This question about the weakness of Rwanda’s political opposition parties is an interesting one.
Is the opposition weak in Rwanda because it is not given space? Because it’s persecuted? Not accepted? Or are there other reasons?
In my view, not just as an analyst, but as someone who sees what happens in other African countries, I know very well that in the aftermath of the Genocide, Rwanda’s opposition parties made a strategic error - they took the Genocide as a footnote in the country’s political history.
The Genocide was destined to become, in every way, a defining moment.
With more than a million deaths and more than a million killers, politics could not continue as usual, with games and diatribes.
People were afraid, they were paralysed. People were trying to forget what had just happened, both victims and killers. Their view of politics could not remain the same either. There was no going back.
So the political parties in Rwanda, some of them quite powerful like the MDR [now defunct], which was considered the main opposition, looked as if they were bystanders.
You didn’t see the leaders of that party traversing the country to reassure people following the horrors of the Genocide. You didn’t see them going to console victims.
On the contrary, they resumed political wrangling, as if the Genocide had been a mere interlude.
And during that time, they let Kagame and the RPF-Inkotanyi do what I would call the dirty work of securing the country, reassuring both killers and victims.
The opposition parties were either doing nothing or running around Europe begging for help from NGOs and donors.
I’ll always remember Faustin Twagiramungu in Geneva. With the country still in chaos, he was demanding that aid be blocked until after elections.
He was of the view that elections should be held as quickly as possible, while the country was littered with dead bodies, while more than two million people were in the refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
It is this strategic error that had people thinking: Well, Kagame scares people, no one knows the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), they are foreigners, and so forth.
Also, the Tutsi are now more a minority than ever in the country. Therefore, it will only last a short while; they are only preparing the path to power for us.
Except that, during that time, a relationship was being forged between Kagame and the people, indeed between all those in power (the RPF and all who participated) and the people.
This relationship was different from the one we were used to with Mobutu, with statues everywhere and so forth. This was almost a moral contract: I put in place everything you need — security, training, a government — and then you work and develop the country.
For a country where there was no unifying element, to put it crudely, it was the stomach that brought people together. They saw what they could gain and they turned away from the massacre that had just taken place. Killers working hand in hand with victims.
For outsiders, it’s often shocking to see these young people in cooperatives — some were in prison not too long ago for Genocide — but they are now working with the victims. And I believe that it is precisely because of the shift in priorities from empty politics to development.
This is indeed the political error of opposition politicians of the likes of Faustin Twagiramungu who came up with the slogan “ntora mpore” (vote for me, I’ll revenge for you) that referred back to the killings. Did the Hutus want to say “now that we have a Hutu president, let’s seek revenge?” No. I think they were trying to forget what had been done.
But when I look to the future, I see changes. I sometimes follow what is going on in Rwanda. I was delighted to see the debates on taxation [during campaigns]. I think what interests people is not whether so and so will be a senator or not. Instead it is: How does this benefit me? Are we going to lower taxes? If they are reduced, will the government continue to sponsor scholarships for children? Will we continue to fund health insurance for children, and so forth.
There is a win-win relationship between the leadership and the people. And I think the younger generations of politicians will understand that. Because otherwise politics is meaningless.
Madeleine Mukamabano is a Europe-based political analyst and journalist.
The above comment is an extract from an interview conducted in French by Igihe Ltd.