Free & fair? Not likely.

The results are in from Rwanda’s presidential election, during which many voters said they felt intimidated and the Opposition candidates were weak or restricted. Ten years into the job, President Paul Kagame has been re-elected to another seven years:

Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, who has been in control of this country since 1994 and helped resurrect it from genocide into one of the most orderly nations in Africa, appeared to have been re-elected on Monday by a staggering margin, according to partial election results released early Tuesday.

Mr. Kagame won 93 percent of the votes cast in 11 out of 30 districts, the National Election Commission said, and total countrywide results were expected by the end of the day.

 
Anyone who tries to tell me that this was free and fair is either stupid or willfully blind. Nobody wins elections with 93% of the vote in a true democracy.

In my series on the abuses of the Kagame government and the RPF over the past two decades, I wrote:

With very close ties to the United States government and military, President Paul Kagame has been able to get away with many things, in large part because he liberated Rwanda from the extremist Hutu dictatorship that was precisely carrying out a genocide against the Tutsi minorities. It’s pretty hard to criticize the person that finally ended one of the very worst genocides of the 20th century, after over 900,000 people had been systematically murdered nationwide, with the world watching and doing nothing.

 
Yes, he did a heroic, monumental thing in his life once. I recognize that. But it’s not a lifetime get-out-of-blame card.

Who really believes that just because you’ve stopped a genocide in progress and upgraded your country’s infrastructure (to have fast internet and good roads) means you should be permanently shielded from criticism, despite committing numerous atrocities of your own, repressing freedom, assassinating political enemies across a continent, abducting children, and arresting foreign lawyers who represent your opponents?

I explained in my second post why I am so intent on exposing the RPF’s abuses:

I raise this not to minimize the horrors committed by their Hutu genocidaire opponents … but because it is important that we confront all the facts — not just those that make one side play the pure villains and the other side the untainted heroes. The world does not divide evenly like that.

 
Some people still think it does.

 
Editorial note: This post was originally published (in a longer form) at Starboard Broadside. It was moved here and cut down in June 2015.

Guinea heads to a runoff

According to Radio France Internationale, Guinea will head to a July 18 runoff between the top two presidential candidates, after a relatively successful first-round election on June 27:

Turnout was 77 per cent, according to the Independent National Election Commission, with 3.3 million people voting.

Twenty out of 24 candidates failed to get over five per cent, with late-president Lansana Conté’s party, the Unity and Progress Party (PUP), failing badly.

Despite relief at the vote not being marred by violence, the majority of candidates have claimed there was widespread fraud.

 
As I blogged about previously, this election was a monumental point for Guinea’s post-independence history, as it marked their first democratic election ever, and international monitors had confirmed the transitional/caretaker government was staying out of the process, while the military pledged not to interfere either. The fraud allegations, although disappointing, are to be expected at some level. All things considered, the first-round ought to be taken as a success, in my opinion.

RFI has brief summaries of the two candidates…

Two candidates will face each other on 18 July in the second and final round of Guinea’s presidential election.

Cellou Dalein Diallo, 58, was prime minister several times under General Lansana Conté, who ruled for 24 years after coming to power in a military coup in 1984; he is a member of the Fulani ethnic group; his strongholds are middle-Guinea and the capital, Conakry.

Alpha Condé, 73, is a third-time candidate who has opposed all three heads of state since independence, spending two and a half years in jail under Conté and sentenced to death in absentia by first president Ahmed Sekou Touré in 1970; he is a member of the Malinké ethnic group; his stronghold is Upper Guinea.

 
If the next round is a success, that’s only the beginning of the hard work, as I wrote before. This is a promising moment for Guinea — and even for much of the developing world — but it is also a perilous time, as reality of democracy in the third world sets in:

Even if there is no widespread violence or military intervention in the first-round or the runoff in this election, there is still the possibility of future instability, whether by popular discontent with the slow grind of democracy or by some overzealous or power-hungry military officer.

