July 14, 2014
Rwanda: Current Issues
Under the leadership of President Paul Kagame,
Rwanda has become known for its rapid development
and security gains since the devastating 1994 genocide,
in which an estimated 800,000 people were killed.
Despite international praise for Rwanda’s progress,
however, some observers are concerned at restrictions on
political and civil rights. The minority Tutsi community
was targeted in the 1994 genocide, along with politically
moderate members of the majority Hutu population. The
largely Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which
took power in 1994 after ending the genocide, has sought to
improve health systems, reform the economy, and advance
gender equality. Life expectancy and health indicators have
shown marked progress, although challenges persist.
Rwandan development programs have received substantial
support from the United States and other donors.
“By investing in its people, Rwanda is building a strong
foundation for peace and prosperity in the years to
come.” Secretary of State John Kerry, July 2, 2014.
President Kagame has been in office since 2000 and is
widely thought to wield ultimate state decision-making
authority. Observers debate whether Kagame will seek to
remain in office after 2017, when his current term ends and
he faces constitutional term limits. An ethnic Tutsi who
grew up in exile in Uganda, Kagame commanded the RPF’s
military wing during Rwanda’s civil war in the early 1990s
and served as Vice President and Defense Minister in postgenocide transitional regimes. After becoming president
through an internal RPF election, Kagame was popularly
elected in 2003 with over 95% of the vote, and was
reelected in 2010 with 93%. While the 2010 vote itself was
peaceful and well-administered, the Obama Administration,
along with some non-governmental organizations,
expressed concerns about the political environment.
The World Bank, in its overview of Rwanda’s
development priorities, refers to the country’s “hardwon political and social stability.” Critics, however,
question whether repression of speech and political activity
may threaten stability by depriving government opponents
of peaceful avenues for activism. The State Department’s
2013 human rights report states that Rwanda’s “most
important human rights problems” include “the
government’s targeting of political opponents and human
rights advocates for harassment, arrest, and abuse.”
Government officials reject allegations of abusing human
rights, while often arguing that some restrictions are needed
to prevent large-scale ethnic violence and asserting that the
country is gradually liberalizing.
The RPF dominates state institutions, and Kagame
appears to face no serious internal challenger. Most legal
parties are part of an RPF-led coalition or act as RPF allies.
Public criticism of the RPF’s overarching policies or
legitimacy is not tolerated. Independent opposition groups,
media outlets, and civil society organizations appear to be
few in number and reportedly operate with difficulty.
Detractors assert that laws criminalizing “genocide
ideology” and “divisionism,” along with state security
provisions, have been used to suppress criticism and to
justify prosecutions of journalists and opposition figures.
“The limited space for open debate is particularly
concerning in advance of the pivotal presidential
elections scheduled for 2017... Strengthening
democratic governance—ensuring full respect for civic
engagement and civil liberties—continues to be a high
priority for U.S. assistance in Rwanda.” State
Department Congressional Budget Justification, FY2015.
Some RPF defectors and other regime opponents have
attempted to organize outside the country. Press reports
allege that Rwanda has carried out assassination attempts
on exiled political opponents. The government has denied
any state involvement in recent unsolved attacks on
dissidents overseas, but President Kagame maintains that
using any means to address state security threats is
legitimate. In early 2014, a senior RPF defector who was
active in diaspora opposition circles was found murdered in
South Africa. President Kagame stated in a press interview
that “Rwanda did not kill this person... but I add that, I
actually wish Rwanda did it.” The government has blamed
sporadic grenade explosions within Rwanda on the
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Rwanda: Current Issues
Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a
militia based in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo
(DRC) that is led by Hutu extremists who were involved in
the Rwandan genocide. The FDLR and its leaders are under
U.N. and U.S. sanctions. Suspected FDLR sympathizers
have been arrested within Rwanda.
Role in Democratic Republic of Congo
Rwanda has security, political, and economic interests
in DRC, its larger and chronically unstable neighbor.
Rwanda has deployed its military into eastern DRC on
several occasions. Rwandan officials contend that DRC
security forces have failed to rein in—and have at times
collaborated with—armed groups, notably the FDLR, that
pose a security threat to Rwanda. Rwandan officials also
sometimes point to periodic DRC efforts to deny land,
citizenship, and other rights to ethnic communities of
Rwandan origin, and to local violence targeting these
communities, implying that they may require protection.
