Kampala — Over four million Rwandans are expected to have cast their votes on August 25 in a Presidential Election viewed by many as an opportunity for the nation to rediscover herself after the infamous 1994 genocide.
This election was not about which candidate was popular; it was about common sense.
It is therefore instructive that Paul Kagame, who comes from the minority Tutsi ethnic group that is out-numbered by the Hutu in a five-to-one ratio, was widely expected to win. However, even without having to consider the advantages of incumbency, a loyal army and other factors, Kagame was still the best candidate, given the circumstances. Faustin Twagiramungu, Kagame's main challenger, comes from the majority Hutu. His political arguments, though convincing, seemed hypothetical and drawn away from the reality on the ground.
Kagame is uncharitable to people who put an ethnic tag to the candidates or all Rwandans. In a BBC interview immediately after addressing his last campaign rally on Saturday August 23, Kagame said it was wrong for foreigners to continue referring to Rwandans as Hutu or Tutsi. "We are Rwandans of Rwanda not Hutu or Tutsi," he said.
And yet, in spite of Kagame's repugnance to what he calls ethnic divisions, the mutual mistrust between the Hutu and Tutsi is real. And there is no indication that this mistrust can be wished away by forceful rhetoric or gestures by politicians or the threat of police questioning.
The problem of Rwanda is a
problem of socio-political justice. It only takes on an ethnic factor as a rallying point. Whereas it is not good to go the Burundi way where political parties openly identify themselves with ethnicity, forceful pursuit of national unity does not seem to be the most appropriate solution to ethnic mistrust. The idea of unity-in-diversity founded on mutual respect and appreciation of divergent political views can be explored. It is worthless to say you are uniting people (with a history of ethnic political violence by the way) when all political disagreements are interpreted by the government as being ethnically motivated.
Whoever wins this election should know that his legitimacy is not limited to electoral victory but also in how he reacts to popular demands. The winner should therefore not see himself as a victor but as someone who is challenged to build national unity on the foundation of mutual respect and confidence.
Kagame of course is better placed for this challenge because he has the advantage of background; he has after all been handling it since 1994. But he should know that the challenge is more than just telling Rwandans that they are Rwandans, not Hutus and Tutsis. The challenge calls for openness in all spheres of national life, particularly political openness. The civil society, particularly the media, should be allowed to pursue ideals of a free society without state interference.
The two main candidates had their strengths. Kagame is the leader of the RPF that stopped the genocide while Twagiramungu was the embodiment of civil opposition. It is Twagiramungu's political activism that kept the fire of civil politics burning even before Kagame's RPF attacked Habyarimana's government.
His political views should not be wished away as ethnic diatribes. "Twagiramungu's political record is clear. He fought Habyarimana who was a Hutu. He will continue fighting dictatorships, whether led by Tutsi or Hutu. In fact, it is Kagame who is causing ethnic division. When a Tutsi disagrees with him, Kagame calls him a coward whose contribution to the RPF war was minimal. When a Hutu disagrees with him, he is accused of playing the politics of ethnicity," said Twagiramungu's supporter.
Kagame derives moral authority from the fact that he is the leader of the group that single-handedly stopped the genocide. His belief in a strong state, however, sometimes borders on the undemocratic. Any ideas that are not in conformity with state policy are viewed as anti-people and of course seen through ethnic lenses. And therein lies the weakness of unity and reconciliation in Rwanda. There is no opportunity to disagree with the government within Rwanda. Many former ministers are either in prison or exile.
Notwithstanding his poor health, former President Bizimungu is now rotting in prison. But tempers should calm down after the elections because life must go on. Whoever wins, this should be seen as the beginning of the future. He should know that the stability of the country depends on how he reacts to legitimate demands for socio-political justice and charity.