 
I’m still hoping for much better than that. They have a rare opportunity here, and if they avoid squandering it, they will pave the way for other countries to transition from autocracy to democracy successfully.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Looking backward while going forward

In the United States, the Obama Administration in 2009 claimed it would not pursue torture investigations because that would be looking backward and distract the country from moving forward. Many on the left, including me and Nate at this blog, basically thought this was a rather absurd claim and a damaging decision. In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron, elected in May and heading a coalition Conservative/Liberal Democrat cabinet, is taking the opposite approach:

Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Tuesday that Britain’s new coalition government would appoint an independent inquiry into allegations that its security services, MI5 and MI6, colluded with the Central Intelligence Agency and other foreign organizations in the rendition and torture of terrorism suspects held in foreign prisons after the 9/11 attacks.

Mr. Cameron had called for the inquiry before the spring election campaign against the former Labour government, which had endured years of criticism at home for being too cozy with the Bush administration in the reaction to terrorism.
[…]
“While there is no evidence that any British officer was directly engaged in torture in the aftermath of 9/11, there are questions over the degree to which British officers were working with foreign security services who were treating detainees in ways they should not have done,” Mr. Cameron said. He said this had “led to accusations that Britain may have been complicit in the mistreatment of detainees.”

Under the Labour government, MI5, responsible for Britain’s internal security, and MI6, responsible for external security, issued strong denials that their agents were complicit in mistreatment. The agencies received vigorous backing from the government, at least until court disclosures began to show that the detainees’ allegations against them might have had some validity.

 
Certainly there will be complaints because this won’t be a particularly transparent investigation for security and international intelligence reasons, but it’s way better than the total lack of investigations we got in the United States. That was mainly a nakedly political decision, anyway. Cameron is also certainly taking politics into account, but he’s decided that in any case this will be a better and faster route to ending the speculation and criticisms dogging the British intelligence services. That’s the practical side. The moral side happens to be in the same general direction, unlike the Obama calculus.

Of course, Cameron has little to lose by this, and potentially much to gain. Obama faced an insane, pro-torture right-wing faction and pro-torture media in America, which explains some of his reticence. But he also somehow believed (or his advisers did) that he could get Republican support for some of his agenda by not investigating their Bush era buddies over torture. That didn’t happen. So Obama didn’t gain much practically speaking either.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Promise and Peril in Guinea

Cautiously optimistic scenes in the West African nation of Guinea as the population prepares for its first free elections in its history, tomorrow. There are 24 presidential candidates, and so far election observers from around the world say everything looks like it’s in order.

After independence from France two military dictators ruled consecutively from 1958-2008, after which the country faced instability and violence (including a large massacre of civilians) under a new military regime, until Gen. Sekouba Konaté – then Vice President of the new junta – took control of a transitional government, in an agreement sponsored by nearby Burkina Faso this past January. He quickly scheduled democratic elections for the Republic of Guinea, pledging to stay out of them himself, and the army has stood down and plans to remain in its barracks during the election tomorrow.

Bands of supporters in their candidates’ T-shirts marched through the rutted streets, motorcades of partisans coursed down the avenues on beaten-up motorbikes and thousands of people crowded highway overpasses to greet presidential candidates noisily as they returned from final campaign trips for Sunday’s vote.
[…]
The candidates, all 24 of them, have been free to hold packed rallies without interference, and the faces of presidential hopefuls now beam from giant billboards all over town. Soldiers, omnipresent in Conakry in the past year, have barely been in evidence in recent days. They have been ordered to stay in their barracks during the voting, a military spokesman said.

“The army is neutral,” the spokesman, Lt. Col. Lancei Condé, said. “We don’t have a candidate.”

Election observers confirm that the transitional government has taken pains not to influence voters. Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, the leader of the European Union’s electoral observation mission here, said, “There’s a serious determination at the political and administrative level to make this election happen and be a success.”

 
Simply thrilling. I do love a good election, especially in Africa.

So that’s the promise. The peril is, of course, the unfortunate possible outcome after the election. Even if there is no widespread violence or military intervention in the first-round or the runoff in this election, there is still the possibility of future instability, whether by popular discontent with the slow grind of democracy or by some overzealous or power-hungry military officer. Statistically speaking, from what I have read, the failure rate for developing country democracies in their first couple decades remains extremely high. So the odds are against Guinea.

