In the most dramatic display of partisan leanings, a European elections observer collapsed in Ruhengeri – present day Musanze district – as she realized that the candidate she supported, Faustin Twagiramungu, was evidently losing the elections. This was during the 2003 Presidential elections.
This compromised attitude on the part of European observers was to, once again, manifest itself in the 2009 Parliamentary elections when a European observer team openly split into factions, with one group insisting on presenting an objective report, while on the other hand, you had a faction that sought to release a smear document. The neutral side, in the end, prevailed.
It is this strange and inexplicable partisan interest in Rwanda that continues to colour and to inform Western perceptions about the country. It is a phenomenon that always comes to the fore during election seasons. Indeed, during this season, certain Western interests have chosen to ignore the fact that this is not the first time the Rwandan people are going to the polls, after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
In 2003, Rwanda, for the first time, held democratic presidential elections and, like this time, a Rwandan politician had flown in from Europe, confident that they would win the elections, by simply whipping up ethnic sentiments.
While Faustin Twagiramungu had initially sought to portray himself as a serious politician prepared to work with other progressive forces to rebuild the country, after the Genocide, he turned out to be the most opportunistic and sectarian politician in the post-Genocide government.
Indeed when he presented himself as a candidate in 2003, Twagiramungu counted on his sectarian credentials to win the elections.
Victoire Ingabire, on her part, cut her political teeth in Mugunga refugee camp in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she was enlisted as an executive member of Rally for Return of Refugees (RDR), that later evolved into the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDRL).
When Twagiramungu returned home, in 2003, to contest in the Presidential elections, there was no record of his membership to terrorist organisations, or any other criminal record on his part. It was partly on that basis that he qualified as a presidential candidate without difficulty.
On the other hand, by the time Victoire Ingabire showed up in Kigali, January this year, she had been listed by the United Nations panel of experts as an active FDLR supporter and financier.
Prosecutors have, subsequently, gathered and presented more evidence pinning her as a key member of the terrorists outfit.
Now, this difference in criminal background is quite significant, as it answers the question as to why the government has prosecuted Ingabire, while Twagiramungu did not encounter any obstacles when he sought his electoral fortunes.
It is a critical detail that those foreigners who seek to portray themselves as expert political analysts, as well as the usual Rwanda-bashers have conveniently left out.
Otherwise, why prosecute Ingabire and not Twagiramungu, if it’s about the RPF seeking to deny a chance to its opponents? Indeed if that was the case, the RPF would probably have had more to fear about Twagiramungu than Victoire Ingabire.
Twagiramungu easily had more political experience and probably better known to the Rwandan electorate than Ingabire is.
Indeed in 2003 the RPF, as a political party, was not as experienced and organized as it is today. If, therefore, there was a time that the RPF needed to short-change its opponents, it was during the last presidential elections when the party was relatively weak.
That did not happen and the question, those claiming that the government is fearful of the challenge that Ingabire would present as a presidential candidate, should be answering is: why prosecute Ingabire when the government did not go after Twagiramungu, who probably stood a better chance than her?
Make no mistake about it, in terms of broader ideology, the two politicians are not different. Both were parachuted into the country with financial and political support from foreign forces, representing the colonial past, with the hope that either of the candidates would work to re-instate a client regime, if they won the elections.
They both believed that no matter how long they had been away from the country, all they had to do was present themselves and their ethnic credentials and they had it in the bag.
They have played the sectarian card from the bottom of the deck, with Twagiramungu choosing to communicate in coded language, while Ingabire went whole hog. Faustin Twagiramungu has since come out to publicly espouse Genocide denial and revisionism.
However, the critical departure is that at the time when they each returned to Rwanda, Victoire Ingabire’s criminal dossier had been documented, not only by the Government of Rwanda, but by the United Nations panel of experts, while Twagiramungu had successfully kept his Genocide denial position below the radar.
Ingabire’s current troubles, therefore, have nothing to do with elections and everything to do with criminal justice.