Less than a month ago, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame was informed of a challenger for his seat, Victoire Ingabire, the leader of the Unified Democratic Forces political party that is yet to be registered.
Ms Ngabire, who has lived in The Netherlands since the early 1990s, is the most controversial political figure who has emerged in the recent past to challenge the status quo in the country, which prefers to suppress ethnic debate to forge national healing.
Kagame’s government is threatening to prosecute her for alleged inflammatory speech, and she has faced public intimidation and mob violence.
She is now fighting to get a national identity card so that she can participate in the election as a legitimate candidate.
The big question now is whether Kagame is ready to tolerate political opposition, or he will continue to use the past as a pretext to crack down on legitimate political dissent. Is the modern Rwandan state stable and vibrant enough to deal with uncomfortable truths about the past in the context of political plurality? CHARLES KAZOOBA and ESTHER NAKAZZI from the Kampala Bureau interviewed her on a range of topics.
What do you plan to do differently and what package will you offer women?
I will promote peace and reconciliation. Because women abhor violence, I will ensure that there are more women in power. I will turn around Rwanda’s image, which has been tarnished by the Rwanda Patriotic Front’s unnecessary ventures into other countries. I will set up special programmes for women and promote development projects that will help them gain financial independence.
The Rwandan media has described you as a hard talker. Explain.
I do not waver on my genocide ideology. We must accept reality. Tutsis and Hutus should be held responsible for crimes against humanity. We need to sit together as Rwandans, analyse the genocide and come up with solutions to this problem. It is wrong to tell Rwandans not to talk about ethnic groups. That is what sets us apart from President Kagame’s reconciliation strategy. But Rwanda’s biggest problem is the absence of the rule of law and lack of democracy.
Why do you say so?
Kagame’s government is not ready to accept opposition. This is why they sent young men to beat me and my aide two weeks ago — which was a true reflection of the lack of democracy and freedom of expression in Rwanda.
This treatment extends to all opposition politicians. Kagame must accept that there is an opposition that needs political space. We are not enemies. Instead, he uses the genocide ideology against us. The genocide took place 16 years ago and now is the time for democracy.
But Rwanda holds elections regularly right up to the grassroots level, while the media has free reign.
Do you know how many journalists have been arraigned in court because they wrote political stories?
I have even received a letter that was addressed to all media houses asking them not to interview me. That shows that Rwanda lacks freedom of expression.
What will you do for the people of Rwanda?
Reconciliation is top on my agenda.
But President Kagame is also advocating reconciliation.
Rwandan people are yet to be reconciled. I have been in the country for three weeks. I have seen and heard what people say; there is no reconciliation. We need courage to talk about the ethnicity issue.
How do you intend to tackle the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda — a rebel group fighting President Kagame’s government and Interahamwe (Hutu paramilitary organisation)?
The FDLR claims to be fighting for peace. They also accept that some of their members took part in the genocide. Everybody involved in genocide and crime against humanity committed in Rwanda has to be judged. Our argument is political space — it would solve the problem.
Do you approve of the way Gacaca (a community justice system inspired by tradition established to try genocide suspects) conducts its proceedings?
No. Genocide is a serious crime. I don’t understand why anyone would ask laymen to judge genocide suspects. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is better placed to handle the matter because it operates with experienced lawyers.
Rumour is rife that your mother participated in the genocide. What’s your comment?
(Laughs) That is just propaganda by the Rwandan Patriotic Front. I first heard about it when I returned into the country.
What is the source of funding for your campaigns?
Members of my party. However, I don’t discuss with the media details concerning the sources of our funds.
You have been quoted as saying Rwanda’s foreign policy has weaknesses. How do you intent to improve it.
We shall do everything in our power to normalise relations with the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Kigali interfered with local Congolese politics, resulting in the death of five million people). Congo has a weak army. I am afraid that once they strengthen it, they will seek revenge.
Do you have a personal relationship with France?
I have contacts with some politicians in France, but not with France as a country. Once we take over power we shall normalise relations with all countries.