A conversation with a Rwandese refugee about their home country will give a true picture on the extent of fear they face irrespective of them being in some of the peaceful countries, including Zimbabwe, where all citizens and foreigners enjoy full freedom of expression and speech.
They speak of their fears to be kidnapped, shot to death as it has been done to many of their fellows in Malawi, Zambia and South Africa.
More than 500 Rwandan refugees residing at Tongogara Refugee Camp have been resisting repatriation despite assurances from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that it was now safe for them to return home.
Despite its haphazard settlement pattern, with mud-and-pole makeshift structures and uneven gravel roads, the Tongogara settlement is dear to its inhabitants. And the only “repatriation” they are willing to take part in is within the borders of Zimbabwe.
Some of them are now scattered across the country and many neighbouring countries.
In Zimbabwe, they are now tuckshop owners, especially in Mbare as such business is no longer feasible in their home country.
But how does this situation arise, when Rwanda is seen in favourable light in the media?
Consider a story that appeared in the media for week regarding the death of a Rwandan activist in Cape Town.
The Daily Maverick wrote, “South Africa’s relationship with Rwanda could be tested again after an apparent hijacking-gone-wrong in Cape Town, during which Camir Nkurunziza, a bodyguard-turned-critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, was killed,” adding that the newly appointed International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor is faced with a tough task.
Although the South African government hasn’t commented on Nkurunziza’s death, an official said it was being treated as “suspicious”, and this could again test relations between the countries.
Pandor on Thursday admitted that diplomacy is something she would have to learn. The aftermath of this incident could prove to be a steep learning curve, wrote the Daily Maverick.
For those not familiar with the Great Lakes Region political dynamics, the surfacing news about another civil war in Rwanda might come as disbelief due to publicity of Rwanda as an exemplary country in Africa. Just over two decades after the Rwandan Genocide, the country is once again engulfed in a possible civil war.
National Liberation Forces (FLN), a movement led Paul Rusesabina (Hotel Rwanda movie hero) emphasised on how the brutality and reign of Rwandese Patriotic Front(RPF) regime is not only felt in Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region, but also across globe. In a telephone interview while in exile in Sweden, Mouvement Rwandais pour le Changement Democratique (MRCD) commissar for media and communication Mr Deltus Byaruhanga said the wave of Rwandans fleeing their homeland is an undeniable sign of inhospitable atmosphere back home.
“There is clear historical trend of violence against refugees and critics of RPF regime both inside and outside the country. Those in the diplomatic corps are much aware of recent murder of Col Patrick Karegeya, a former intelligence chief officer, and numerous assassinations attempts on the life of General Kayumba Nyamwasa in South Africa. It is particularly important to note that in April 2019, the inquest into the death Col Karegeya concluded that individuals directly linked to leadership back home were responsible for the crime and orders were made to extradite the accused, a similar trend to Gen Kayumba’s court ruling of direct involvement Rwandese government . Recently, they publicly confessed to have directly ordered the assassinations of Seth Sendashonga, former Rwandan Internal Minister and colonel Theoneste Lizinde in Nairobi,” says Byaruhanga.
He pointed out that journalists are not spared as evidenced with the deaths of two independent journalist — Charles Ingabire and Leonard Rugambage — who were found dead on the streets of Kampala. On the socio-economic crisis in Rwanda, Byaruhanga said poverty is rife as the national economy has been monopolised by a small clique through Crystal Ventures.
“It is a fact that Crystal Ventures is richer than the state as reported by the economist in 2017.
“Rwandan currency against the US$ is worrying. Currently at 1:900, civil servants salaries are the lowest where a junior primary school teacher earns around US$50 and most senior teachers earn US$75 to USD100 per month,” says Byaruhanga.
He said small-to-large business opportunities are only provided to those in the clique or to foreigners, mainly Westerners.
“To majority of Rwandans, the economic miracles attributed to Rwanda are a cosmetic and a well-choreographed scene reinforced by cooked statistics,” says ByaruhangaIn.
Questioned whether these allegations are not too exaggerative, he said facts are there for people to explore. “For instance, when a sitting president who has been running a country for over 20 years is unanimously approved by both chambers of parliament to change the constitution and allow him another 17 years in power is an indication on the autocratic nature of the system.
“RPF have failed Rwandans in many fronts, especially in the areas of true and genuine reconciliation, social justice and solving the chronic Rwandan refugee crisis which dates back to 1959.
“Over two million Rwandans are refugees whose basic rights and requests to negotiate a peaceful and harmonised return home has been continuously denied and in many occasions met with violent and treacherous responses,” says Byaruhanga.
He pointed out that over two thirds of these Rwandese refugees are survivors of what the UN-group of experts referred to as a possible genocide if proved by competent court in their 2010-UN-DRC Mapping Report on Democratic Republic of Congo. “Through a well-crafted, but poisonous strategy of scrapping off tribal identities in national registry, secret embedding of tribalism in all socio-economic and political structures been developed.
“They are now well-founded evidences that an apartheid-like system is now in full force in Rwanda where the majority of the population is treated as second class citizens,” he added.
Regionally, relationship with neighbouring countries is also at historically lowest point, with borders closed between Rwanda and Uganda due to high tension associated with cross border shootings and unjustifiably killings.
The Rwanda-Burundi border is also partially closed since the unrest in Burundi in which the Burundian government accused Rwanda of supporting rebels aimed at overthrowing the Burundian government. Byaruhanga noted of an uneasy relationship with Tanzania since the death threat to former Tanzanian president as mentioned above, accompanied with cross border assassinations and interference in internal affairs of sovereign states that has created long-term diplomatic rows between Rwanda and countries such as South Africa and Kenya.
“This is in addition to historical ruckus relationship between Rwanda and DRC characterised with both direct and indirect acts of aggressions on Congo, with a death toll of over six millions Congolese.
“It is with such a gloomy background that FLN, with a declaration of an armed struggle in June 2018, was inevitable with our launch in the South-West region of Rwanda in areas bordering Nyungwe Forest.
“Besides recent setbacks of the kidnap of our former spokesperson Maj Calixte Sankara, our struggle is undoubtedly increasing in momentum and intensity as all Rwandans are on our side.
“This is indicated by the actions of over 10 Western countries including the USA, UK, Canada and France of warning their citizens not to visit the south-west region of Rwanda as we have declared it a military zone.
“We also would like to take this opportunity to vehemently deny all baseless allegations by Kigali regime that aims at tarnishing our image by labelling us as terrorists or attributing our efforts to foreign countries. We make it crystal clear that we do not receive any form of support from any country or any security elements, Rwandese people mostly inside are our source of strength as they been left with no alternative but to support us in the fight against the current regime,” says Byaruhanga.
Through Mr Byaruhanga, MRCD reiterated their willingness to scale down their military operations on condition that the RPF regime accepts open dialogue with all genuine exiled opposition parties.
He also requested Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Community to put pressure on Kigali and immediately stop their brutality on Rwandans both inside and outside and acts aggression on neighbouring countries as it might spark in a regional conflict with severe humanitarian crisis.