Kigali grenade attack injures seven days after Kagame re-elected

Grenade attack rocks Kigali just two days after Kagame re-elected as president, while opposition groups urge international community to reject result. The Lord’s Resistance Army is violently abducting recruits in central Africa, according to a recent report from Human Rights Watch. A top Iraqi general insists Iraq not ready for troop withdrawal, but comments brushed off by US and Iraqi officials. Car bomb rocks Bogota in first security test for Santos. All this and more in today’s briefing...
Josephine Whitaker
12 August 2010

Seven people, including two children, were injured in a grenade attack in the Rwandan capital Kigali late yesterday. The attacks come just two days after incumbent president Paul Kagame was re-elected with 93 percent of the vote, a result which opposition leaders are urging the international community to reject.

It is not yet clear who is responsible for the attack, the third such incident in Rwanda this year, which occurred at rush hour near to the city’s main bus station. However the incident is stoking fears of political unrest in Rwanda.

Monday’s presidential elections have long been overshadowed by allegations of state suppression of political opposition. Although Commonwealth election observers said that the elections were marked by “a lack of critical opposition votes,” no reports of intimidation or violence have been registered.

The openSecurity verdict: Although overt voter intimidation was not recorded in Monday’s polling, a string of incidents since the beginning of the year have given Rwanda-watchers good reason to fear that all is not as rosy as it appears in this darling of developed-world governments, keen to lavish aid on non-corrupt African states.

Paul Kagame, re-elected on Monday for another seven year term, led Rwanda out of the 1994 genocide and has ruled the country ever since. President since 2000, and winning 95 percent of the vote in 2003, Kagame’s hold on political power in Rwanda does not appear to be weakening. His supporters argue that he has brought much-needed stability and economic growth, and allowed the country to move on from the shadow of genocide.

However, concern has been mounting in recent months over the RPF government’s tight hold on political space in the run up to the presidential election. Two key challengers to Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front party, the Democratic Green Party, led by Frank Habineza, and the United Democratic Forces, were both denied electoral registration. What’s more, UDF leader Victoire Ingabire was arrested on charges of genocide denial (a crime in Rwanda) and collaborating with a terrorist group of exiled Hutu extremists, in April, adding to fears that charges of ‘divisionism’ and genocide denial were being used to discredit legitimate opposition and bolster Kagame’s position.

Last month, the body of leading opposition politician Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, Green Party vice president was found near Butare with his head almost completely severed. Occurring so close to the election, the murder led to suspicions of state involvement. The government has ardently denied such allegations.

Perhaps more insidiously, the six months leading up to this week’s elections have been characterised by an increasingly tight clamp down on press freedom. Two leading independent newspapers, Umuseso and Umuvugizi, that were not restricted in their criticism of Kagame’s administration were shut down in April, and two editors were sentenced to prison time. Jean-Léonard Rugambage, an Umuvugizi editor was also gunned down outside his home in June, stirring fears of a covert, state-sponsored crack down on critics of the regime.

Although the government denies involvement in all these incidents, their occurrence in such close proximity to the presidential election suggests that while explicit voter intimidation may not be taking place, tightening state control of public debate, framed in terms of preventing a return to ethnic division, may be narrowing political choices in Rwanda to such an extent that criticism has no legitimate outlet.

While Rwanda continues to be such a popular aid destination for its remarkable track record of efficiency and transparency, developed-nation governments have important responsibilities to demand greater tolerance and stronger safeguards on political freedoms in Rwanda.

LRA violently abducting recruits in central Africa

The Lord’s Resistance Army, a violent rebel group of Ugandan origin, is currently on a “massive forced recruitment drive” in remote central Africa, according to a recent report by Human Rights Watch.

The New York-based human rights campaigning organisation alleges that the group has abducted almost 700 adults and children over the last eighteen months in the Central African Republic and neighbouring areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the research, recruits – at least one third of whom are children – are used as soldiers, sex workers and servants, and are killed for refusing to follow orders.

Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, believes that Joseph Kony, the LRA’s elusive leader, is the likely leader of this “atrocious campaign.” Kony has been sought on multiple warrants by the International Criminal Court since 2005 for crimes against humanity, including rape, murder, sexual slavery and enlisting child combatants. The LRA was formed in 1987 with the aim of installing a theocracy in Uganda. According to analysts, the LRA has lost its political objective and now “survives on sheer brutality.” Its largely unrestricted activities have significantly destabilised central Africa, and displaced at least 54,000 people in northern DRC since September 2009.

Human Rights Watch called on African and United States governments to take swift action to bring LRA leaders to justice, and halt the group’s violent activities.

Top general says Iraq not ready for troop withdrawal

A top Iraqi army officer attacked Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw American troops from the country by the end of 2011 in a press conference held today. Lieutenant General Babaker Zebari  has warned that an American withdrawal will leave Iraqi forces unprepared to assume control of security in Iraq, saying that “the problem will start after 2011,” and that “politicians must find other ways to fill the void after 2011.”. He also warned that it might take another decade before Iraqi security forces are ready to take on this responsibility. Zebari’s comments are reminiscent of warnings last week from Saddam Hussein’s former foreign minister, Tarik Aziz, that current withdrawal plans will “[leave] Iraq to the wolves.”

Although the security situation in Iraq has markedly improved since the apex of sectarian violence in late 2006, last month was the most violent in Iraq since 2008. This spike in violence is compounded by a five-month-old political crisis currently unfolding in Iraq, after parliamentary elections in March did not produce a clear victor. Over the last weekend alone, sixty people were killed in violence across Iraq.

However, Zebari’s comments were later dismissed by an Iraqi government spokesman, who claimed that they were “personal and represented his own thoughts.” His comments also prompted a sudden visit by Prime Minsiter Nouri al-Maliki to senior defence officials. Meanwhile, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs announced that the United States is still “on target” to withdraw troops as planned by the end of 2011.

Car bomb rocks Bogota

A car bomb attack has rocked the Colombian capital, Bogota, leaving at least nine people wounded. The incident, which occurred outside the Caracol radio building, has been described by Colombia’s newly-elected president as “a terrorist attack.” It is not clear who or what was the target of the attack. The head of the Colombian National Police, General Oscar Naranjo, has appealed for calm while investigations are conducted.

President Juan Manuel Santos took office only last week, after former president Alvaro Uribe’s term expired. Uribe was widely credited with suppressing Colombia’s leftist guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Attacks in Colombia’s main cities fell following Uribe's election in 2002, although bombings still occurred in Buenaventura and Bogota last year. The incident sharply underlines the security challenges facing Santos in the future.

Analysts and politicians alike have been wary to blame FARC for the attack, with one International Crisis Group researcher saying that “it could be FARC or could be other criminal groups.”

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