Q: Many human rights observers and opposition politicians say the government has gotten increasingly repressive in the run-up to the election. What’s going on?
A: I think it is a mistake to think the government has gotten repressive because the elections are coming up. I think what has been happening is that political parties vying for positions, or trying to fund their candidates, have not been doing what they are supposed to do to fulfill their requirements, and are looking for an explanation. And the easiest explanation is that ‘the incumbent is keeping me off the playing field.’
Specifically for Madame Ingabire’s party, and actually herself and her party that exists in Holland and in Europe but not in Rwanda, we in the government find it so unusual that somebody who is trying to become a politician in Rwanda, and trying to achieve something, would come into the country with divisive rhetoric and downplaying the genocide.
This is my personal opinion, that she has no purpose of truly competing, but just to complain. She should make no mistake. For the foreseeable future, Rwanda will not allow any politician, political party, any individual, to tamper with the reconciliation and unity in Rwanda. That is one of the most important founding principles of the Constitution, and was discussed for many years, and Rwandans have decided that whatever they do, they will strive to be united and work towards reconciliation, which is a process. A long process. Neither her, nor anyone else will start dividing people and rewriting history.
Q: But the Green Party has tried to register six times and has been blocked each time; Victoire Ingabire has also been blocked from registering. Staff has been beaten up, and has been accused of genocide ideology. The BBC was suspended last year. It seems like a lack of democratic space.
A: Do you think that this party is a threat to the ruling party? Where the ruling party would want to construct internal dissension? It would be important, though, especially for those in the media, to figure out how the Green Party, which I hope is green enough, is just like other parties. I am personally a bit disappointed.
They are all into these diversionary statements. I remember precisely that PSI [Social Party-Imberakuri], in the beginning, messed up. They did not fulfill all their requirements. There were forged signatures, identities of supporters that were not provided. Then they came back and registered as a party. Every party needs 200 signatures from throughout the entire country. And supporters by district. There are number of requirements which are not even complicated to reach.
I am an independent. I don’t belong to any political party, but it easy to see that the RPF has delivered.
If you are going from the perspective of no political space, then you will go about it by finding evidence that you want. BBC has toned it down. There is more rigorous editing. We still don’t like what they do in the Kinyarwanda language, which is different from what they do in English and French. That is their choice of coverage, but this radio many times crossed the lines, and that time, they went a bit too far. When they agreed to change, we brought them back. We can’t be ruling and running a party and looking after Rwandan citizens by just listening to what radio says.
Q: You said lines were crossed. What is that line?
A: It is a line that is often toed with difficulty, and it is a line that is called genocide.
One of the things that we find insulting — what the BBC tells us and what other media people do — is that they seem to think that the genocide against the Tutsi is a small thing. And we would imagine never hearing the same kind of comments about the Holocaust. But somehow, there is a sense of diluted genocide here; that genocide is something that has to be reported on, and discussed, and reported in their context.
It is very serious business.
Q: People say this government does not tolerate any dissent and that the government is a dictatorship controlled by one man.
A: By any definition it would be difficult to qualify this government as a dictatorship when in 16 short years Rwandans have been able to decide, in this decentralized system, how to run their own country. When Rwandans have been able to discuss issues of health care and education. And it’s difficult to call it a dictatorship when it gives money it doesn’t even have to bring high-speed Internet to the country. We wouldn’t open our citizens to the world if this was a dictatorship. The reality on the ground is different.
Q: The allegation is not whether or not the government is ill-intentioned, but that the system is ultimately controlled by a single person.
A: Dictatorship is a bad word, and a bad thing. There is a system of consultation that is out there and open, but no one wants to look at it. A dictatorship is when a single person can offer life or death. This man spends a lot of time across the country, talking freely with citizens, having them talk about what’s going on. I don’t know too many dictators that do that kind of thing.
Q: We’ve been told by Rwandan government officials that the genocide ideology law can only be applied to Hutus. Why is this?
A: Ideology is ideology. It is not linked to one group or another, but the reality is that the genocide was committed by the Hutu against the Tutsi, and the reality is also that some Hutu were victims of the genocide, not because they were targeted, but because they did not want to go along with the plan.
Q: But in practice, on the ground, other than the recent accusations against former journalist Deo Mushayidi, it seems to only be applied to Hutu.
A: In terms of the genocide ideology law, where is the practice? Can somebody name cases where this law has been abused? We cannot anticipate that this law is a bad law. If this law has proved to be dysfunctional, it will be revised. We don’t want to abuse our citizens. If it can be adjusted, either in ten years, or five years, or even two months, it would be. This government has no intention of oppressing its citizens.
Q: Speaking of that, why has there not been more effort to investigate crimes perpetrated by Tutsi against Hutu in Rwanda and in Congo? There is extensive documentation that tens of thousands of Hutus were killed by government soldiers.
A: This is a very, very dangerous trend. During the Holocaust there were Jews targeted and killed. There were Jews, there were Gypsies, and others. Every time you talk about the Holocaust do you need to talk about everyone who was killed?
People try to ignore that. From Day 1, there has been acknowledgment of Hutu that were killed. They try to ignore that R.P.A. [Rwandan Patriotic Army] soldiers have been tried. Anything in addition to that is diminishing the genocide.
It cannot be somewhere in between; it is either/or. That is what is a dangerous trend. It has to be clear, a genocide was committed in this country. The R.P.A. and the Tutsi are not the ones that define genocide. The term genocide was defined after excruciating debates. The whole world has acknowledged it.
