I could not think of a better title for my post today. Victoire ingabire, the undisputed icon for the pro-democracy movement in Rwanda is being offered as a sacrifice to the gods of democracy. The ultimate question is whether the sacrifice is enough of an appeasement. And by gods, I refer to the Western governments, in particular the United States and Britain who continue to support the Rwandan dictatorship thus denying the people of Rwanda the right to basic democratic freedoms.
To be fair, the gods are not entirely indifferent to the suffering of Rwandans. Following the genocide, the donor community has supported Rwanda’s reconstruction efforts wholeheartedly. Americans have injected millions of dollars in aid to almost all sectors of the economy. Likewise, the British have equally been enthusiastic to the extent of even sending their parliamentarians to participate in service projects in the country. However, when it comes to democracy, the pressure has not been enough. And the Rwandan people have come close to being betrayed.
Ingabire’s trial is crucial for many reasons. First, it offers a brilliant test to the Rwandan legal system. Is the system capable of dispensing justice in a manner that is independent and fair? In the past, Rwanda has rightfully been critical of the International Tribunal on Rwanda for being too slow on genocidaires. The government’s prosecutor, Martin Ngoga, has been most vocal in requesting the extradition of genocide suspects to Rwanda. However, several countries have expressed reservation on account that the Rwandan judiciary lacks independence. Rwanda is yet to give an assurance that points to the contrary.
So far, the indications are that, unless the gods strike, it will be business as usual. The Rwandan Patriotic Front and its leader Paul Kagame will have their way in the court. They always do. Ingabire will be humiliated for daring to criticize the lion in its own den. A heavy sentence will be dispensed. Most likely it will be life imprisonment in solitary confinement. Since the abolishment of the death sentence, this is a more lenient and humane punishment in their estimation.
But what if the international community steps in? It is difficult to predict what outcome this would give. International human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have already raised the alarm. Unless western countries apply more pressure, it is easy for Rwanda to ignore what they call “human rights terrorists”. Remember the case of Ken Saro Wiwa? The Nigerian government would not stop short of executing him despite widespread international outcry. Western embassies in Kigali must start speaking out against injustice!
Ingabire’s biggest crime is not what she stands accused of. It is a crime that only Kagame’s tone comes close to describing. In the past, the president has always refrained from referring to her by name. In his numerous press conferences and many interviews he has described her as “that woman”, “who is a nobody” and “from nowhere”. Kagame, a man of great pride, does not understand how such a woman would rise up to steal his show. After all, it is him that put an end to the genocide. The likes of Ingabire (and the pro-democracy fraternity) do not deserve to be in his Rwanda. In other words; Ingabire has dared do what many have not. She has accomplished this not through the force of guns but as the Dutch blogger Vincent Harris put it “by a rag-tag band of bloggers which donors and [US] state department think they can ignore.
To the Rwandan dictatorship, Ingabire must pay dearly.
This is a clear cut case of injustice. That the case is heavily politically motivated and manipulated is not a question anymore. Of course Rwanda is concerned about its internal legitimacy should Ingabire be released. If released, will the iron lady lead a popular Tsunami of change like experienced in Northern Africa? Will she inspire others, like me, to abandon writing and take it to the streets? This is Kagame’s ultimate fear. However, it is only a question of time.