But, in the things-could-be-worse perspective, Guinea can always look at its neighbor Guinea-Bissau (the former Portuguese colony), which was being labeled less stable than Somalia by the drug-traffickers last summer, and faced a military coup earlier this year that went virtually unnoticed by the rest of the world. As long as Guinea’s doing anywhere near as well as it is now, it’s way ahead of Guinea-Bissau.

So, let’s hope for the best, and keep the 10 million people of Guinea in our minds tomorrow. If they pull this off successfully and continue without instability, they could become a seriously strong role model for democratization around the third-world, since the story of the Republic of Guinea is one seen time and again all across Africa and the developing world.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Suddenly nobody’s interested

When Kyrgyzstan has valuable military bases and no turmoil, the United States and Russia are willing to shower Kyrgyzstan with goodies and promises, but when Kyrgyzstan is teetering on the brink of collapse and bloody ethnic war in the south (200 dead, 300,000 refugees within one week), suddenly nobody’s interested in Kyrgyzstan any more. Fascinating how that works

The United States, overextended in Afghanistan and Iraq, has neither the appetite nor the motivation for a new commitment. Russia, the more obvious player, sees the risks of a deployment outweighing the benefits. Russian troops would enter hostile territory in south Kyrgyzstan, where Mr. Bakiyev’s supporters blame Moscow for his overthrow, and Uzbekistan could also revolt against a Russian presence.

Mr. Vlasov, of Moscow State University, said: “Who are we separating? Uzbeks from Kyrgyz? Krygyz from Kyrgyz? Kyrgyz from some criminal element? There is no clearly defined cause of this conflict. It would be comparable to the decision the Soviet Politburo made to invade Afghanistan — badly thought through, not confirmed by the necessary analytical work.”

If the explosion of violence was a test case for the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an eight-year-old post-Soviet security group dominated by Russia, it seems to have failed, its leaders unwilling to intervene in a domestic standoff. In any case, neither the Russian public nor its foreign policy establishment is pressing the Kremlin to risk sending peacekeepers.

 
There are concerns that the area could become a breeding ground for radical Islamic militancy as a self-defense mechanism, and the whole region could melt down into a transnational conflict like the Balkans in the 1990s if violence ticks up again and spreads. There is a strong cultural-historic divide between the ethnic populations within Kyrgyzstan that reminds me of the former Yugoslavia. Even the ethnic map looks similar to many of the Bosnian War maps.

Credit: The Economist, 6/17/10

 

The Economist this week noted the continuing need for international intervention that doesn’t seem to be coming:

The time for such geopolitical caution is past. The interim government needs and deserves help. Although the bloodletting seemed to be subsiding as The Economist went to press, the misery of the refugees needs to be alleviated. Relief supplies are needed on both sides of the border. The UN’s proposal to set up an “aid corridor” is welcome and urgent. Persuading terrified refugees to go home may require a peacekeeping force, organised either in the region or by the UN. Failure to safeguard the refugees’ return would be to accede in an ethnic cleansing that would set a terrible precedent in Central Asia and beyond. Better to pursue multi-ethnic harmony within Stalin’s hateful legacy than to redraw the map.

 
Furthermore, as I blogged previously, eyewitnesses (one now with video evidence, reported in The Economist this week) in Uzbek neighborhoods saw regular Kyrgyz troops actively assisting the anti-Uzbek mobs in several cities, either clearing their paths with military vehicles or even joining the shooting of civilians. Thus only an outside peacekeeping force will be sufficient to reassure Uzbek civilians that it is safe to return to their homes or to normal activities. None is on the way.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.

A Rwandan Genocide legacy (part 3)

In parts 1 and 2 of my expanding series on a lesser-noted legacy of the Rwandan Genocide, I looked at some of the abuses that the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) committed in the past and are committing today. With very close ties to the United States government and military, President Paul Kagame has been able to get away with many things, in large part because he liberated Rwanda from the extremist Hutu dictatorship that was precisely carrying out a genocide against the Tutsi minorities. It’s pretty hard to criticize the person that finally ended one of the very worst genocides of the 20th century, after over 900,000 people had been systematically murdered nationwide, with the world watching and doing nothing.

