Rwanda grenade blasts signal unrest ahead of elections

A set of Rwanda grenade blasts Thursday night, along with the exile of a Rwandan ambassador accused of a previous grenade attack last month, underscore political unrest and add a glint of danger to the September elections.

A set of grenade attacks in the normally quiet Rwandan capital of Kigali, together with the recent flight of a top former Rwandan military commander to South Africa have added a glint of danger to the looming elections in September this year.

Police say that it’s not clear who was behind the two coordinated grenade attacks in Kigali Thursday night, in which 16 were injured. A previous trio of grenade attacks on Feb. 19 in Kigali killed at least one person and injured 30. Rwandan authorities put the blame for the previous attack on Lt. Gen. Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, which the former army chief of state denies.

Nyamwasa, who had been serving as Rwanda’s ambassador to India, fled to exile in South Africa last week and immediately sought South Africa’s protection. South African authorities say they have not arrested him because they do not have an extradition treaty with Rwanda.

“The regime in Kigali is really descending into total dictatorship and you know absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Gen. Nyamwasa told Voice of America in an exclusive interview. “So, in this case you don’t have to have a different opinion, you are not supposed to debate and if you are perceived to have a different opinion on anything, then you are an enemy.”

Unrest ahead of elections

Political analysis of Rwanda is difficult when all government organs are run by a party loyal to President Paul Kagame, and where dissent is muted at best. Kagame’s regime came to power in 1994, soon after expelling a Hutu-ethnic government that orchestrated the genocide of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis. Criticism of the regime is rare, and Kagame’s political opponents are often accused of supporting the genocidaires.

Yet with elections expected in September, a number of Rwandans have signaled their willingness to take on Kagame at the polls. The Democratic Green Party, the Socialist Party-Imberakuri, and the United Democratic Forces-Inkingi are all seeking registration. In addition, a Rwandan-born businesswoman living in the Netherlands, Victoire Ingabire, announced her candidacy last month.

A Rwandan political analyst, speaking to the Monitor on condition of anonymity, says that in a tightly controlled environment like Rwanda, the grenade attacks are 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 banned Hutu militia – the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

Kagame's international boost

Rwanda’s latest attacks come at a time when Rwanda’s standing has improved with countries in Europe, where many of its former enemies have sought asylum.

Last month, French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Kigali and admitted "grave errors of judgement" in its support for former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu. President Sarkozy affirmed France's support for the Kagame government.

And in Paris this week, French officials announced the arrest of a key figure in the violent opposition to Kagame’s government: Mr. Habyarimana's wife, Agathe Habyarimana. The death of President Habyarimana in the shooting down of his plane in April 1994 was the spark that set off the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of members of the Tutsi minority by their Hutu neighbors.

In January the country arrested a prominent Hutu doctor accused of genocide, sparking speculation that big fish such as Ms. Habyarimana would soon follow. Her arrest is based on an international warrant issued in Rwanda, where Kagame's Tutsi-dominated government want to try Habyarimana, accused of helping to plan the 1994 genocide of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus by a “Hutu extremist” movement that was driven out by Kagame’s forces.

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