Q: But we are talking about people specifically killed by the R.P.F. [Rwandan Patriotic Front] during the struggle.
A: Nobody has ever denied that. The government has the record. The government has punished soldiers who killed Hutu.
What is this new other thing? And the motives are not very clear, and they cannot be innocent, especially coming from politicians with nothing to show for their citizens, but rather go into this ideological approach. And I hope that when the time comes, Rwandan people will vote for someone with something to offer other than ideology.
Q: But would you acknowledge that tens of thousands were killed by the R.P.F.?
A: I have no numbers. I know genocide is not a matter of numbers; it is a matter of motive. People who are not Tutsi were killed, they resisted, some were innocent citizens who did not want to join the killing.
But saying that [tens of thousands were killed] would not be genocide ideology; it would be wrongly accusing the R.P.F.
Q: So are you saying that that is not the case?
A: I would have to have precise information. Let anybody who has crimes bring them to the system, so that they can be taken to the court system. People cannot just out of the blue...
Nobody can be just accused of a crime. People were punished, some people are still in prison as you and I speak. Let them, whoever has these specifics, go through the justice system. Maybe they are talking to the media. The government has not received those complaints.
Q: In general, Rwanda tries to put a happy face on a lot of problems. People in Rwanda have told us that it is dangerous to bottle up ethnic identity and not allow people to openly discuss tensions between Hutu and Tutsi.
A: We do not need to put a happy face on anything. We know as a country we have a long way to go. We have many challenges and have discussed them openly. We have a done a lot.
We have done a lot to rebuild this country, to bring back the dignity of the Rwandese people. We have put Rwanda on the map. Why do we need to put a happy face on anything? We know we have a long way to go. There is no question about it. In terms of economy, energy, infrastructure. We have a long way to go.
Reconciliation is a long process, not just a process. It is not something that is going to happen automatically. Some people might not be interested in reconciling, they might not want to.
Reconciliation is not something you throw up in the air and catch. Reconciliation starts with the killer asking for forgiveness. Without that, I find it very difficult to reconcile when nobody is repenting or asking for forgiveness.
How people feel is their personal thing. Before I take pity on the killer, I take pity on the victim.
Q: We just went to Iwawa island. It is a center to rehabilitate street children, but no one there has gone through a court, people have been rounded up off the street against their will. Some people are 14 years old and cannot call their parents. It seems like they don’t have any rights.
A: This country does not believe in not applying the law it has created. These laws are here for a reason, every law. Every Rwandese has its rights. If that has happened, indeed it is a mistake.
Q: The government is trying to revise history; for example, the government says there was no ethnicity before colonialism, that the R.P.F. did not commit crimes against humanity, and that the war from 1990-1994 was a war of national liberation and not a civil war or power struggle.
A: It was most certainly a struggle of national liberation. When Rwandans are denied their right to be Rwandan, that is liberation. When Rwandans cannot be called Rwandans because the government has decided that they are not, that is definitely a war of liberation. I would think that is the right of every Rwandan to actually try to regain that, when negotiations and talks don’t work. People pick up arms to regain what is rightfully theirs.
There was politics of exclusion. If you remember well, this was used very well during the genocide propaganda. These people are as Rwandan as it gets. Some came from Uganda, some from Congo, some from the United States. It is fundamental right that was taken away. It doesn’t matter what they are.
Q: But wasn’t it more specific than that? The R.P.F. was made up of Tutsi refugees, who had been kicked out of the country because they were Tutsi.
A: The whole Hutu-Tutsi thing is not scientific. They [Hutu] have every right to live and actually participate in the life of this country.
Let’s go back to the definition back then, the way that it was being manipulated for a certain time. It has been used to divide these groups and pit them against each other. What has been taught by whom and for what interest? I was in this country for a while before I left. What I was taught in school was that the Tutsi was a snake, was an enemy. That the Tutsi is sneaky. So if those textbooks are better than Ingando, we are in big trouble.
We are not reorienting anything. We are trying to correct mistakes of the past, when your kinship is destroyed. Hutu and Tutsi have a whole lot more in common than what divides them. One would say one is the enemy of the other. That is when we go back into discrimination and genocide. That is not what we are dreaming, that is what we lived.
Q: Is one reason why people are not allowed to talk about ethnicity is that it would become more obvious that a small minority is dominating an ethnic majority?
A: People can talk about whatever they want as long as they don’t use it in a negative sense, or use it against another Rwandan citizen. If you want to go out in the street and say you are Hutu, it is fine. I have even seen a story that says it is illegal to say you are Hutu or Tutsi. I see no law where people say they are not allowed to be what they want to be.
If they want to, they are totally free to say it, as long as they don’t say we can’t live together freely in this country.
First of all, being a minority is usually a good thing. People were singing and jumping up in the air when Barack Obama became president of the United States. People rejoice when minorities rise up in society, when they become powerful.
Q: So by what you say, it should be O.K. for Victoire Ingabire to say the things she does. Because she is not denying the genocide, and she is not saying Tutsis are bad. She, as a person identifying herself as a Hutu, has feelings she wants to express. But she keeps going to the Criminal Investigation Department. (C.I.D)
A: People can identify themselves. What they cannot do is divide people. She’s going to the C.I.D because she is divisionist and linked to the F.D.L.R.. As long as she is a citizen of Rwanda, she’s free to claim whoever she is. No one is interrogating her. The reality of Rwanda is different. If she stays here a bit, she would see that.