of AGEUNR should be reviewed with the view to stop negative campaigns during elections,” the release reads.
Elections for student leaders started on February 4 with the election of class representatives. On March 12 and 13, students elected Faculty representatives. The two groups were to form part of the Electoral College to elect the Executive Committee.