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Kigali Chogm 2020: Why Rwigara will walk free with just a fine

While in Kampala, in 2007, the Ugandan government spent billions of shillings to grow flowers, fill up potholes, erect hotels and refurbish other infrastructure, Kagame appears to have chosen to repair political standing and human rights image ahead of Chogm 2020.

RWANDA | The trial of Diane Shima and her mother Adeline Mukangemana Rwigara resumed last week in Kigali with the prosecution’s prayer for at least 20 years of jail term for the mother and daughter being drowned by cacophony of political and rights activists calling for the two to be set free.

Diane Rwigara is charged with inciting insurrection against the government and forgery of electoral documents during her botched attempt to vie for presidency last year. Her mother faces charges of inciting insurrection and promoting sectarianism.

Last month, the Rwigaras were granted bail in what rather came as a surprise to many who have followed the political events in the central African country for a while.

The bail came 20 days after President Paul Kagame exercised his prerogative of mercy and commuted the sentence of opposition leader Victoire Ingabire, making the temporary freedom granted to Rwigara, a young woman who had emerged out of the blue to challenge the central African leader’s grip on power, more of a political undertone than a legal process.

In court last week, the Rwandan prosecution said the evidence produced in court pointed to the intention of the Rwigaras to foment insurrection against the government.

“We request that Diane Rwigara be imprisoned for 15 years for inciting insurrection and seven years for forging documents,” prosecutors told the High Court.

Present at the Rwigara hearing were family members, friends, members of the diplomatic corp, and opposition politicians led by Ingabire.

Speaking after the seven-hour session, Ingabire said she hoped the court would not convict the pair for simply expressing their views.

“We are confident that a recent decision to grant them bail shouldn’t be tainted by a harsher sentence. In essence, Diane and her mother expressed their views on what was happening to them as a family and what was happening in the country,” the East African newspaper quoted Ingabire as saying.

“We should not be seen as a country which jails people for expressing their views. My hope is that the judges will make a decision that is good for the country.

Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s deputy director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said in a statement that the trial of the Rwigaras puts the right to freedom of expression in dock.

“The right to freedom of expression must not be put on trial as Rwanda’s courts hear the Rwigaras’ case. Politicians must be allowed to explain their policies, and, like everyone else, engage with and criticise those of their opponents,” Jackson said.

Outgoing Canadian la Francophonie secretary-general, Michaëlle Jean — who last month lost a re-election bid for the post at the International Organisation of the Francophonie (OIF), the French-speaking countries bloc, to Rwanda’s Louise Mushikiwabo — called for close watch of the case.

“Let’s follow with utmost attention the trial in Rwanda against the freedom of expression of activist Diane Rwigara and her mother, both released on a provisional basis early October. They are accused before a Kigali court of ‘inciting insurrection’,” she wrote on Twitter.

But Rwanda’s Foreign minister Richard Sezibera — who replaced Mushikiwabo — said Diane Rwigara “is not facing jail for speaking up but for activities deemed criminal under our laws.”

“In Rwanda, we do not elect suspected criminals. They face trial in our courts of law,” he said on Twitter.

And, like Kagame warned in the wake of his prerogative of mercy that those forgiven should not take things for granted since “they can return to jail,” Kigali appears to be pulling off both a smile and a frown at the same time.

At the back of this 50-50 smile and frown political scenario is the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in 2020 in Kigali.

The Chogm checkmate

Rwanda will be the second African country to host the meeting after Uganda in 2007.

The central African nation has hosted several global summits with far-reaching political ramifications over the years, but none, perhaps, has shone direct spotlight on Kigali’s political chessboard as Chogm summit is already doing to Kagame.

Playing the black, Kagame has had himself not only having to pretend to have missed an opportunity to capture a Bishop or Rook from the nameless white opponent but also sacrificing his Horse without much benefit on the chessboard.

Except that the benefit is on the sideline of chessboard and it comes in the mold of Chogm. Many claim Kagame is under pressure to loosen the bolts and guarantee fundamental human rights.

Hitherto wearing his political stance on his sleeve and maintaining a no nonsense approach to dissent, Kagame has decided to show how good a student of public relations he is by starting with loosening his collar and smiling at political opponents a bit.

When Ingabire was set free, former Makerere University don and now head of Political Science and Public Administration department, Aaron Mukwaya, said it is too early to celebrate President Kagame’s magnanimity.

“It is possible he is laying foundation for a peaceful transition in the country but it is also highly likely that he is just trying to be unpredictable,” Mukwaya said.

“The world has always looked to him as a dictator and despite the transformation that he has presided over in Rwanda, the country’s international image was wanting. He must have now set out to correct the past and improve his country’s ranking in global politics.”

The Commonwealth is a community of 53 countries – mostly former British colonies – with a combined population of about 2.4 billion people. Rwanda joined the bloc in 2009 becoming the second member to be admitted into the Commonwealth club of nations without any direct colonial ties to Britain, after Mozambique.

Hosting the summit is a huge endorsement to national efforts of becoming an internationally recognised meetings and conference destination.

While in Kampala, in 2007, the Ugandan government spent billions of shillings to grow flowers, fill up potholes, erect hotels and refurbish other infrastructure, Kagame appears to have chosen to repair political standing and human rights image ahead of Chogm 2020.

After all, roadside flowers, potholes, streetlighting and tired roads are not any of Kigali’s problems.

Already, the release of political prisoners such as Ingabire appears to have gained for Rwanda on the international scene and Kgame’s most trusted lieutenant, the woman whose terse and no nonsense approach to issues related to Kigali’s image across the borders, trounced her opponent to take over the Francophonie seat.

In smiling at his political opponents in time for the Francophonie vote, President Kagame played the ‘Big Brother’ by removing all obstacles that may make his close confidante lose the coveted seat.

By implication, Chogm is playing in favour of political dissents like Rwigara. As the Rwandan prosecution asked for 22 years for the Rwigara’s, they probably knew that the best they could do is play up to the gallery and put out there some semblance of image that they genuinely pursued the matter.

Behind closed doors, they know Kigali is not too foolhardy to allow such specks of dust to stain its image when eyes are on the bigger prize. One thing has to give and on his chessboard, Kagame will sacrifice his black Queen and Rook and Bishop just to get the white Queen (pun intended) coming with all the smiles to Kigali, even if she sends her representatives instead.

Additional reporting by Jacobs Odongo Seaman

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