Welcome to Rwanda, Ambassador Erica Jean Barks Ruggles

Her Excellency Erica Jean Barks Ruggles
Ambassador of the United States
Kigali Rwanda.

February 9, 2015 Your Excellency

Subject: Thanks and welcome to Rwanda

I would like to convey to you, on behalf of my political Party FDU-Inkingi, its President, Mrs Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, now languishing in prison following a political trial, and on my own behalf our sincere thanks for the very warm open letter to all Rwandans. I would also like to welcome you very warmly to Rwanda and to express our very sincere appreciation for this rare and touching gesture from an Ambassador addressing himself/herself directly to the people of the country where she/he is going to serve. We are quite appreciative of the clear message in your letter that the friendship is not just extended to the government but to all the people of Rwanda, including ourselves engaged in politics but are not in government.

I can assure you that my party and myself will not leave any stone unturned working with you to achieve the mission that you sated before the US Foreign Relations Select Committee, namely to promote the U.S. goal of a democratic, prosperous Rwanda that is at peace with its neighbours. I would like to add also a Rwanda that is at peace with itself because there are a lot of unresolved deep seated grievances and tensions that can push the country over the edge if they are continuously contained through coercion and violence and not in an open political debate. The words contained in your letter, beginning with a greeting in our vernacular language “Muraho “(are you fine?) and the issues covered have touched many hearts and raised a lot of expectations. I was pleased to read positive reactions from the public who had access to your letter in the New Times newspaper. Those of us who have been able to learn more about your life story, your values of cherishing hard work and equal opportunity and commitment to the values of democracy and human rights, make us feel encouraged to continue promoting these values in our country however risky it is to do so in this country.

Being a recipient of five Superior Honour Awards and five Meritorious Honour Awards from the Department of State, is something that any civil servant would want to be. These personal qualities provide the ground to believe that you are a sort of person who delivers on what they set out to do and are even able make an extra mile to do so.
The United States is Rwanda’s largest bilateral donor, spending about $180 million in Rwanda each year. In consideration of this fact and given its political and diplomatic standing in the world as well as your personal qualities and experience, your country has an opportunity to play its rightful role in taking a lead in helping to install strong, independent democratic institutions in Rwanda thus fulfilling the pledge made by President Obama when he visited Africa to help create strong institutions and not strongmen.

There is so much food for thought in your letter and in other statements including your words at the Kigali Memorial Centre in Gisozi but I will mention just a few that have touched me most.

1. Acknowledgement that even though the partnership between the US and Rwanda has made many achievements “there are still many challenges ahead”.
2. The importance for all Rwandans to have a voice in their future to build a bright, secure and prosperous future in which all Rwandans have the opportunity to fulfil their potential. This is the vision of our political organisation FDU-Inkingi.
3. Daring to be open and rightly pointing out after visiting the genocide memorial that mass murders have happened over history and emphasizing the need to look at the underlying causes and issues to ensure that they do not happen again. You will know that for a Rwandan to ask for such a debate could lead to being accused of denying, minimising genocide or harbouring genocidal ideology yet we need to
4. The desire to meet people from all corners of Rwanda in order to learn how we can continue to strengthen our partnership. I would be more than pleased to meet you at your earliest convenience.
5. United States continued “long-standing commitment toward acknowledging all of the lives tragically lost, and urging a spirit of tolerance and respect. You will have known or will know that one the charges that landed our President Victoire Umuhoza in jail was for having said that true reconciliation can only come when justice does not discriminate against anyone.( translation of her speech is attached).
6. Commitment to strengthen democratic institutions and good governance. I was quite moved by the statement you made before Foreign Relations Select Committee on how your experience in working in such strongly divided country like South Africa would inform your work in Rwanda. You stated “ My most recent posting in South Africa has only confirmed for me the important role that strong, independent democratic institutions – including independent courts, a free press and a vibrant civil society – play in safeguarding democracies and building more inclusive, more tolerant, and more stable societies. It is the very considered view of my party that the cycle of violence in Rwanda is not an outcome of hatred between Hutu and Tutsi but lack of a peaceful democratic mechanism of competition for and transfer of power and the politics of social, economic and political exclusion. The elites from both ethnic groups have used group grievances to mobilise their own groups to accede to power. Rwanda has not lacked strongmen or efficient government or citizen control machinery, the problem has been bad governance and violation of human rights. In this regard the report made by the UN Special rapporteur Maina shows the danger of denying people their rights. In his address to the Human Rights Council in June 2014” he pointed out: “The Special Rapporteur notes with concern the Government’s prevailing hostility towards peaceful initiatives by its critics and the existence of a legal framework that silences dissent. He believes that the fear of a new genocide cannot be invoked to Impede fundamental freedoms in any society, which in fact are necessary to prevent conflicts and genocide. He further stresses that a society without room for critical Voices to speak freely and peacefully is unsustainable”.

We feel so privileged to have you at this crucial point of our political development when the holders of power are busy preparing the ground to change the constitution to allow the incumbent President Kagame to run again in 2017. The experience of Africa as you know is to be life President. His mentor, President Museveni declared at the swearing in ceremony on the 29th of January 1986 that the problem of African Heads of State is to cling to power. We all know the rest. The outcome of a referendum in Rwanda, as it happened under President Museveni when his term ended, is not hard to guess in a country where peaceful disagreement with the ruling party is a crime.

I am highly grateful for your open door policy to Rwandan of all walks of life and would like to be given an opportunity to meet with you and share views on this development and others that are of interest to our two countries. I also hope that you will find time to meet our President Mrs Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, who embodies the courage and resolve of Rwandans to fight for genuine reconciliation, human rights and democracy in Rwanda.

Please accept your Excellency the assurance of our highest consideration.

Boniface Twagirimana
1st Vice President FDU-Inkingi