In part 1, I cited Kagame and the RPF’s consolidation of power and suppression of opposition parties ahead of national elections this year, as well as the creation of a secretive work-prison camp holding abducted children. In part 2, I examined how dissent and new historical research attempts are being silenced on grounds of fomenting genocide and civil war.

In a similar vein, defense lawyers for those charged with crimes involving the 1994 genocide report serious intimidation even though they are merely serving the international community by providing legal counsel to defendants. One American lawyer has actually been arrested as a national security threat and Genocide denier, probably in part because he is representing a client that is an enemy of the individuals in power in the post-Genocide government. NY Times, 6/12/10:

Defense lawyers at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which has been prosecuting ringleaders of the 1994 genocide, are threatening to stop participating in cases after one of their colleagues was jailed by the Rwandan government last month.

A growing number of lawyers contend that Peter Erlinder, an American who represents a senior Rwandan Army officer accused of directing death squads, was arrested for his statements at the tribunal even though he is supposed to be protected by diplomatic immunity while working for it.

Mr. Erlinder, 62, is charged with denying Rwanda’s genocide and threatening national security through his writings and speeches. Rwanda’s government argues that Mr. Erlinder’s work can “instigate riots” and “civil disobediences,” but it seems that many of the statements that the Rwandan government finds objectionable are actually part of Mr. Erlinder’s work as a lawyer in the United States and in Arusha, Tanzania, where the United Nations-backed tribunal for Rwanda is based.

So far, 11 lawyers with imminent court appearances have formally requested that the courts postpone their cases. At least 40 in total — a majority of the defense lawyers working for the tribunal — have signed a general petition saying they plan not to work unless their security can be guaranteed.

 
An article published today suggests that the lawyer who has been arrested might actually have been arrested because outside the ICTR he had decided to represent an opposition candidate who had pointed out the RPF also committed reciprocal atrocities during, preceding, and following the Genocide, when they were a rebel group working to overthrow the Hutu regime and wipe out the genocidaires after the events of 1994. As I discussed at length in part 1 of this series, that’s exactly what did happen, and yet she was arrested as a promoter of “genocide ideology” because she chose to speak out with the truth.

Furthermore, the lawyer in question recently filed a lawsuit, on behalf of the widows of the late presidents of Burundi and Rwanda who were killed in 1994 in an attack on the presidential plane that set the Rwandan Genocide in motion… and the lawsuit alleged (as France has in the past) that then-General Kagame had ordered the RPF’s security detachment in the capital to shoot down the plane. Since Kagame is now president, this is an extremely unpopular move to make within the ruling party’s upper ranks and was probably a serious compounding factor in his arrest. (And from what I understand, it’s much more likely that Hutu military extremists behind the coup shot the plane down, to provide the pretext to seize control and begin the killings within hours, and so this is obviously a very touchy subject with the Tutsis in power.)

Now, I have to state that I have no idea what this lawyer’s actual motivations are. He could very well be sympathetic to the Hutu side or he could be in it for the money (though that’s hard to believe if he’s an ICTR lawyer). Maybe he really believes that the Genocide wasn’t planned, when he says that on behalf of his clients charged with war crimes. However, he is a law professor and an international lawyer. It’s much more likely that he believes he’s just fulfilling a necessary role in a fair judicial system, which is that somebody has to represent the worst of the worst, or even just “the other side” of the story, to make sure everyone gets their day in court without making a mockery of the system. His legal statements probably don’t reflect his personal beliefs.

On balance, sure, the Rwandan Patriotic Front were almost certainly the “good guys,” if we have to pick, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t done bad things (e.g. killing Hutu civilians, destabilizing the Democratic Republic of the Congo several times), and as a political party in the post-Genocide period, they have been doing some very bad things that undermine the fledgling democracy of the country. If they continue to intimidate people and silence dissent or alternative viewpoints, they are not protecting any Rwandans or national security, but rather they are protecting themselves and their power… and the international community should be willing to criticize that and pressure the government to stop. Defense lawyers, who already face a nasty job in general, should not be facing the threat of twenty-year prison sentences just for doing their jobs to help international justice be served.

