Rwandan President Accused Of Crushing Dissent

As Rwanda prepares for presidential elections, members of the opposition have accused President Paul Kagame's government of crushing dissent and attacking dissident politicians and journalists. Robert Siegel talks to BBC reporter Geoffrey Mutagoma about the political fallout from the charges.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The 1994 genocide in Rwanda left more than 800,000 people dead and a question mark over the future of the African nation. The genocide essentially ended with the formation of a coalition government, led in part by Paul Kagame, who was officially elected president in 2003.

Under Kagame's leadership, Rwanda has transformed into what many cite as a model of stability, peace and economic growth in Africa.

Well, next month, Rwandans head to the polls in what Kagame hopes will be his resounding reelection. But in the lead-up to that vote, members of the opposition have accused his government of crushing dissent and attacking dissident politicians and journalists.

And joining us now to talk about those charges is Geoffrey Mutagoma who is a BBC reporter based in Rwanda.

And, Geoffrey Mutagoma, first, what exactly are members of the opposition saying about President Kagame?

Mr. GEOFFREY MUTAGOMA (Reporter, BBC): The first thing they say is they have not been allowed their right to register as opposition political parties in Rwanda. We have the Green Party. We have the FDU-Inkingi, which have failed to register, as political parties in Rwanda. And the fact that they have not been able to make it through registration means they have not been able to participate in the August 2010 presidential elections.

I hasten to add though that there are some other parties such as the Liberal Party, such as the Social Democratic Party, which have been registered and are going to run in this August presidential elections.

SIEGEL: But beyond denying registration to opposition parties, have critics of the Kagame government been arrested or been threatened?

Mr. MUTAGOMA: There are some who have been arrested, but along the lines of breaking the law. For example, if you look at the Social Party Imberakuri founder and chairman, he was arrested because he was among the people who organized what the government termed as unlawful demonstration. So when they are being prosecuted, the government says they're being prosecuted for crimes that they committed under the Rwandan law and not because they're opposing the Kigali government.

SIEGEL: But recently, I believe, the body of a senior member of the Rwandan Green Party was found. He appeared to have been killed. Was that taken as evidence of political violence and assassination?

Mr. MUTAGOMA: I would be careful to attribute this to any political reasons because so far, the government is carrying on its investigation. Only a few days ago, the police announced that they had apprehended the first suspect. On the other hand, who knows? He could have been killed because of other reasons, as well. So I guess on this part, we'll have to wait for an investigation. But I would not rush to say there is government involvement in this.

SIEGEL: How would you describe the mood in the country today in Rwanda?

Mr. MUTAGOMA: The mood is peaceful, really. If you look at the way things are happening, we've been like three days so far into the campaign period. There've been no reports of any insurgencies. There've been no reports of blasts or shootings or anything like that. So far so good, I would say.

Obviously, there will be critics, and there are critics indeed who are saying that the political parties who have been able to make it to the campaigns are not genuine opposition political parties that they're escorting the Rwanda Patriotic Front into the elections.

To some extent, if you look at the way the turn-up has been, the Rwanda Patriotic Front has been getting a huge turnout, and the others have been getting smaller congregation compared to the RPF. So you might give some reason to that. But I would say, in conclusion, that the mood is good.

SIEGEL: Well, Geoffrey Mutagoma of the BBC, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. MUTAGOMA: Thank you.

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