On Unity of the Rwandan Opposition.
Dr Jean-Baptiste Mberabahizi,
UDF-Inkingi Secretary General and Spokesperson
What is fuelling that talk and hostile activity?
Reasons that make this issue so crucial and so popular are many. One reason is that eighteen years after it captured State power by the barrel of the gun, the colours of the ruling RPF have obviously faded in Western mainstream media, not so much because of its intolerance of any dissenting voice domestically but for its hand in destabilizing activities of the East of the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo. The second reason is that the ruling dictator is serving his « second and last » 7-year constitutional term and his backers are devising scenarios about the circumstances of his possible succession which in turn leads to positioning politics from some Rwandan actors. A third reason is the mushrooming of exiled opposition groups whose individual capacity to uproot the current regime appears to many as an impossible mission, and rightly so. The fourth reason derives from common sense as for the common man, « unity always brings strength and disunity weakness. ». What many affect to ignore is that this issue is not new at all. It has always been present on the table and many experiences of unification were even tried, with very limited results in the end though.
Unity of opposition parties during the civil war, a failed experience
During the civil war, the then much applauded unity of the five main opposition parties MDR, PSD, PL, PDC and PSR dubbed « Commité de Concertation » in 1991 and later « Democratic Forces for Change » known by its French acronym « FDC » for « Forces Démocratiques pour le Changement » didn’t survive a year. Its main achievement which also caused its premature natural death was to force the ruling party to co-opt some of its leaders into cabinet in April 1992. A couple of months after its swearing-in, its main component entered into deep crisis and by the end of its term, MDR party split into two warring factions.
The implosion of the main opposition parties coincided with aggressive tactics from the then rebel RPF group whose aim was to manipulate the internal political opposition parties as a great part of its strategy of isolating the ruling MRND during the peace talks that were being held in Arusha Tanzania. That’s why the unity of the RPF/A with non-armed opposition parties in talks held in Brussels (Belgium) in 1992 was short lived because it was based on short term political calculations. The RPF had a hidden agenda. Conscious that they had no great internal base to speak of apart from the Tutsi internal community, they desperately needed tactical Hutu allies to reap as much as possible in peace talks. On the other hand, the much weakened and divided Hutu opposition party leaders wanted to secure individual positions in the expected Broad-Based Transitional Government.
After the signing of the Arusha Peace Agreement in August 1993, the third main opposition group PL party collapsed too. After that of MDR party, the split of PL party was the end of the « FDC » coalition. Two major internal factors led to that death: opportunism and sectarianism. There was an external factor: manipulations from the two armed parties, the MRND party and the RPF rebel group.
Post-civil war experiences of unity, yet another failure
Since the RPF/A seizure of power in 1994, many opposition groups were formed in exile as a result of the collapse of the former ruling party and its allies on the one hand and that of former opposition parties factions that entered into an impossible marriage with the RPF vaqueros.
In 1998, there was a major unification process among exiled opposition groups. The Rally for Democracy in Rwanda (RDR) of Charles Ndereyehe, the Resistance Forces for Democracy (FRD) of Eugene Ndahayo, the Rwanda National Liberation Movement (RNLM) of John V Karuranga, the Rwandese National Union known by its French acronym UNAR of one François Rukeba Jr. failed to unite after a 2-day meeting that ended with only the first two signing the founding Charter of the Rwandan Democratic Forces Union known by its French acronym UFDR. The major reason behind the refusal of the RNLM and UNAR party to sign was their fears of being used by their partners suspected of having a hidden agenda.
That same year, the African Democratic Congress was also formed in Lausanne, Switzerland with the merging of the UDR party, a think tank called « Nouer » in French for « Nouvelle Espérance pour le Rwanda » and a break-away faction of the FRD party. This new group later joined forces with the Movement for Peace and Democracy of Maj. Alphonse Furuma to form the Rwandan Democratic Alliance in January 2002. These two coalitions united in 2006 giving birth to well-known FDU-Inkingi. The creation of FDU-Inkingi was the result of a long and very difficult unification process. The building and consolidation of FDU-Inkingi was even more challenging as internal reactionary elements tirelessly worked at reversing the process or else taking it off track. They eventually provoked a split in 2012, after two years of serious internal wrangles. Once again, sectarianism and opportunism were at the centre of this centrifugal movement.
