- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

KIGALI, Rwanda Rwanda's political establishment last weekend wrapped up the first phase of drafting a constitution that it hopes will usher in a new kind of politics whose characteristics are congeniality and consensus, not mayhem and murder.
Rwandans are to accept or reject the national charter in a referendum next year.
Eight years after a regime of the majority Hutu ethnic group killed more than 800,000 members of the Tutsi minority, the leaders of this tiny East African country are hammering out a new charter for a post-genocide era.
Last weekend, a national commission met in parliament here and worked on a draft constitution. The yellow brick building, with shell holes in its upper walls and shattered windows below, served as a reminder of what few Hutus or Tutsis could possibly want.
The new national anthem played by a military band during opening ceremonies and a redrawn flag of light blue, yellow and green suggested what Rwanda could yet become.
"People want a national dialogue, and they are looking for a consensus," said Tito Rutaremara, president of the commission that worked out the details of the constitution during the past year.
On a more concrete level, the panel's work also lays the groundwork for presidential and parliamentary elections late next year. When Rwandans go to the polls in 2003 under the new constitution, they will determine whether the country can manage a smooth transition from a crisis-era government dominated by security issues to political normalcy.
For most of the past decade, Rwanda has been at war with itself or its neighbors.
The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) the Tutsi rebel group that stopped the genocide in the face of Western inaction in 1994 had tried to take over the country in 1990 but had been driven into Uganda by the Hutu-dominated regime.
After the killing stopped in 1994, Rwanda went to war in neighboring Congo to pursue Hutu fighters in a messy conflict that drew in a half-dozen other countries. The combatants financed the fighting by plundering Congo's mineral resources.
After the genocide, RPF's leaders turned their rebel army into a political party, while RPF soldiers formed the core of a new Rwandan army. Paul Kagame, the RPF insurgent leader, is now president, vice president and defense minister.
And now the Rwandan army has been, at least officially, out of Congo for nearly a month. An indigenous system of local tribunals, known as gacaca, is trying village-level genocide suspects.
John Ndusha, 49, a Rwandan American from Rochester, N.Y., who returned to Kigali this month after four years, said the prospect of new elections marked a turning point for the country.
"Within an environment like we've had over 10 years, it was hard to address the issues surrounding the genocide," Mr. Ndusha said. "Many of us are still traumatized."
Consistent with the mood of a nation focused on rebuilding and engaged in collective reflection, the draft constitution seeks a political system that will force all Rwandans to submerge ethnic bonds in a new national identity.
For example, while it legalizes creation of new political parties currently banned in Rwanda it bans any groupings based on ethnic, tribal or religious grounds. It also requires that the president and the prime minister belong to different parties.
Mr. Rutaremara, 58, headed a yearlong process that, though driven from the top, sought input from different sectors of society. Constitution commission members opened their doors three days a week to Rwandans who wanted to walk into their Kigali offices with advice, and made their mobile-phone numbers available on the Internet.
The panel also conducted village meetings around the country to discuss the constitution, and computerized the responses. Mr. Rutaremara conceded that commissioners had to tutor many Rwandans in the whole idea of a constitution before they could offer useful input, but said the exercise proved valuable.
Hutu and Tutsi Rwandans want limits on political parties, according to Mr. Rutaremara. Members of the Tutsi minority remember how parties helped facilitate the genocide. The Hutu majority remembers the early 1990s, when forced induction into political parties was the norm.
"Parties were constantly coming to 'liberate' people from other parties," said Mr. Rutaremara, a veteran RPF leader.
Pledging to "combat the legacy of genocide," and containing a U.S.-style bill of rights, the draft constitution also contains strictures inspired by Rwanda's recent history. For example, it makes "revisionism, denial or banalization of genocide" punishable by law.
Under current plans, Rwandans will accept or reject the new constitution in a referendum before the mandate of the transitional "government of national unity" expires in July.
Before that, the RPF-led regime will have the opportunity to amend the draft constitution, as will the parliament, in which the RPF is the leading force.
Six months later, Rwandans will go to the polls in the first national elections since the genocide.
The leading question for Rwanda's political development is whether the RPF will use the elections to cement its grip on the electoral process or whether it will open the doors to unrestricted, multiparty competition.
Mr. Kagame is bound to remain a pivotal figure in Rwanda. Western diplomats are convinced that his credibility among the ruling elite and the army, built during his years as a guerrilla leader in exile in Uganda and later as transitional political leader, will leave him with considerable national influence no matter what his official position after the elections.
Human rights groups like New York-based Human Rights Watch believe that the Kagame government is bound to restrict new political forces. They have castigated the Rwandan government for imprisoning Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu who assumed the presidency after the genocide, but fell out with the RPF in the late 1990s. When Mr. Bizimungu sought to establish a new political party, he was arrested. He remains in detention.
Rwanda's district-level elections in March 2001 gave mixed signals as to the RPF's intentions, reported the International Crisis Group (ICG), a private multinational group that works to prevent and resolve deadly conflict, after studying the polls.
The elections were "not a farce," said the ICG, because the Rwandan government managed to print and distribute millions of ballots with candidates' photos. Voting irregularities of the sort frequently seen in Africa were rare, and participation was high, the group said.
On the other hand, the RPF controlled the process to a remarkable degree through a national electoral panel that set ground rules, and through a web of indirect-voting systems. It also used the district elections, according to the ICG, as a way to groom organizers in the countryside, where its network was weak.
The result of the elections, the ICG concluded, was "an image of near perfection, rather than a reflection of the diverse social reality of Rwanda."

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