In the first part of the series published on February 25, 2013, the writer takes the readers through a historical journey of the Rwandan political scene from 1950’s until the early 1990s. The first period dubbed the first Republic took place from the late 50s to early 60s when sectarian ideologies prevailed. After independence, political activity evolved into a de facto one-party system under the domination of one political party, PARMEHUTU.
The Second Republic was founded on July 5, 1973 but did not foster a multiparty system that had been stifled by the First Republic. Instead, it culminated with the creation of a single political party, MRND, in 1975 whose organs formed a legal censorship machine.
The writer points out that towards the end of the Second Republic and, more specifically in 1991, the multiparty system was revived with the new constitution of June 1991, but its enforceability was to abort after falling in the trap of ethnicity-centred history until the 1994 genocide. In the second part of the series, the writer focuses on the political events that went on to shape the Rwanda of today.
Ambiguous and revengeful multiparty system of 1991-1994
Through Rwanda’s socio-political history, it was found that the most acute ideological and political crisis that the country ever experienced began with the multiparty system of the 50’s that crystallised into a single party system. The principles of democracy and multiparty system were flawed from the start, by matching the political majority or majority of opinions with the numerical and ethnic majority.
This false view of politics has not spared the Rwandan democratic opposition that emerged with the wind of democratisation of the continent in the 90’s. However, at the beginning of the contest, some opposition parties such as PL, PSD, PDC and MDR tried to open up to all identity groups.
In the late 80’s, the country experienced major social, economic, political and even ideological upheavals. Contradictions arising from practices of divisions and exclusions under the Second Republic fomented claims for sweeping changes in the ideological and political system.
Because they had been marginalised for more than two decades, certain categories of citizens waited for the starting signal of leaders from the south to revolt against the crushing dictatorship of the second republic. Indeed, some 30 of them courageously broke the silence and produced a document of revolt in June 1990 to denounce the abuses of the dictatorship of the ruling party, the MRND and demanded for the opening of political space through the establishment of an integral multiparty system.
To this end, a competition of ideas and a show of force were triggered before a people tired of political indoctrination and injustices of all kinds by the party-state.
At the same time, the RPF decided to embark on its war of liberation on 1 October 1990. The degree of social injustice that prevailed in the country, in addition, to the insoluble problem of refugees, further justified an armed intervention to push for socio-political change in Rwanda.
These political and military forces were relayed by the civil society that also denounced injustice and called for democracy. After so many claims, all these should have prompted the regime to look for a way out by initiating changes so as to avoid bloodshed. Unfortunately, the resistance to change and use of widespread violence plunged the country into a war characterised by political and ethnic violence followed by the 1994 genocide.
From 1990, an eventful political restructuring was in full swing. The country that had long suffered political lethargy opted for a multiparty system resulting in political debates of great intensity. Occasionally, this opened new fields of freedom, eagerly seized upon by the nascent domestic opposition, most of which had no clear plans for the society.
But these fields of freedom were often affected by the resistance to change manifested by the power of a single party, MRND. Between 1990 and 1994, the ideological foundation of the first two republics had often clearly been questioned by some members of the MRND and the civil society. But this criticism was not enough to spur the required changes.
At the onset of the emergence of the opposition movement, it was noted that the alliance between RPF and some members of the Democratic Forces for Change was tactical in nature. The latter sought to get rid of Habyarimana while remaining committed to the ideology of exclusionary politics.
Some trends saw in RPF an occasional ally of convergence to be gotten rid of once the regime was dislodged. This reality was gradually noticeable in multiple contradictions within the political family that claimed to be in the opposition as the RPF and its real partners agreed on practical management of the State.
It is in this context that some observers have qualified the Democratic Forces of Change in 1991 as “ambiguous and revengeful political opposition“ concerned with overthrowing the dictatorship of President Habyarimana so as to obtain ministerial positions to satisfy the basely material desires while using the weapon of ethnic majority.This was witnessed through the divisions within the parties during negotiations
for the establishment of the transitional government in which the broad-based ideological ideal gave way to inordinate selfishness of earning the big cake in the sharing.
This is also the downside of this political opportunism that led MDR to its dissolution in 2003. However, many believed that politics in Rwanda was limited to the antagonism of the binomial Hutu-Tutsi for the control of state power.
Yet in 1990-1994, with the advent of the multiparty system, a democratic opposition of which major parties were MDR, PSD and PL tried to fully play its role in taking a positive position to embark on solving the serious problems within the Rwandan society since the 80’s.
Despite the difficult conditions and the barriers to change set by the ruling power that sometimes caused situations of violence by the opposition, the collective or individual actions of actors in the opposition, their claims and their position at the head of the broad-based transitional Government from 1992, were the elements that guided to a decisive political evolution in Rwanda.
However, as earlier said, despite the aspirations for change, this opposition movement, initially active, remained battling against ideological ambiguities which, for over three decades, endured the manipulations of history, conflicts of memory and arithmetic ethnicity that characterised the Rwandan political space.
If, at the beginning of their creation, most of the opposition political parties did resist the ideology of division and ethnicity, they finally gave in to the ethnocentric syndrome to split into moderate and extremist wings.
The extremist wing remained a proponent for the ideology of the domination of the Hutu ethnic majority. It is in this context that the extremist wing of the opposition political parties played a major role in the ideological propaganda against the liberation movement led by the RPF especially by playing the ethnic card.
The extremist factions of the opposition parties had taken extreme and inflammatory positions during the period of 1990-1994. Like other parties in the presidential mainstream like MRND and CDR, they were the source of ideas that led the people of Rwanda into ethnic hatred that degenerated into mass murder to culminate in the 1994 genocide.
They are deemed to have trained and incited the Hutu population, with speeches at political rallies or through the media, to hunt down Tutsis and political actors of the democratic wing. It is this negative image that reminds the Rwandan people of the multiparty system of the 90’s because the political parties believed and preached ethnic hatred thus playin
g an active role in the dislocation of Rwandan society.
But all things being equal, the October 1990 war by the RPF with the efforts of democratic forces of change from within led to a new breath and helped turn the dark page of history to try a new model of political management that is both consensual and inclusive (after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi and the victory of RPF Inkotanyi).
The writer is the Prime Minister of the Republic of Rwanda
The third part of the series will be published on Monday, March 18. It assesses the political scene from 1994 when the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) Ikontanyi took over the reigns of power to date. This led to a new political dispensation in the country with inclusive democracy, consensus and conciliation being the hallmark.