A whirlwind of resignations and several arrests over the last few weeks have raised concerns that all is not well in Rwanda’s local government sector.
Last week, the mayor of the troubled Nyabihu District, in Western Province, Théoneste Uwanzwenuwe, and the vice mayor in charge of social affairs, Clarisse Mukansanga tendered in their resignations citing personal reasons.
The resignations followed weeks of speculation on the goings-on in the district known for tea production since March when the vice mayor in charge of economic affairs, Antoine Mugwiza resigned on March 7 also citing personal reasons.
At the beginning of April, still in the same district, James Ngabo, the District Executive Secretary, also resigned from his post.
During the genocide commemoration week, Mukasanga, the vice mayor in charge of social affairs, was accused of minimising and denying the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi after she reportedly refused to hold a memorial candle, known as the ‘flame of hope’, in honour of the victims during a commemoration event.
Mukansanga defended herself, pointing out that she passed on her designated candle to one of the people on the commemoration event, a genocide survivor, who did not have a candle, but her explanation did not go down well with genocide survivors in the district.
Jean-Damascene Gasarabwe, the Chairperson of Nyabihu district Council, confirmed to Rwanda Today on Monday that the two top officials of the district resigned.
They resigned indeed. We received the letters. If there are any issues linked to that [resignation], concerned authorities will follow up and communicate,” Mr Gasarabwe said, refusing to divulge the reasons behind the resignations.
On Monday, the district advisory council convened a crisis meeting to elect new leadership for the district, voting Odette Musabimana the acting mayor of the district.
Candle of problems
Shortly after resigning from her position, Mukansanga was picked up by police officers over the weekend.
The Rwanda Investigative Bureau (RIB) spokesperson Modeste Mbabazi confirmed that the official was arrested and will be arraigned in court to answer charges of genocide ideology.
She tendered in her resignation on May 11 and was arrested on May 12.
“Her file has already been submitted to the National Public Prosecution Authority,” Mr Mbabazi told Rwanda Today on Wednesday, May 16.
Mukansanga is suspected of committing crimes related to genocide denial and propagating the genocide ideology.
Trouble began on April 12, during a commemoration event in Nyabihu where she reportedly turned down one of the candles known as the ‘flame of hope’, which were being handed out to participants.
She reportedly said “give the candle to those who have people they are commemorating” –a statement which genocide survivors present interpreted as genocide denial, especially coming from a Hutu, the ethnic group which carried out the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Anastase Juru, a representative of Ibuka –the genocide survivor’s umbrella in Nyabihu, who was present at the function maintained that the actions of the vice mayor amounted to genocide denial despite her explanation that she passed over the candle because they were few.
“We were present, we saw it all, but we trust law enforcement authorities to do their work,” the Ibuka representative told Rwanda Today.
Since the incident, the matter became a contentious one as the district mayor Uwanzwenuwe was accused of attempting to defend and exonerate the vice mayor.
On April 22, genocide survivors wrote to the National Commission for the Fight against the Genocide (CNLG), protesting the lack of action on the official who they said openly committed the crime.
The survivors demanded that Mukansanga be banned from attending all commemoration activities in the course of the 100 days because her actions affected them.
Investigations by RIB commenced and according to sources, Mukansanga was found to have committed the crime and was subsequently asked to resign and later apprehended.
The source further said that the Mayor Uwanzwenuwe was found guilty of trying to cover up for Mukansanga. Unlike Mukansanga, he was not arrested.
A relative of Mukansanga who spoke to this paper said that “her words were taken out context” because she genuinely wanted a genocide survivor to hold the candle.
“It is a sensitive matter, not even court will arrive at the truth because there are a lot of emotions involved,” Mukansanga’s relative said, adding that it could be a vendetta.
The district however, which is home to former President Juvenal Habyarimana, is said to be home to elements who remain royal to the past regime.
More resignations, arrests
In a similar fashion, Frédéric Harerimana, the Mayor of Rusizi district, in western province, resigned from his post on May 13, also citing personal reasons.
Efforts to get a comment from Mr Harerimana were futile but despite affirming to the media that he resigned for personal reasons, sources say he was forced to.
“There are issues in the district in regard to service delivering, tendering and corruption among other things,” a source at the district which borders with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Mr Harerimana had replaced Oscar Nzeyimana, who also resigned in 2015, over falsification of data regarding the uptake of the community health insurance –Mutuelle de Sante, in his district.
While there are no reasons given in most cases when such resignations happen in Rwanda, it is not surprising when the officials are investigated or arraigned in court later.
Similarly, Pascal Nyamulinda, the former Mayor of the City of also resigned from his position on April 10, also citing personal reasons. On Wednesday May 16, the City Engineer Dr Alphonse Nkurunziza also resigned but in a similar fashion cited ‘personal reasons’.
In a related development, two officials from Southern Province were arrested on Monday, May 14, on suspicion of inciting insurrections against the government through tracts which were left in the provincial offices.
The arrested officials are the Provincial Director of Planning and Budget, Faustin Mutambuka and another official identified as Olivier Mutuyimana who also worked in the budget office where the leaflets were found.
According to the RIB spokesperson, the tracts contained information which incited citizens against the government. Five people working in the office were arrested but three were released.
“The tracts contained messages inciting citizens against the government. Investigations are continuing,” Mbabazi said.
The whirlwind of resignations are similar to the 2014/15 resignations which saw over a dozen mayors and vice mayors resign from their posts. Another spate of resignations by local government leaders took place in 2010/11.
The resignations mainly stem from pressure to deliver, misuse of public funds and other political scandals.
Sources told Rwanda Today that more local and central government officials are likely to resign following the most recent Auditor General’s report for 2016/17 which revealed that the country incurred a loss of over Rwf270 billion which was either mismanaged, was wastefully spent, is unaccounted for, or in abandoned or delayed contracts.