what's going on in rwanda?
The United States Embassy in Kigali confirms that two more grenade attacks happened in Kigali Thursday night around 8pm local time:
The first occurred in the Kimironko neighborhood near the Printemps Hotel. The second was in the Kinamba neighborhood near the Gisozi Genocide Memorial. Injuries and/or casualties are unknown at this time.One attack occurred near the Gisozi Genocide Memorial. This follows three simultaneous attacks that occurred on February 19, killing one and injuring at least thirty. Kigali Wire has a nice round-up of all the reports on these terrible events.
Rwanda is one of the safest places I've ever been. The police and gendarmes have a noticeable presence in Kigali, and I've never felt as though I was in the slightest bit of danger there. Actually, I'd feel perfectly comfortable walking down dark streets alone at midnight while counting up my francs. It's that safe.
Even the most casual visitor to Rwanda notices the security measures the country takes to keep out weapons, drugs, and plastic bags, which are illegal in Rwanda. Visitors flying in through Kigali have to put all of their luggage through x-ray machines before they exit customs. Visitors crossing by land have their baggage subjected to an extremely thorough search by hand. If you cross by bus, as I often do, it can take an hour or more for the authorities to inspect everyone's luggage. Vehicles, especially public transport, are almost always stopped by police or gendarmes for inspection at some point along the country's main routes.
The justification for all of this searching and prodding is that it's necessary to maintain the country's security, particularly with respect to the FDLR rebels who operate in the Congo. Much of the FDLR's leadership was involved in the 1994 genocide, and their stated aim is the overthrow of the RPF regime in Kigali. The FDLR doesn't come close to having the capacity to do such a thing these days, which is why they bide their time terrorizing the people of Congo's Kivu provinces.
Do many FDLR spend time trying to sneak into Rwanda via the buses and border checkpoints? I doubt it, but that's not the point. The point is that Rwanda's government keeps a very close eye on what happens in its territory. They are therefore able to maintain an incredibly high degree of security and stability.
So what on earth has happened in Rwanda to allow five grenade attacks to happen in the country's capital city in just under two weeks? I can think of a few possible explanations:
- The FDLR or extremist Hutus who tacitly support their efforts have managed to cross into Rwanda, sneak in illegal weapons or bribe officials to look the other way, and infiltrate Kigali, where they are using terrorist techniques to intimidate or harass the population.
- Another, non-FDLR-affiliated organization has formed to create instability in the country in the lead up to the August 10 presidential elections.
- The rifts between the RPF's current and former leadership are nastier than we thought.
- The RPF or someone in it has an interest in seeing Kigali mildly destabilized so as to justify repressing political dissent and is somehow behind these attacks.
Here's one problem with the FDLR thesis. Violent extremists of all stripes tend to behave according to patterns. They're predictable. And launching secretive terrorist attacks on civilian populations in busy places isn't how the FDLR normally operates. Their fighters live in the forest. They tend to loot, burn down villages, rape women, and engage in mass slaughter. Random violence that has a relatively small impact isn't their normal way of wreaking havoc.
It is possible that they have changed tactics or that more sophisticated Hutu extremists are behind these attacks. Although Rwanda has tight control over its official border crossings, it does not and cannot monitor every inch of its borders to ensure that illicit material isn't being brought in. So that might explain it.
The second possibility is that another organization has formed, probably in secret, to oppose the RPF. This is also possible, but it seems unlikely that Rwanda's authorities wouldn't have heard about it and moved to stop its activities. Rwanda's authorities, especially at the local level, keep a very close eye on what the citizens are doing. Villagers are encouraged to report illegal behavior to the government and there are rumors that average citizens can reap financial rewards from turning in anyone whose activities seek to undermine the regime. For that reason, and the simple fact that dissenters in central Africa tend to be very visible (by starting websites, issuing press releases, etc.) I'd categorize this possibility as highly unlikely.
Third, perhaps the rifts in the RPF leadership are nastier than we thought. There's no question that there are tensions in the RPF based on what amounts to a power struggle between those loyal to Kagame and those who were once in the leadership but have since fled the country and who oppose Kagame's regime. Jason Stearns has a good summary of this relating to the RPF's accusation of Lt. General Kayumba Nyamwasa as one of the people accused of masterminding last month's grenade attacks. Nyamwasa used to be an RPF leader, but is now accused "of complicity with the FDLR." Nyamwasa, for his part, says that the attacks were planned by the government in Kigali.
Could Nyamwasa be right? The final option is almost painful to consider. Is it possible that Kigali is behind these attacks? As Geoffrey York points out in this must-read piece, it's a fact that the RPF suppresses political dissent and free speech in the name of maintaining unity. It views open disagreement with its policies - particularly when so-called "Hutu grievances" are raised - as treasonous behavior that could lead to another genocide. None of this is in dispute by people who are serious observers of the region. Even The Economist - a longtime cheerleader for Kagame's impressive economic record - has finally acknowledged the reality of the lack of press freedom and political freedom in Rwanda.
Does the RPF have an interest in pointing out that their leadership is needed to keep Rwanda stable? Absolutely. But would the RPF resort to violence against its own citizens in order to create a climate of fear by which the repression of competing political candidates could be justified? I sincerely hope not. The RPF has a lot to lose, especially given that it's been on somewhat more shaky terms with some donor states since the latter clued in to Rwanda's role in the Congo conflict. Kagame is well aware that there is a high degree of focused attention on Rwanda's upcoming elections on the part of the West. I just can't see him going so far when so much is at stake.
The third option seems to be the least complicated and most likely explanation for this sudden instability, at least for the moment. And it appears that at least some close observers of the RPF's political machinations agree. For example, the Christian Science Monitor spoke with a Rwandan political analyst (who, for obvious reasons, chose to stay anonymous). He or she views the attacks as "more likely to be expressions of problems within the ruling party, rather than attacks launched against the Rwandan state by rebel groups such as the" FDLR.
The RPF's actions certainly support the idea that they believe former RPF members to be responsible. Despite some rhetoric about the FDLR/Interahamwe being responsible in the immediate aftermath of the first attack, at least two of the three officially suspected masterminds or perpetrators of the grenade attacks are not Hutu extremists, but rather former members of the RPF leadership. In addition to Nyamwasa, Kigali says that Deo Mushayidi, who is now an opposition political party leader, was arrested in Burundi in conjunction with Thursday's attacks.
I can't say with any certainty who is behind these attacks. What I can say is that the attacks are almost certainly - in one way or another - connected to the raw tensions that underlie the surface in just about every Rwandan community and that is at the root of the Congo conflict. What does it mean to be Rwandan? How do Hutus and Tutsis who won't toe the RPF line fit in to life in post-genocide Rwanda? What justifies keeping one's political enemies silent? How does a landlocked country with virtually no valuable natural resources attract investment and develop its economy in order to give its citizens a decent standard of living? How can a minority of a minority continue to rule while maintaining an international image as a haven of good governance and stability in a turbulent region?
As per usual, when it comes to central Africa, there are no easy answers.