Key political risks to watch in Rwanda

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It is over a year since President Paul Kagame’s landslide election win and observers cite the continuing lack of room for opposition parties to operate as a key issue to be addressed before the incumbent’s final term ends in 2017.

The central African president has been praised for economic progress in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide but faces criticism about his reluctance to broaden democratic freedoms, which may hamper investor appetite further down the line, Reuters reports.

Below are the political risks facing Rwanda:

POLITICAL OPPONENTS

Kagame’s election win underlined his domination of the political arena. He has been praised for restoring stability after and engineering Rwanda’s rapid economic recovery and vision of being a middle-income country by 2020.

But critics accuse Kagame of being authoritarian and of trampling on media and political freedoms.

Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has said although Rwanda’s economy has grown, the political culture remains comparatively closed and the media restricted.

Former chief of staff Kayumba Nyamwasa and a former chief of military intelligence, Patrick Karegyeya, both sentenced to 20 years in jail in absentia by a military court, formed the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) opposition party in December 2010.

Rwanda says the two have formed a rebel group and are collaborating with the country’s enemies.

The trial of opposition politician Victoire Ingabire, leader of the unregistered FDU-Inkingi party, is set to resume on Monday. She faces charges including denying the genocide, divisionism and working with a terrorist group.

What to watch:
– Trial of Ingabire. The case remains a major test of the independence of Rwanda’s judiciary. Her British lawyer says the laws under which she is being tried were not enacted when the crimes were alleged to have been committed, or they lie outside the jurisdiction of the court. Ingabire denies funding Hutu FDLR rebels based in Democratic Republic of Congo and says her detention is politically motivated.
– Trial of Laurent Nkunda. The former leader of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a rebel force that repeatedly routed Democratic Republic of Congo’s army, has been under house arrest in Rwanda since January 2009.

Rwanda says it is reluctant to extradite Nkunda to Congo as the death penalty is in force there. Rwandan law forbids the extradition of persons to states that have capital punishment.

Nkunda’s trial has been postponed four times since the case was passed to the military courts in April 2010.
– The media. A bill to amend the 2009 media law, emphasising self-regulation and creation of an independent overseer, is being debated by parliament’s Political and Gender committee.

A draft law on Access to Information is also expected to be enacted in the near future. It will be the first of its kind in Rwanda. Some observers see the draft media law as a positive move, but remain concerned the changes will remain on paper alone due to a lack of capacity within the media.

Two newspapers that were banned in 2010 for six months failed to resume publication. The editors of Umuseso and Umuvugizi now reside in exile and publish online.

The websites of both are inaccessible within Rwanda. The editor of a third weekly tabloid, Umusingi, is reported to be in Sweden. Umusingi continues to publish in Rwanda.

The editor of Umurabyo, Agnes Nkusi, was sentenced to 17 years for divisionism in February 2011, and Umurabyo reporter Saidath Mukakibibi received a seven year jail sentence. The verdict in their appeal case has been delayed.

POLITICAL RIFTS, CONGO TENSIONS

Diplomatic sources say there is division within the government about how to go about increasing foreign direct investment. Any debate over a third term for Kagame is said to be “undesirable” by key sources in the government.

What to watch:
– Any signs of deepening rifts within the military. Three generals and a colonel were put under house arrest in January for “acts of indiscipline with respect to getting involved with civilians in business dealings in the Democratic Republic of Congo”. The investigation is ongoing.
– Some observers say Nyamwasa’s moves could expose further rifts within the ruling party. What emerges from the alliance between Nyamwasa and Ingabire’s party, and how the government reacts to it, could expose weakness among some of the political elite close to Kagame.

But diplomatic sources say they do not see the coalition as a serious political or military threat.
– The fate of Nkunda. Nkunda’s arrest heralded a new era in relations between Rwanda and Congo and his fate could influence relations. Congo wants him extradited for war crimes, but Rwanda wants this done in a way that avoids “conflict of law”.

Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said there was a political dimension to the case and extradition was difficult and could cause instability if not handled carefully.
– Watch for any changes in key government positions in the aftermath of the ninth annual leadership retreat which took place in the first week of March.