The same reasons sealed the fate of the defunct « Permanent Consultative Council » launched by FDU-Inkingi, PS-Imberakuri and the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda in 2010, the ADRN-Igihango alliance formed around the FDLR rebel movement with ARENA and Nation-Imbaga, and last but not least Intwari-Partnership.
The current talk about unity of Rwandan opposition groups is obviously not new. Some of us have a bit of experience to share. Even though there is a rule that a General must concentrate friendly forces and gather allies while isolating the enemy’s, is indisputable. It takes more than collecting material forces to achieve victory -quality, unity of purpose and discipline matter.
What lessons do we draw from past failures?
As stated earlier, two major factors led unity experiences to their grave, sometimes prematurely. There are two endogenous factors and one exogenous factor. The first endogenous factor is ideological weakness. Sectarianism is the first enemy of opposition groups. We must add that they share it with the ruling RPF. The ruling clique around Gen. Paul Kagame is a supremacist and militarist bunch of soldiers and civilians. Not only these ideologically bankrupt cliques plunged Rwanda into the abyss of genocide in 1994 and counter-genocide in 1996-97 but also they inflamed the whole sub-region through military adventurism out of Rwanda’s borders, mainly in Eastern DRC.
There are close to twenty Rwandan opposition groups, most of them in exile. One simplistic approach could be to unite them into a Council of Opposition Groups of some sort on the basis of their self-proclaimed opposition status. This approach would be a replay of past mistakes and must be avoided. The reason is that some so-called opposition parties are engaged in antagonistic political projects. Even if they might really fight the status quo, some groups opposed to the current regime in Kigali might have the objective of restoring past undemocratic political dispensations and might be reactionary in essence.
We are conscious that some reactionary Rwandans may equate this statement with an open opposition to unity or even more sophisticatedly some may accuse us of promoting disunity in disguise of preaching unity. Some might label us a fifth columnist at the service of the enemy. But, we must resist this simplistic and name calling tactic, engage in a deeper reflection, and come out with the best lasting formula capable of healing our torn society.
To defeat the ruling clique, what the Rwandan people need is a multi-class nationalist movement. This is the only way to avoid the setbacks that undermined and eventually destroyed past unions of Rwandan opposition groups. This is the only way to go if we are to isolate and defeat all sectarian and opportunist elements that derailed or killed in infancy past unity experiences.
The second endogenous factor that hampers unity of Rwandan opposition groups is lack of unity of purpose in terms of strategy and tactics. Some groups espouse revolutionary path, while others are engaged in a rather evolutionary process. This confusion has led FDU-Inkingi to internal conflicts when some leaders rejected the revolutionary path adopted in 2008 and later adopted an exclusively evolutionary approach for achieving democratic change. Tactical unity is possible between partners having differences in terms of strategy and tactics. But they cannot be hosted in the same political organization. They can achieve say unity of action but they cannot reach the level of self-imposed discipline, mutual trust and organic unity that a revolutionary organization requires. In practical terms, opposition groups willing to adopt or engaged in a legalist and/or evolutionary approach should be left at liberty to form their platform. Similarly, those in favour of a revolutionary approach should engage in serious talks with the strategic objective of putting together their capabilities less than one strong revolutionary movement.
To conclude, there is also a very important exogenous factor. Rwanda is not an island. The international, regional and sub-regional contexts in which opposition groups were born and operate may facilitate or restrain their freedom of action. The manipulative character of some external actors was at the origin of past failures. They may also be partly responsible for the erratic character of some opposition groups. Those leading opposition groups, whether they opt for an evolutionary or a revolutionary approach to change, must be aware of the deeds and misdeeds of external actors and put in place mechanisms of detecting and defeating negative engagements or exploiting positive interactions that could facilitate change.
Dr Jean-Baptiste Mberabahizi