Interview with presidential hopeful Faustin Twagiramungu

[Rwanda] Faustin Twagiramungu, Rwandan former prime minister 1994 - 1995 during initial transition government
- May 2003
Rwandan former prime minister Faustin Twagiramungu (Jacques Collet)

Faustin Twagiramungu was prime minister of Rwanda from 1994 to 1995, taking up the post after the 1994 genocide when the transitional government was formed. Now living in exile in Belgium, he talked to IRIN on Wednesday about his candidacy in Rwanda's presidential elections scheduled for later this year, when he hopes to challenge President Paul Kagame.

QUESTION: Can you confirm your announcement of 10 December 2002 that you will be a candidate in the presidential election later this year?

ANSWER: I have announced my candidacy but officially I am not yet a candidate because the electoral law has not yet been made official. The National Transitional Assembly, certainly, has recommended the banning of my party, the Mouvement democratique republicain (MDR), but the government has not yet made its decision. If the party is banned I will present myself as an independent. As for President Kagame's virulent words against the opposition, they don't impress me. The international community should not accept one man making himself the master of everything and use all means to assure his election. It remains to be seen when I will be able to return to Rwanda.

Q: Exactly how do you run as a candidate when you are in exile?

A: I am not expecting to run a campaign and get myself elected from my small apartment in Brussels. I am not a refugee in Belgium. I still have my Rwandan passport and nothing prevents me from going to Rwanda to officially submit my candidacy. But first the referendum must take place before I can exercise my rights. Then the problems of security for the opposition have to be settled, but for that I have to be on the spot. Finally, international observers, and not only Africans, have to be able to move about freely so that these elections are free and transparent.

Q: Do you imagine campaigning in Rwanda while former president Bizimungu is still in prison?

A: Bizimungu was put in prison principally for political reasons because he wanted to set up a party. I would appreciate him being freed before the elections. My party already exists, it's even been part of the government of national unity since 19 July 1994. Also I should be able to move about freely to express myself. If the current regime finds that a democracy can function without an opposition party it must say so loudly. But I say to the international community that it shouldn't fund these elections or it may as well let Kagame carry on with the transition. The genocide suffered by Rwanda cannot be a reason for returning to a one party system that we fought during the time of President Habyarimana.

Q: What are the main points of your programme?

A: We will concentrate above all on poverty, and economic problems. Secondly, the socio-political situation: the trauma suffered by Rwanda means that we must consider the framework for reconciliation best suited to giving solutions for everyone in Rwanda. Thirdly, the inter-regional context: there must be peace in Rwanda and above all in the region. Rwandans, Burundians and Congolese want to put an end to their conflicts and live together. In any case, I will present myself as a Rwandan and not as a Hutu; we have suffered enough because of these distinctions.

Q: What is your relationship with the Concertation permanente de l'opposition democratique rwandaise (CPODR), which principally groups exiled Tutsis and Hutus, monarchists, as well as the Forces democratiques de liberation du Rwanda (FDLR)?

A: I don't believe in their programme of an inter-Rwandan dialogue and I don't think it will ever happen. We already had the opportunity for this dialogue during the Arusha negotiations in 1993. The conditions which have led to an inclusive inter-Congolese dialogue in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] in order to end the conflict there do not exist in Rwanda. With us, the problems can be solved by putting pressure on President Kagame to accept the process of democratisation. The opposition figures should be able to come with me to Rwanda. As for the FDLR, they have been in the DRC for nine years, they have tried everything, they have never succeeded. I am astonished nowadays to see unarmed political opposition figures teaming up with these armed combatants. These are not necessarily Interahamwe but it's not for me to prove that. If among them there are people soaked in the genocide then everything must be done to arrest them and bring them before the courts. As for the others, pressure must be brought both on [DRC President Joseph] Kabila and Kagame to get these fighters repatriated in return for guarantees. The solution is political, not military. The FDLR and Kagame are wasting their time fighting each other with weapons.

Q: What do you think of the draft constitution which will be put to a referendum on 26 May?

A: It contains positive elements and negative elements. For example, I am totally against exorbitant power being given to the executive which will have de facto control over all other parties and which on certain points will be able to control both the judiciary and the legislative. It is not democratic and if I am elected I will get down to modifying these points of the constitution.

Q: What is your assessment of the transition period?

A: I participated in it for thirteen months, from July 1994 to the end of August 1995. I don't assess these nine years entirely negatively. Security is not 100 percent, but at least in Rwanda people are not fighting each other any more. Secondly, efforts have been made over the programme of reconciliation even if this remains problematic. Thirdly, economic progress has been made, but poverty in Rwanda is the worst I have known since my childhood. The failures: freedom of expression, political freedom and freedom of association. Newspapers are being closed, journalists are put in jail, people are forced to adopt the words of the president. It is intolerable. Today people are tired of Kagame not only in Rwanda but throughout the region. But he has to give us the means to challenge him and the Rwandan people the right to choose.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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