The trial of Victoire Ingabire, the opposition presidential candidate locked up by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, begins in Kigali this week. But while Ingabire argues her case, Kagame’s government finds itself facing judgement in the less pliable court of international opinion. By SIMON ALLISON.
A recap, in very broad brush strokes: The Rwandan genocide of Tutsis by Hutus was halted by the Tutsi army of Paul Kagame, who has been in power ever since. Kagame’s developed and modernised Rwanda at an unprecedented speed, and is the darling of the development community which showers his government with aid money – Tony Blair even had an office in Kigali to advise him. But questions remain about Kagame’s approach to power, with opposition figures saying he’s brutal and authoritarian.
Last year, as Rwanda went to the polls, a new opposition leader emerged – the charismatic Victoire Ingabire, returning from the diaspora to challenge the dictatorship which she said Rwanda had become. Ingabire’s a Hutu, and she campaigned successfully around the great unresolved issue from the Rwandan genocide: the atrocities committed by Tutsi forces on Hutu civilians, for which no one has been brought to justice.
But she didn’t campaign for long. She was arrested and charged with fomenting insecurity and ethnic divisions. Specifically, she’s alleged to have strong links with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the remnants of the Hutu movement which orchestrated the genocide and now operates out of eastern Congo.
Her trial begins this week, and it’s not just Inagbire who’s under the spotlight. The international community which has invested so much in Kagame’s government will be watching how the court conducts itself very closely. If Ingabire is genuinely guilty, and can be shown to be so, Kagame will be vindicated. If she’s found not guilty, or proceedings degenerate into a show trial, Kagame will have serious questions to answer about abuse of power and his commitment to democracy. DM
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