The year 2009 was marked by eye-catching developments that shaped the political, economic and social landscape of this country. In this first part of our series on reflections of 2009, Senior Reporter Edmund Kagire looks back at some key issues that made headlines during the year.
Kabuye shuttling between Paris and Kigali
The early days of 2009 were dominated by the news of the Director of State Protocol, Rose Kabuye commuting between Kigali and Paris to hear the cases levelled against her by French Judge Louis Bruguèire.
Bruguèire issued an arrest warrant on allegations that her, and eight other top government officials played a role in downing the plane in which the former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed.
Kabuye was arrested on 9th November 2008 at Frankfurt Airport in Germany while on official duty, an act that provoked a diplomatic row between Kigali and Paris.
Ahead of the 2008 Christmas, French judges allowed Kabuye to return to Kigali for a 2-week break to enjoy the festive season with her family. A hero’s welcome and a huge crowd awaited her at Kigali airport upon.
The year has ended on a good note for Kabuye since these charges have virtually lost weight and chances of quashing them remain high. The recent restoration of relations between France and Rwanda further dealt a blow to the fabricated charges.
Away from Rose Kabuye, the beginning of 2009 marked a turning point in relations between Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda. The joint military operations dubbed Umoja Wetu between the two countries against FDLR took many by suppress.
Prophets of doom were quick to call it off as a failure and many prophesied that it would yield no returns.
To the surprise of those, Umoja Wetu concluded with significant achievements especially in as far as weakening FDLR was concerned.
By the time Rwanda forces were withdrawing on the 27th of January; about 10,000 people had been repatriated and reintegrated into the society and hundreds of FDLR fighters had surrendered and their bases terribly destroyed by the joint forces.
Probably the biggest achievement of this operation was not necessarily the joint military activities but rather setting the tone for improved relations between DRC and Rwanda.
Kagame, Kabila meet
As mentioned above, the success of Umoja Wetu laid a foundation for normalising relations between Rwanda and DRC.
Consequently, on the 6th of August President Paul Kagame and his Congolese counterpart met for the first time under as bilateral arrangement on the border town of DRC’s Goma.
Much as Umoja Wetu had laid the ground, the tête-à-tête meeting between the two Presidents without any foreign interventions marked a new chapter in DRC-Rwanda relations.
For over 3 hours, the two leaders held discussions in a closed door meeting at Ihusi Hotel, approximately 200 metres inside the Congolese territory before they emerged to address a joint press conference.
Their meeting was a surprise to many and caught influential members of the international community off-guard.
The tradition in Africa is that such a ground breaking meeting is brokered by a Western power and venue for such talks must be in a Western capital in front beaming cameras.
Presidents Kagame and Kabila allowing to seat down and discuss issues of concern between the two countries without the so-called mediators, sent a strong message to the Western powers of the growing interest of Africans demanding to solve their own problems.
At the end of this historic meeting, the two Presidents agreed to work together in a win-win situation that would be beneficial to the people of both countries.
Still on the diplomatic front, as relations between DRC and Rwanda took a positive turn, Kigali announced Amandin Rugira as an Ambassador to Kinshasa.
Kinshasa appointed Norbert Nkulu Kilombo Mitumba as its new envoy to Kigali.
In the same cabinet meeting, chaired by the President Christine Nkurikiyinka was appointed as Rwanda’s envoy to Germany, a move also meant to revive relations with Berlin which had been stained by the arrest in Germany of Rose Kabuye.
Germany also named Elmar Timpe its new envoy to Kigali.
On the 26th of July, President Paul Kagame made changes in the cabinet line-up in a Mini-reshuffle which so the two Ministers occupying the Education Ministry dropped.
Dr. Charles Murigande, not a new face took over the Ministry replacing Dr. Daphrose Gahakwa while Dr. Mathias Harebamungu replaced Theoneste Mutsindashyaka as State Minister for Education in charge of Primary and Secondary.
Protais Musoni went to Cabinet Affairs while Christophe Bazivamo replaced him at the Local Government ministry.
