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“Consensual Democracy” in Post-Genocide Rwanda: Evaluating the March 2001 District Elections
“Consensual Democracy” in Post-Genocide Rwanda: Evaluating the March 2001 District Elections
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Les FDLR doivent desarmer
Les FDLR doivent desarmer
Report 34 / Africa

“Consensual Democracy” in Post-Genocide Rwanda: Evaluating the March 2001 District Elections

Ever since the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) came to power in 1994 in the wake of a genocide in which 800,000 people died, its government has mainly been assessed in relation to the way it has faced the legacy of the genocide and maintained stability.

Executive Summary

Ever since the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) came to power in 1994 in the wake of a genocide in which 800,000 people died, its government has mainly been assessed in relation to the way it has faced the legacy of the genocide and maintained stability. Understandably, the Rwandan regime has been preoccupied with its own security, especially as thousands of génocidaires reorganised in the Congo, initially supported by Mobutu Sese Seko, and then by both Laurent and Joseph Kabila.  And there is no doubt that the threat posed by the ex-FAR and Interahamwe rebels in the DRC is serious, and that little has been done by the international community to counter it.  However, it does not always justify the tight domestic political control still exercised by the RPF dominated government in Rwanda.

The international community, burdened by its own feelings of guilt for failing to stop the genocide in 1994 has accepted the RPF’s view that security imperatives require military dominance and that genuine political liberalisation willould have to wait.  Combined with an assumption that the RPF representsed a "new leadership" determined to invent a new political model rooted in Rwandan culture, this has produced an implicit international consensus which gives the RPF almost unlimited time to achieve its proclaimed goals.

The RPF regime has consistently asserted its intention to convert its highly militarised system of government into a civilian democracy rooted in ethnic reconciliation, purged of ethnic stereotypes and hatreds, and equipped with a new constitution. A time frame for the transition, originally set for five years, has been extended to nine years, to July 2003. The district elections conducted on 6 March 2001 were seen by both the RPF and the international community as an important stage in that transition process.  This report examines in detail the conduct of those elections and draws some conclusions about the direction in which Rwanda’s political reconstruction is proceeding. Those tentative conclusions will be tested in further ICG reports on the transition process, to be published over the next several months. 

The RPF and the Rwandan Government of National Unity (GNU)[fn]Soon after the genocide and the RPF’s military victory, the new government was set up with the aim of implementing the program of the October 1993 Arusha agreement, which foresaw a government of National Unity.Hide Footnote that it controls claim to be attempting to break from the country’s colonial and post-colonial political inheritance. Since November 2000, they have been decentralising government institutions and power with the declared aim of destroying the political machinery that facilitated the genocide. The administrative organisation of the country is being changed and newly created districts are becoming the focus of development efforts.  Resources are to be allocated to the new districts through collective decision-making at administrative levels that are closer to citizens. The objective of this policy is said to be local empowerment and mobilisation of people to take the destiny of their communities into their own hands. The selected political model is called "consensual democracy".

There was also a more important goal in holding the March elections, which was to begin to develop a new RPF "cadre" in the countryside and to build the party’s political base ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections in 2003. Great care was taken, therefore, in the organisation of the elections. A RPF-controlled National Electoral Commission (NEC) supervised the entire process and delivered superbly organised polls. The national participation rate was over 90 per cent, and very few electoral malpractices were registered by local and international observers.

Yet, these elections were far from satisfactory by any democratic standards. The NEC abused its powers to veto unwanted candidates and guarantee that only supporters of government policies were selected. Voters could choose between 8,175 NEC-screened candidates to fill slightly more than 2,700 district counsellor positions. But the five senior executives of each district, and the mayor of the capital, Kigali, were chosen by electoral colleges rather than by popular vote. Eighty per cent of these electoral colleges were composed of cell and sector officials who themselves had gained their positions in rather undemocratic elections in 1999.  And their choices for district positions heavily favoured the status quo: 81 per cent of those elected were incumbent heads of communes (bourgmestres), previously appointed by the government.

