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20 Years After Genocide, Rwanda Prospers but Political Freedom Remains Elusive


Rwanda today is a remarkable story of renewal and rapid economic development.

Looking around the capital, it is hard to imagine that only 20 years ago, the country was torn apart by one of the worst atrocities of the last century.

Visitors often remark on Kigali's impeccably clean streets, high-tech efficiency and the ease of doing business. But critics say despite these advances, the government has left little room for the opposition.

“There isn't really any democracy that one can speak of in Rwanda," said Carina Tertsakian, a Rwanda researcher for Human Rights Watch. "Opposition parties are not able to function. There are currently two opposition party leaders who are in prison serving sentences respectively of 15 years and four years, and other members of those and other parties who have been in and out of prison several times.”

President Paul Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Front are the dominant political forces in Rwanda. There is only one registered opposition party and many political opponents have fled into exile. While the country has progressed economically during Kagame's time in office, opponents say it has come at the cost of political freedom.

“I do not agree that to be able to develop you've got to sacrifice people's rights," said Theogene Rudasingwa, a member of the opposition Rwanda National Congress who spoke to VOA in Washington. "In fact, all literature and human experience shows that for there to be prosperity for people, for a country to build, you've got to enrich people's rights.”

In January, one of Rudasingwa's colleagues, Patrick Karegeya, a former spy chief for the government, was found dead in a South Africa hotel room. Rwandan officials who accuse the opposition of planning attacks in Rwanda cheered Karegeya's death but denied any involvement.

At a genocide memorial event outside Kigali, Rwandan Defense Minister James Kabarebe had a stern message for those who challenge the government.

“There are some who tried to [take the country backward] and there are those who have this ideology, they are there, but I know they will die with that ideology,” he said.

According to Rudasingwa, opposition members in exile live under constant threat.

“We are concerned, we've made these concerns known to the governments, but besides that, change is a very costly business and freedom doesn't come cheap,” he said.

A generation removed from the genocide, Rwanda is moving forward. But opposition figures worry that lingering tension and the crackdown on dissent could mar the country's future.
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