This article originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Kyrgyzstan requests Russian peacekeepers

In a potentially troubling development, the provisional government of Kyrgyzstan has formally requested the intervention of Russian peacekeeping troops to impose order as the country erupts again in ethnic violence. Russia has already offered civilian-medical aid relief. Nearly 80 people have been killed so far in the clashes, and a public health spokesman reported almost a thousand injuries.

The Russian government said it would consider the request carefully before acting, especially to determine the legality of such an intervention under a security alliance treaty of former Soviet states. NY Times:

“A decision about deploying peacekeeping forces to Kyrgyzstan can only be made collectively with all members of the C.S.T.O. [Collective Security Treaty Organization],” the spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, said Saturday evening. She also said that Russia was continuing to ship humanitarian assistance, including medicine, to Kyrgyzstan.

To that end, Russian President Demetri Medvedev consulted with some of the CSTO leaders, including the presidents of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which neighbor Kyrgyzstan. Undoubtedly the possibility of a Russian intervention will lend credence to the conspiracy theorists who claimed Russia instigated the April popular overthrow of the ruling government of Kyrgyzstan for its own gain and to dislodge the United States from the Manas Air Base that supplies NATO in the War in Afghanistan.

However, since the violence is threatening to spread to neighbors, there is some real justification for an intervention:

It remained unclear what started the violence, which threatens to undermine the already fragile provisional government that took power in April after rioting deposed the country’s president. The interim government has never fully established control in parts of the south, where supporters of the ousted president, Kurmanbek S. Bakiyev, have frequently clashed with those loyal to the new government. The recent politically inspired clashes in the region have reopened a historic ethnic fault line there, with gangs of heavily armed Kyrgyz youths clashing with members of the region’s sizeable Uzbek minority. Much of Mr. Bakiyev’s base in the region, his ancestral home, is Kyrgyz, while many Uzbeks support the new government.

 
The Kyrgyz military, which has been moving troops around the South in armored vehicles and buzzing around in helicopters, said it had opened part of the border with Uzbekistan to allow women and children to flee, but they didn’t actually consult with Uzbekistan’s government before doing so.

Uzbekistan said it was “extremely alarmed and concerned” about the situation. The Uzbek Foreign Ministry said in a statement that violence against Uzbeks was being carried out in a manner calculated to provoke ethnic conflict.

“We have no doubt that all this has occurred at the instigation of forces whose interests are absolutely far from the interests of the Kyrgyz people,” the ministry said.
[…]
Similar violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh in 1990 left hundreds dead and only abated when the Soviet government sent in troops.

 
Although I find it somewhat concerning that Russia could use the crisis as an opportunity to tighten control over the former-soviet sphere-of-influence and could end up occupying Kyrgyzstan, the idea would be similar to United Nations interventions in Africa and Asia that consciously involve peacekeeping troops from former colonial powers. However, it is unclear whether this would be a UN authorized intervention or more akin to the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999, which Russia will probably cite if the CTSO authorizes an intervention. Russia might use the CTSO to circumvent United Nations Security Council roadblocks, just as Britain and the United States did in Kosovo to get around the Russian veto threat then.

In fact, last February the CTSO established a new “Collective Rapid Reaction Force” (the KSOR), meaning Russia could even request this operation be a true multilateral force under Russian direction, rather than a purely Russian force. Uzbekistan is not a KSOR participant, however, and has expressed reservations about the existence of such a force in the CTSO, but it’s probably more in their interests to have a multilateral force instead of what amounts to a Russian invasion of Kyrgystan. This could be Russia’s chance to prove itself a responsible major power in the international community of the fragmented post-Cold War world, but it could also be exploited for ulterior motives.

Also of possible concern at some point is that China also borders Kyrgystan, and it remains to be seen how they will react to both this situation and the idea of a Russian/CTSO peacekeeping mission or perhaps a United Nations operation (over which both China and the United States would have veto powers).

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.