The tight political control exercised over the district elections is at least partly explained by the fact that Rwanda remains a country at war. The Rwandan civil war has been largely exported to Congo's territory since 1994 but the security threat is not only external. The Ex-FAR and Interahamwe militias occasionally recruit inside Rwanda, and launch attacks across the border. Some segments of the population still share the “Hutu power” ideology that exploded seven years ago into the campaign to exterminate the country’s minority Tutsi population. One of the screens exercised by the RPF and government through the NEC was therefore to ensure that only counsellors and district executives who endorse the policy of “national unity and reconciliation” were elected.

But by constricting political freedoms under the motto of national unity and reconciliation, the RPF risks eroding the very foundations of its own policies and dampening hopes for Rwanda’s recovery. Rwandans have shown, for example by their acceptance of Community Development Committees (CDCs), that they are willing to take over management of their own communities when given the opportunity, training and resources.  But the omnipotence of the security services and the political control applied to basic political freedoms in the name of national goals have become counter-productive. They have driven government opponents outside the country, and risk feeding the external threat that the government claims to fight most. In this context "consensual democracy" has become the imposition of one party’s ideology.

It is time to look to look at governance issues in Rwanda from a fresh perspective and to acknowledge that the focus on external security has restricted reform of internal politics. Of course the regional security context has to be taken into account and the international community must do much more to assist in the Disarmament, Demobilisation, Reintegration and Rehabilitation (DDRR) of the Hutu rebels. It should also exercise diplomatic pressure to speed up the peace processes in the DRC and Burundi, both of which have important implications for Rwanda.

But nine years on, a change of course is necessary if the transition is to succeed. Without the acceptance of opposition voices in the internal debate and the eventual return and reintegration of the Hutu groups, political life in Rwanda will remain distorted and unhealthy. The on going writing of the new constitution is a good opportunity for the regime to show its willingness to increase political freedom.

International donors, whose aid is vital to resource-poor Rwanda, can make an important contribution to Rwanda's political reconstruction. but only if they realise that unquestioning support is not helpful. They need instead to use diplomatic pressure on Rwanda’s neighbours to improve its security but also to develop a critical dialogue with the government on the central issue of political freedom, use diplomatic pressure on Rwanda’s neighbours to improve its security, while supporting and to support Rwandan efforts with funds and technical assistance, to lay the foundations for a more stable future.

Nairobi/Brussels, 9 October 2001

Op-Ed / Africa

Les FDLR doivent desarmer

Originally published in Le Soir

Pourchassé par les armées du Congo (RDC) et du Rwanda et isolé politiquement par la communauté internationale, le groupe rebelle Hutu rwandais des Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) a entamé depuis janvier 2009 une campagne de représailles massives contre la population des provinces du Kivu. Après 15 années de présence armée au Congo, Ignace Murwanashyaka, le président des FDLR qui réside en Allemagne, a conduit ses combattants dans une impasse politique et stratégique totale.

Le 6 août dernier, le président rwandais Paul Kagame était à Goma, la capitale du Nord-Kivu, pour s’entretenir avec son homologue congolais Joseph Kabila de coopération économique régionale et des suites de la campagne militaire que leurs forces avaient menée conjointement contre les FDLR au début de l’année. Alors que les deux anciens adversaires discutaient dans un hôtel de la ville, l’armée congolaise conduisait l’opération Kimia II à travers le Nord et le Sud-Kivu, pour désarmer les quelque 6.000 combattants restant des FDLR. En Europe, des diplomates étudiaient de nouvelles approches juridiques pour sanctionner les dirigeants du mouvement vivant dans leur pays, complices des violations des droits de l’homme commises par leurs troupes au Congo.

La situation actuelle des FDLR offre un contraste saisissant avec celle qui prévalait en 2002, lorsque le groupe rebelle bénéficiait encore du soutien officiel du gouvernement congolais.