Some analysts further contend that powerful Rwandans
have profited from resource smuggling in mineral-rich
DRC. Rwandan officials dispute allegations of official
involvement in smuggling.
Rwanda, along with Uganda, was a key player in DRC’s
1996-1997 civil war, and in the civil and regional war
that afflicted DRC in 1998-2003. Previously, in 1996,
Rwandan troops entered DRC in pursuit of Hutu fighters
who had taken refuge there after participating in the
Rwandan genocide. In recent years, Rwanda has been
accused of supporting several DRC-based armed groups. At
times, Rwandan and DRC troops have also cooperated in
operations to counter militia groups in eastern DRC.
In 2012-2013, U.S. officials publicly criticized Rwanda
for providing support to a DRC-based armed group
known as the M23. In late 2013, DRC military operations,
backed by U.N. peacekeeping troops, defeated the M23.
However, in January 2014, U.N. sanctions monitors
reported that M23 members had continued to receive
“various forms of support from Rwandan territory.”
Rwandan officials deny allegations of supporting the M23,
blaming instability on DRC’s institutional dysfunctions and
a lack of political will to confront security challenges.
Donor aid, political stability, and pro-investor policies
have contributed to economic growth averaging nearly
8% per year over the past decade. Key foreign exchange
earners include a small but growing mining sector, tourism,
and exports of coffee and tea. Still, about 90% of Rwandans
remain engaged in agriculture, many for subsistence, and
about 45% reportedly live below the poverty line. Rwanda
has the highest population density in continental Africa,
which threatens the sustainability of subsistence farming.
The government is undertaking ambitious efforts to
transform the economy into one that is services-oriented, to
lower birth rates, and to develop domestic sources of
energy, with the goal of making Rwanda a middle-income
country by 2020. Regional economic integration backed by
the East African Community (EAC), which Rwanda joined
in 2009, could boost foreign investment and trade, but
political differences among EAC members have hindered
progress toward such ends.
Donor aid is substantial, and Rwanda qualified for
international debt relief in 2005. However, since 2012,
some donors have reduced or redirected funding due to
Rwanda’s role in the M23 crisis. In response, Rwanda has
sought new domestic and private-sector sources of finance,
including a national “solidarity” fund, which solicits
donations, and a Eurobond launched in April 2013.
U.S. Policy and Aid
The United States and Rwanda have cultivated close ties
since the late 1990s, although in recent years the Obama
Administration and Congress have expressed concerns
about Rwanda’s domestic and regional policies. U.S. aid
is largely focused on socioeconomic development goals,
with some aid supporting Rwandan participation in
international peacekeeping operations. Rwandan
peacekeepers are considered among the most effective in
Africa. Since 2012, the Administration has openly criticized
Rwanda’s role in DRC. Congress has also enacted related
restrictions on certain types of U.S. assistance. This reflects
a change from earlier years in which U.S. officials largely
avoided public censure of Rwanda.
U.S. bilateral aid to Rwanda grew significantly over the
past decade, from $39 million appropriated in FY2003
to an estimated $197 million in FY2014 (figures not
adjusted for inflation). In part, this rise reflects overall
trends in U.S. aid to Africa, which increased substantially
during the same period, particularly in support of health
programs. It also reflects widely held views among donors
that Rwanda is a leader in implementing international
development assistance. The Administration has requested
$171 million for bilateral aid to Rwanda in FY2015, of
which health assistance would make up about 72%. U.S.
bilateral support for Rwanda’s peacekeeping participation is
provided separately from the above bilateral aid allocations.
Congress has restricted certain types of U.S. assistance
to Rwanda. Under the FY2014 Consolidated
Appropriations Act (P.L. 113-76), Foreign Military
Financing (FMF) is restricted, except for certain purposes,
unless the Secretary of State certifies that Rwanda “is
taking steps to cease political, military and/or financial
support to armed groups in [DRC].” Consistent with a
similar provision in the FY2012 appropriations act, the
Administration suspended FMF for Rwanda in mid-2012.
The Senate FY2015 foreign operations appropriations bill,
S. 2499, contains a similar provision. Starting in late 2013,
the Administration suspended additional types of security
assistance and military cooperation under the Child Soldiers
Prevention Act (P.L. 110-457, as amended), citing
Rwanda’s support for the M23, which reportedly used child
soldiers. These restrictions do not apply to most assistance
related to Rwanda’s peacekeeping deployments.
Alexis Arieff, firstname.lastname@example.org, 7-2459
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