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By Mira Oberman (AFP)
CHICAGO — Rwandan opposition leaders called President Paul Kagame a corrupt dictator and war criminal Saturday at a protest outside the Chicago hotel where Kagame was set to address the Rwandan diaspora.
“Kagame is the worst dictator you can even think about because the entire political space has been closed,” said Theogene Rudasingwa, Kagame’s former cabinet chief and a leader of the opposition in exile.
“If you tried to write this story in Rwanda you’d be dead,” he told AFP.
“Opposition leaders have been killed. Journalists have been killed.”
The human rights violations resulting from Kagame’s stranglehold on Rwanda and proxy war in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been well documented, Rudasingwa said.
“We are here to say can the world help us to bring accountability for these crimes and also for these crimes to stop because they are still going on,” he said.
“On a positive note, the message of hope we are telling Rwandans and the international community is we Hutus and Tustis and Twa want truth, reconciliation, and healing.”
Rudasingwa said he has been inspired by the democratic movements sweeping the Middle East and is hopeful that Rwanda can find a peaceful path to democracy, even though he does not believe Kagame will “easily relinquish power.”
“We want freedom and of course the basics of democracy, that is something we aspire for,” he said. “It’s possible. We only need to work towards it.”
Paul Rusesabagina, the man who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda by saving 1,268 people during the 1994 genocide, helped organize the protest.
“What happened in Rwanda in 1994 is not yet over,” he said in an interview.
“It has been going on in the Congo led by these men who have been looting blood minerals and killing Congolese.”
Rusesabagina cited human rights reports which show that approximately 4,500 people are killed every month in the Congo, where rape is used as a weapon of war.
Kagame’s war crimes and dictatorship must end, he said, so that Rwanda can achieve reconciliation through open political dialogue and true democracy.
“What happened in Arab countries in North Africa might also be the next step in sub-Saharan Africa and if it is, it will start in Rwanda,” Rusesabagina said.
“Dialogue — not guns — will solve our conflicts. Guns have failed. Let us silence guns and give hope.”
Nathan Ndajeh was among the dozens of protesters who chanted “Kagame! War criminal!” outside the Rwanda Day conference.
“If you say something against the government you are signing your death,” he said as he clutched a photograph of two jailed female journalists.
Ndajeh was out of the country when the genocide ravaged Rwanda and has been too afraid to go back.
“I know they have been killed, but I don’t know how they’ve been killed,” he said of his father and other relatives.
“It will trouble me for the rest of my life, and this is the guy who did it,” he said of Kagame.
But Kagame got and extremely warm welcome inside the hotel, where thousands of Rwandan emigrants cheered his arrival and applauded his work in transforming their homeland.