A cette époque, les 15.000 à 20.000 combattants des FDLR constituaient une force d’appoint essentielle pour Kinshasa, dans son bras de fer permanent avec Kigali. Les dirigeants du mouvement, dont certains avaient participé au génocide de 1994 avant de se réfugier au Congo, tentaient d’imposer par la force leur retour politique au Rwanda. Malgré leur idéologie révisionniste et leur recours à la lutte armée, ils constituaient alors toujours des interlocuteurs légitimes aux yeux de membres modérés de l’opposition rwandaise en exil. Sur le terrain, les FDLR bénéficiaient également de la collaboration de certains Congolais, reprochant au Rwanda son occupation et les crimes de guerre commis contre les populations civiles pendant les deux guerres de 1996-1997 et de 1998-2003.

Suite à l’accord de paix de Pretoria de juillet 2002 qui contraint Kabila à mettre fin à l’alliance officielle entre Kinshasa et les FDLR, les membres du groupe armé rebelle n’ont plus eu les moyens militaires de combattre véritablement le régime de Kigali, comme en témoignait déjà l’échec cuisant de l’opération Oracle du Seigneur contre le Rwanda en mai-juin 2001. La hiérarchie des FDLR a donc maintenu ses combattants mobilisés, par l’espoir que la communauté internationale soutienne le concept de « dialogue inclusif interrwandais ». L’ouverture de ce dialogue, similaire au dialogue intercongolais de 2002 ayant conduit à la participation de divers chefs rebelles à un gouvernement de transition, aurait alors contraint Kagame à partager le pouvoir avec eux.

Aujourd’hui, la réalité est très différente de la propagande élaborée par la hiérarchie des FDLR pour motiver ses combattants. L’accumulation des témoignages documentant depuis sept ans la systématisation des crimes commis contre les populations civiles démontre que le groupe n’est pas un mouvement d’opposition armé en exil, mais une organisation criminelle d’occupation. Les années de fuite au Congo ont transformé le mouvement rebelle en une organisation tout entière vouée au pillage des ressources naturelles du Kivu.

Pour imposer leur contrôle aux populations locales, les FDLR multiplient régulièrement les atrocités, dont les massacres et les viols collectifs. Lors de l’opération Umoja Wetu menée par la coalition Rwanda-Congo de janvier à février 2009, les villageois du Nord-Kivu ont spontanément collaboré avec l’armée rwandaise. Surpris et furieux de ce qu’ils ont considéré être une trahison, les responsables du mouvement ont alors ordonné une campagne de représailles contre les civils congolais. Malgré les violations des droits de l’homme imputables aux soldats congolais, ce sont les rebelles rwandais qui portent la responsabilité principale des 800.000 nouveaux déplacés congolais observés depuis le début de l’année par les Nations unies au Kivu.

In fine, en dépit des lacunes démocratiques graves du régime rwandais, aucun projet politique ne saurait justifier cet asservissement des populations congolaises. L’absence de résultats significatifs obtenus par Umoja Wetu ou Kimia II démontre moins la capacité de résistance opérationnelle des FDLR aux tentatives de désarmement forcé que l’obstination de leurs responsables politiques à refuser la réalité de leur isolement et la dégradation considérable de leur situation stratégique ces derniers mois.

Les dirigeants des FDLR ne reprendront pas le pouvoir à Kigali par la force et aucun acteur extérieur n’imposera à Kagame leur présence dans un gouvernement de transition. La seule option des combattants du groupe rebelle réside dans le désarmement et leur réintégration à la vie civile au Rwanda ou dans un pays tiers.

En refusant d’admettre l’échec irrémédiable de son projet politique, Ignace Murwanashyaka retient en otage la population des Kivu de même que l’ensemble des combattants voulant désarmer. Il lui faut désormais tirer les conséquences de son isolement et de ses échecs, mettre fin à cette guerre qui n’a pas de sens ou tôt ou tard, assumer les conséquences judiciaires de ses actes.