Dr. Agnes Kalibata, then the State Minister, was elevated to full cabinet minister in charge of Agriculture.
The surprise in this reshuffle was the massive sweep within education where all the ministers were dropped.
Mutsindashyaka was later to face charges of embezzlement.
Sierra Leone convicts arrive
On the 30th of October, eight war crimes convicts of the United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) arrived in the country to begin serving their prison sentences.
The transfer of the convicts by the Sierra Leone’s UN Court to Rwanda put the ICTR under a spotlight for being reluctant in sending down Rwandan convicts to serve their sentences here.
The Sierra Leone convicts are now serving their sentences at the special “UN block” of Mpanga Prison, in Nyanza District, Southern Province.
Rwanda, France Restore Relations
One of the biggest scores on the diplomatic front was the November 29th announcement that Rwanda and France had agreed to restore diplomatic relations three years after the two countries severed ties.
Both Governments issued a communiqués announcing the decision to bury the hatchet and restore ties after a French delegation led by President Nicholas Sarkozy’s Chief of Staff, Claude Guéant had delivered a message to President Kagame.
Joining the Commonwealth
The biggest score on the diplomatic front was Rwanda’s admission to the Commonwealth during the CHOGM meeting in Trinidad and Tobago.
Interestingly, a day after Rwanda joined Commonwealth, France and Rwanda also announced restoration of ties, an incident that officials described as a ‘happy coincidence.’
Rwanda became the 54th member of the elite group mainly made up of former British Colonies, becoming the 2nd country after Mozambique to join the group despite having no colonial affiliation to Britain.
The unanimous decision to admit Rwanda into the group came after years of attempts. The first attempt being in 1996 and the accession was merited on four grounds centred on democratic processes such as free and fair elections, rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, good governance including a well trained public service and transparency.
Rwanda’s bid is to join the group this time round looked overwhelmingly positive with the support of Britain, Australia, Canada and India-the most influential countries in the group despite several critics fronting for another wait.
The accruing benefits of joining this elite group of nations is what Rwanda looks up to now. The Commonwealth is a club of nations with a population of more than two billion and $2.8 trillion in annual trade. Its main focus is promoting trade, education and good governance among its member countries.
Second Cabinet Reshuffle
To wind up the year, came a surprise cabinet reshuffle on the 2nd of December. In what many described as a surprise move, was the switch of James Musoni from Finance to Local Government and the promotion of Louise Mushikwabo from Information to Foreign Affairs.
After Rwanda scoring well on the diplomatic front especially by joining the Commonwealth and restoring relations with France, many had thought Rosemary Museminali was at the height her political carrier.
At the end of the day, the causalities of this reshuffle were Rosemary Museminali (Foreign Affairs), Eng. Linda Bihire (Infrastructure) and State Minister Albert Butare (Energy).
While the two biggest scorers in the reshuffle were John Rwangombwa, new Finance Minister and Vincent Karega elevated to Infrastructure minister.
Kagame re-elected RPF chairman
The ruling party, the RPF re-elected President Paul Kagame as the party’s chairman for the next four years.
There was no major change within the top leadership of the party with Christopher Bazivamo retaining the vice chair seat while Francois Ngarambe returned as the Party’s Secretary General.
Though President Kagame was elected RPF chairman, the Party constitution does not guarantee him as flag bearer for next year’s presidential polls. The party will again hold a delegates conference to choose a candidate for the polls.
Other major events in 2009
• President Kagame scooping the Clinton Global Citizen Award and the International Medal of Peace given to him by Pastor Rick Warren
• Awarding of liberation medals to President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Ethiopia’s Meles Zinawe and the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere
• BBC Kinyarwanda programmes go off air and then reinstated after the Government reached a stand with the BBC.
• The 7th National Dialogue characterised by the innovative technology used and this time round the public fully participated through a direct phone line and SMS line. The Rwandan Diaspora also followed proceedings online.
• Miss Rwanda was selected for the First time in 16 years. 18 yr old Grace Bahati took the crown. On the other hand, Cynthia Akazuba took the Miss East Africa Crown.