Why are the political killings and disappearances under Paul Kagame being ignored?


Rwanda’s economic success since emerging from the horrors of ethnic genocide in 1994 has been staggering. President Paul Kagame has steered the country out of crisis and guided it into a new age of stability and economic promise. In 1994, Rwanda’s per capita GDP was $146 but this rose to $774 by 2017 and is projected to reach $970 in 2020.

Rwanda’s success under Kagame has earned the president plenty of praise from the international community but concerns have grown in recent years about the darker side of his strict rule.

Economic growth and stability have come at the expense of democratic freedom and human rights. In 2018, The Economist published the latest version of its Democracy Index with Rwanda being classed as an “authoritarian” state, closer to the likes of North Korea and Syria than the world’s leading democracies.

Source: The Economist, Telegraph

Some will argue that Rwanda’s economic growth wouldn’t be possible without Kagame’s authoritarian rule. They might be right. The country is eerily void of significant political opposition and elections pass with overwhelming majorities in favour of Kagame without any of the protest violence we’re used to seeing in its neighbouring countries.

However, this doesn’t explain why the world seems to turn a blind eye to the political killings and disappearances that continue to take place in Rwanda. The moderate political opposition that manages to survive in Rwanda constantly reports new cases of disappearances – most of whom are later found dead, detained or simply never found at all.

Yet, while the world’s democratic elite pile pressure on countries like Nicaragua, Venezuela and South Sudan over political killings, the growing list of fatalities in Rwanda escape the same kind of scrutiny.

Rwanda’s growing list of political killings and disappearances

There’s no knowing how many people have been killed, detained or forced out of Rwanda through political motivations. Dozens of people remain unaccounted for but there are enough high-profile killings over the past five years alone to warrant attention from international authorities.

Sylidio Dusabumuremyi

Killed in September 2019

Sylidio Dusabumuremyi, the national coordinator of the FDU-Inkingi party, was stabbed to death while working in a canteen at a health centre. The party’s leader, Victoire Ingabire, said the killing was politically motivated with the simple aim of intimidating opposition politicians.

Eugène Ndereyimana

Missing since July 2019

Eugène Ndereyimana was reported missing in July when he failed to turn up to a meeting in Nyagatare. Nobody has heard from him since. According to his wife, Ndereyimana had faced political intimidation since the previous September when he was arbitrarily detained by military officers at a local police station.

Such disappearances are worryingly common in Rwanda and the outcome, if one ever becomes known, is rarely positive. Ndereyimana’s family will take little solace from the disappearances of his fellow FDU-Inkingi supporters.

Anselme Mutuyimana

Killed in March 2019

In March 2019, the body of Anselme Mutuyimana was found in a forest, showing signs of strangulation. Mutuyimana was an assistant to opposition FDU-Inkingi leader Victoire Ingabire and his death came just six months after being released as a political prisoner.

He was first arrested in 2012 and convicted in 2014.

Boniface Twagirimana

Feared dead since October 2018

Opposition leader Boniface Twagirimana ‘disappeared’ from his prison cell in Mpanga on October 7. Rwandan authorities claim he escaped from prison but his family suspect he may have been killed in detention. His relatives told Human Rights Watch, that Twagirimana was hopeful of winning his court case, insisting he had no reason to try and escape before his trial.

Twagirimana’s associated say that, according to other detainees, he was abducted and driven away from the prison in a state prison vehicle.

Illuminée Iragena

Missing since August 2016; found in  March 2017

The case of Illuminée Iragena reveals one of the happier endings to political disappearances in Rwanda and also offers some clues as to what opposition supporters experience.

Human Rights Watch reported on Iragena’s reemergence, saying:

“On March 6, 2017, journalist John Ndabarasa resurfaced in Kigali, more than six months after his disappearance in August 2016. He told media that he had fled the country, but decided voluntarily to come back. The story raised a lot of suspicion. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases in Rwanda where former detainees were forced to make false claims following months of illegal, secret detention and torture. Human Rights Watch continues to look into what happened to Ndabarasa and urges Rwandan authorities to ensure that Ndabarasa is allowed his full freedom and security.”

Patrick Karegeya

Killed in January 2014

The death of Patrick Karegeya sent out a warning signal that even those who flee Rwanda aren’t safe. After falling out with Kagame’s regime, Karegeya fled the country in 2008 after helping to create an opposition movement in the Rwandan National Congress.

On New Year’s Eve 2014, he was killed at his hotel in the South African city of Johannesburg. Karegeya’s friends and family insist he was killed under orders from Paul Kagame.

Why is the world ignoring these killings?

Earlier this month, the US imposed sanctions on five South Sudanese nationals over their alleged involvement in the execution of two government critics. So why do the ongoing political killings and disappearances in Rwanda largely escape the same kind of criticism?

It’s important to remember that none of the killings have been directly attributed to Paul Kagame or his regime. And the likelihood of this ever happening are remote. Impartial investigations aren’t a feature of Kagame’s authoritarian regime and the political options for family members who aren’t happy with findings are limited at best.

This hasn’t stopped the United Nations investigating targeted killings in countries like South Sudan, though, where impartiality is equally scarce.

The difference between South Sudan and Rwanda is that Paul Kagame ticks all the right boxes in terms of economic development. Rwanda’s economic development brings investment opportunities and stifling this growth with sanctions will only hurt Rwanda’s prospect as an attractive (and profitable) place to invest.

Rwanda might not be particularly democratic but it’s incredibly stable. South Sudan, on the other hand, has crippled its economy through civil war and trampled all over the economic potential it may have had when it first gained independence from Sudan in 2011.

When you look at the progress of countries like Rwanda (and many developing nations around the world), a common question surfaces: Does democracy stifle economic growth? For the international community, Rwanda’s democratic weaknesses could be a crucial part of its economic strengths.

Rwanda, as it stands, is the most secure country in East Africa and also one of the most economically promising. Foreign meddling in countries like South Sudan has resulted in disaster and perhaps there’s some justification for not trying to force Kagame’s hand. After all, economically speaking, if it’s not broken then why try and fix it?

The international community has limited means of pressuring Kagame, too. The president maintains a distance between himself and allegations while successfully minimising political opposition that could compromise his position. Kagame maintains large support in Rwanda although its impossible to know how much of this is genuine. He’s painted as the country’s saviour and, in many ways, this is true.

For those who do actively oppose Kagame, they’re part of the overwhelming minority and support – both from within and outside of Rwanda – is close to non-existent.

Featured image: Kremlin.ru