July 15, 2021

Mixed Reactions As President Kagame Establishes National Unity Ministry

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President Paul Kagame speaks at campaign rally for the ruling RPF party and its coalition during the 2017 presidential polls

The Ministry of National Unity and Civic Engagement established Wednesday has provoked expected heated emotions with some of President Paul Kagame’s fierce critics wondering why it has taken him 27-years to set up the institution.

The new institution was communicated in a communique from the cabinet meeting held on Wednesday chaired by President Kagame. The development came as a surprise to the nation as the meeting, in the public’s mind, was pre-scheduled to review the COVID-19 measures that had been in place for past two weeks.

Political players across Rwanda’s polarized political platform came out in differing positions about the new ministry, whose line minister has yet to be named.

Already, there is the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) whose mission is to monitor and advice government on the path the country has to take to prevent the divisionist politics that resulted into the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

There is also another similar body called the National Commission for the fight against Genocide (CNLG) which keeps the memory of the genocide alight through various ways.

Over the last nearly three decades since the genocide, Rwanda’s politics is becoming more extreme. The information you consume and the narrative you believe depends on which side of Rwanda’s political spectrum you subscribe.

Inside the country, the political atmosphere is quiet and stable, with a firm grip of the ruling RPF party that has a coalition of all but two parties out of the ten registered. Only the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) led by lawmaker Dr Frank Habineza, and PS Imberakuri faction led by Christine Mukabunani claim to be not aligned to the ruling establishment.

Within the country also, there are three political figures who have political organisations, but that are not yet registered. There is Ingabire Victoire Umuhoza’s DALFA Umirinzi, Bernard Ntaganda’s PS Imberakuzi faction and newly formed RPD Rwanda of Dr Kayumba Christopher.

Separately, they have been attempting to battle the RPF dominance over all aspects of the country. A particular case in point is the media; where the biggest media groups that together cover the biggest percentage of the news agenda, have deliberately reporting about Ingabire, Ntaganda and Kayumba. These three get their media coverage from the BBC and VOA great lakes services, as well as small media and YouTube channels.

As a result, the voice of the ruling coalition is what has dominated the news airwaves throughout the year, for the past many years.

On the other side, there is a virulent narrative about Rwanda that has been advanced by Rwandan exiles who also exist in different categories as they do not also have a common agenda. There is a block of those who were formerly in the ruling RPF but left and fled the country.

Then there is a block comprising some who were in government before 1994, backed by a new generation of youngsters – many of whom were toddlers or not yet born in 1994.

The views of these exiles’ blocks are very visible on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. They have influenced so much what appears on the three social media platforms, that government has been mulling to put controls. A group of young journalists have been in jail since 2018 over what they posted on YouTube. Many others have been arrested, jailed and freed due to their social media content.

It is the above cacophony of political players that the newly established National Unity and Civic Engagement Ministry finds. No details have yet been released on the exact mandate of the new institution, but social media has since yesterday been the usual scene of heated exchanges. We have sampled a few.

Canada-based Nadine Kasinge heads the ISHEMA political group whose founder ex-catholic priest Fr. Thomas Nahimana did cause a stir last year with the false announcement of President Kagame’s death. The fact that President Kagame came out to dismiss the false information, showed how serious it was considered in the top decision making organs.

Kasinge took to Twitter today saying: “Boom!! Is it only 27 years after the #Genocide that [ruling RPF party] decides to create the ministry of reconciliation? This says a lot about his balance and above all about his political project from the beginning”

There are more comments on the post, than Retweets. Coming from anonymous accounts, some of the language used against Kasinge is extremely virulent.

Her comment on the new ministry is significant because she has already announced she will take part in 2024 presidential poll. Back in late 2016, Kasinge and her boss Nahimana were a source of laughter by some on Rwandan social media when they spent days at Nairobi airport after airlines refused to bring them to Rwanda on the orders of government in Kigali. They were coming to prepare for the ISHEMA candidate. They eventually went back to France and Canada. Kasinge for her part had baby.

For Dr Kayumba, he spent the better part of the day explaining his skepticism about the new ministry. In past weeks, he has been giving YouTube interviews where he questioned the criteria used by the Unity and Reconciliation Commission in its annual reconciliation barometer which shows that Rwandans are getting along to the level of over 90 percent. Like other government critics, Kayumba is also dismissive of the statistics put forward by government.

On Twitter, he also wrote: “#Japan appoints Minister of Loneliness to tackle suicide rates. With #COVID19 worsening loneliness, poverty and misery in #Rwanda, we should perhaps consider putting in place a new ministry for happiness and COVID-19 Eradication!”

In a subsequent interview with UKWEZI, a local news site, Dr Kayumba said that setting up this ministry is one of the most significant decisions government has taken in the past 27 years. He went on to outline the issues the ministry must address such as the growing divides in the country that cuts across different aspects of the country.

Also speaking from inside Rwanda, Ingabire Victoire came out with unexpected support for the new ministry. She spent more than 8years in jail from her 15year sentence after being given clemency by the President. Though the charge of genocide ideology was not among the cases for her final conviction by the Supreme Court, it formed a major part of the prosecution’s case against her.

Rwandans on Facebook and Twitter have been active discussing the need or not for the new ministry. It is a subject that is going to provoke debate for the foreseeable future. The candidate who will also be appointed by President Kagame to head the new ministry, will be awaited keenly.

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