Kigali: Hard-talking politician Ms. Ingabire Umuhoza Victoire needs to "refrain" from making declarations which "pour more oil into the fire" other than facilitating "meaningful
debate" on different issues, according to the new European Union envoy.
Ambassador Michel Arron said Monday in his first local interview since he took up post in January that Ms. Ingabire should try to avoid a situation where she could "fall in this trap of
the escalation of declarations leading to scuffles in the streets".
The bitter government critic has already met the British envoy, a Dutch diplomat and several other regional envoys with the message that the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) is not
willing to be challenged. And there are plans to take the same message to the new European Union diplomat.
"We will see what she is going to tell us [when she comes]," said Mr. Arron. "But what I will say is that [she should] first of all refrain from all kind of provocative
actions…inflammatory declarations. I mean not to fall in this trap of the escalation of declarations leading to scuffles in the streets or to situations where people do not discuss any
longer but just insulting each other."
The Belgian-born diplomat, who was posted here from West Africa, said Rwanda needs a "descent political dialogue [and] descent opposition." "Everybody has got the right to express [their]
political opinion but not to a point where it becomes insulting, or outrageous, or against the law, or where it's infringing on the basic values of Rwandan society."
He added: "We are in a country where the vast majority of Rwandan and authorities do want to base the development of the country on this feeling of one nation, one country and [on a]
Ms. Ingabire is under fire from different sides internally over comments she reportedly made at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Site on her arrival January 16 from exile. The memorial only
honors Tutsis killed by Hutus but not Hutus killed by Tutsis, according to Ms. Ingabire, who also demanded that justice is rendered without bias. Local daily The New Times branded her
comments as "espousing double Genocide theory," which she has vehemently denied.
The Genocide survivors have petitioned government not to allow her to visit any other memorial site, in addition to political parties aligned to the RPF describing her as "ignorant and
arrogant". Instead, the fiery leader of the yet-to-be registered United Democratic Forces accuses government of being behind the campaign to undermine her.
For the European diplomat: "After the terrible events of 1994, it is very important that we [do] not pour oil in the fire, [instead] have to put water and sand to extinguish it. One
should be careful to keep this spirit of consensus."
Tells govt: "Do more"
Mr. Arron added: "I'm not saying consensus between the leading party and the opposition. I mean the basic constitutional consensus of the nation."
In the wide-ranging interview, the European diplomat also called on government to establish mechanisms which will create a level ground for all political groups ahead of the August 09
presidential polls. Mr. Arron said the organization of the election calendar was headed in the right direction but also urged the authorities to do more.
"Free access to everyone - first of all, to be a candidate, and to be an elector [is important]," he said. "What I see is a reasonably free, fair and transparent process until now."
Accuses EAC over trade
The new European envoy, who says his mandate will largely focus on working with regional governments to intensified integration, dismissed the demands from the East African Community
countries that the EU must increase development aid before any trade deal is signed.
The five - including Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, have already agreed to an initial text allowing them duty-free access to European markets, but have refused to sign the
final comprehensive agreement. The "initialed" deal on the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) sets 2010 as the deadline for signing to avoid fierce intervention from the World Trade
Rwanda Trade Minister Monique Nsanzabaganwa told RNA in September last year that the five regional neighbours will not sign unless the deal includes a "development component", a polite
way of asking for more aid.
"Those difficulties related to the EPAs are very much a question of misunderstanding what the objectives are, or are based on ideological attitudes where people are against free market,
or against liberal ideas," said Ambassador Arron, before pointing out that the agreement "must be signed this year. Absolutely"
"There is no alternative. Soon or later we will have a legal problem," he said referring to a possible backlash from the other WTO members. Mr. Arron said he believes the EPA deal is "key
to regional development, and also domestic economies of the [EAC] member states."
The African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries have failed to work out a trade deal to replace the Cotonou Agreement, with the block accusing the European Union of dividing up states
by making deals with regional groupings such as the EAC. Some blocks have also accused others of selling out to the EU following promises of aid increases.
"The ACP countries in general, EAC countries in particular, must understand that the financial envelopes that have been granted [within the European Development Fund] and the European
Community budget, have got some ceilings [and] the amounts have already been fixed," Ambassador Arron said.
"If it's a question of giving more to trade or trade-related assistance, I don't think that is the problem. Then you put at rick the other sectors," he said, arguing that the EU is
already the "largest donor in the world" covering "60 percent" of the whole global aid package to poor countries.
Mr. Arron said this region does not need money to streamline its internal trade measures, adding that if the countries require money for infrastructures like railways and roads, they can
get private financing from banks.
"It's such a profitable business that you do not need [Official Development Assistance-ODA] for that. You can borrow money from banks. I don't think this question of ODA is at the
heart or core of the problems related to EPAs," argues the diplomat, with more than 20 years of experience dealing with global trade issues.