Unexplained grenade attacks, increased political repression, an assassination attempt over 1600 miles away, and a successful murder much closer to home have cast dark shadows over the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for August in Rwanda.
On June 19th, in Johannesburg, South Africa, gunmen tried to kill Lt. Gen. Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, former army chief and onetime ally of President Kagame. In 1994, Nyamwasa and Kagame were commanders in the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which defeated the Hutu perpetrator regime and ended the genocide. Both France and Spain have issued arrest warrants against Nyamwasa for atrocities committed under his command during the RPF advance. Now a critic of the Rwandan president, Nyamwasa fled to South Africa after being interrogated by officials in Kagame’s political party.
In a nation where the freedom of expression is already restricted, the upcoming presidential elections have intensified the government’s efforts to quell any form of criticism or opposition.
A Hutu politician, Victoire Ingabire, who had planned to challenge Kagame in the presidential elections, is facing trial for “genocide denial.” Peter Erlinder, an American and the lead defense counsel for genocide suspects at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, was briefly jailed after arriving in Rwanda to help Ingabire’s defense.
And then in the late evening on June 24th, Jean-Leonard Rugambage, a journalist and acting editor for the newspaper Umuvugizi, was shot dead outside his home in Kigali. Umuvugizi, an independent newspaper that has often been critical of the government, had just published an article alleging that the Rwandan government was behind the attempted murder of Nyamwasa in South Africa. The government had also just suspended Umuvugizi, and Rwandan internet providers have blocked online access to the paper’s website.
The government has denied any role in Rugambage’s death but has continued to pressure opposition groups. In recent days, police detained the leader of one opposition party, and members from two different opposition parties were arrested and reportedly beaten. Human Rights Watch explains, “These incidents are occurring the very moment that parties are putting forward candidates for the presidential elections. The government is ensuring that opposition parties are unable to function and are excluded from the political process.”