On August 9, Rwandan President Paul Kagame was re-elected for his second and final term amidst allegations of oppression. For months leading up to the election, the president and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) came under fire from the international media and human rights groups for silencing the press and opposition parties. President Kagame won over 90 per cent of the majority vote, following a similar percentage in the 2003 presidential election. This time, however, he faced three opponents who are all aligned with the president.
As General of the RPF forces, President Kagame is widely hailed as a key figure in ending the U.N.-labeled genocide in 1994. His reputation in the country flourished even farther through economic and technological gains during his first term as president, including the ongoing development of electricity in rural areas and extensive broadband Internet coverage in the capital city of Kigali. Shyaka Kanuma, editor of the newspaper Rwanda Focus in Kigali, noted that voters this time around either showed their overwhelming approval or their fear of a repeat of the violence. Two days after the election, Kanuma spoke to the Christian Science Monitor, explaining, “The election is really about Rwandans voting to keep things the way they have been. They don’t want any kind of disturbance. They just want the stability that they have… Just the fact that people are able to walk peacefully in all parts of the country is an achievement.”
Two days after the election the fourth grenade attack to hit Kigali this year critically injured seven people. The reoccurrence of the violence heightened analysts’ attention to the stability in Rwanda and the environment within the RPF. The various accusations leading up to August 9 and the subsequent grenade explosion led to many questions about the security of Rwanda. Was there stability before the election? Was the election truly fair? And, finally, what does President Kagame’s re-election mean for the future of the RPF and Rwanda?
Instability before election
The economic prosperity President Kagame has helped bring to Rwanda is the key to his popularity among Rwandans. As Pacome Bizimungu, a physiotherapy student at Kigali Health Institution recently told the Christian Science Monitor, “He is a strong man, he can perform better than the other candidates. He has done so many things for this country in terms of economics and reconciliation, and we want him to carry on so that he can finish what he started.” President Kagame’s goal is to make Rwanda a hub of technology, allowing Rwandans to move forward from the genocide through economic prosperity. During his first term, crucial investments were acquired from major corporations, including Mobile Telephone Networks based in South Africa and Starbucks. Rwanda’s main agricultural export is now its fair trade coffee. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2010 report ranked the nation as the world’s number one business reformer. Transparency International puts Rwanda as the least corrupt country in Africa under the president’s zero corruption policy. The economy has grown by more than six per cent under his leadership and as a result UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed President Kagame as co-chair of Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group to end global poverty. Most Rwandans have free healthcare and access to free primary schools. And after thousands of women were infected with HIV during the genocide’s systemic rapes, the government continues to finance anti-viral drugs.
However, in the months leading up to the election, opposing political candidates were effectively disabled from running against President Kagame. The Vice-President of the Democratic Green Party and potential presidential candidate, Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, was murdered in July. Meanwhile Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza of the United Democratic Forces of Rwanda party was arrested for genocide denial. Her lawyer, Peter Erlinder, an American and lead defense counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, was also arrested on similar charges. Both were released on bail but are still awaiting trial. In April, two newspapers — Umuseso and Umuvugizi — were suspended for six months for inciting public disorder. In June, Jean Leonard Rugambage, deputy editor of Umuvugizi, was killed shortly after the newspaper had published an article that linked the shooting of Lt. General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, a former high-ranking member of theRPF, to Rwanda’s top spy. The chief editor of Umuvugizi, Jean Bosco Gasasira, insists that Rugambage was killed by the government as a result of the article. (General Nyamwasa survived the shooting, which occurred while exiled in South Africa.) General Nyamwasa was accused of creating his own party within the army and implementing the February grenade attacks in Kigali. General Nyamwasa has since claimed that President Kagame keeps assets in bank accounts through private companies working with the government.
Although there is no concrete evidence tying the government to the oppressive actions before August 9, Western media outlets and human rights groups have linked them to show the autocratic nature of the RPF government. However, the government is investigating the murders and the South African government has arrested suspects that confessed to the shooting of General Nyamwasa. The prohibitions on the press and arrests made by the Rwandan government were legal, even if the charges filed appear suspicious; therefore, it remains unknown if the string of arrests and killings in combination with the closing of newspapers were part of a plot by the government to silence the opposition or merely a string of coincidences. Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told the Associated Press on July 19: “We certainly might not be a model government for a lot of people, but we’re not a stupid government, and we will not try to kill three people in a row right before election —an election in which we believe strongly that President Paul Kagame would win.”
Election day went smoothly as expected. Observers from the African Union and the Commonwealth, which Rwanda joined last year, oversaw the electoral process. Both groups agreed that overall the election was fair, peaceful and well organized. Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, the chairman of the Commonwealth Observer Group, announced a day after that “the fact that the four opposition candidates were all drawn from the governing coalition meant there was a lack of critical opposition voices,” but that these problems were not “fundamental shortcomings.”
During the election there was one allegation of forced voting. One village leader, a member of theRPF, who wished for his name and that of the village to remain anonymous, spoke to the Christian Science Monitor explaining that voters were forced to cast their ballots for President Kagame at 1:30 a.m. on Monday morning, hours before the polls officially opened. Another anonymous local member of the RPF corroborated the village leader’s claim. However, the allegations cannot be proven. Rwandan government officials and election mission observers deny that any polls were open early.
Two days after the election, two grenade explosions occurred in Kigali. Supporters of President Kagame believe hostile acts like these defend President Kagame’s strict ruling style. Three people were arrested and Ignatius Kabagambe, the director general for the Ministry of Information, toldCNN on the night of the blasts that he believes RPF “military dissidents” are behind the violence. Kabagambe was referring to General Nyamwasa and Patrick Karegeya, the former leader of external military intelligence also exiled in South Africa, who the government insists are orchestrating the attacks.
The dissension within the military wing of the party is not limited to these two generals. Recently, Brigadier-General Jean Bosco Kazura, head of Rwanda’s Football Federation, was arrested for traveling to the World Cup, where he contacted General Nyamwasa and Patrick Karegeya. An army spokesman claims Brig-General Kazura needed permission to leave the country as a member of the army and he was reprimanded and released. In April, the leadership within the army was completely re-organized. What followed were the arrests of Major-General Charles Muhire, former head of the air force, on charges of corruption, and of Lieutenant-General Karenzi Karake, a senior intelligence official, on the grounds of immoral conduct for meeting the wife of another general in a hotel. General Muhire, General Karake and General Nyamwasa claim that President Kagame is intolerant of dissident voices within the army. The president argues that the former army leaders are corrupt officials who are trying to increase their own power and wealth. Similar to the crackdown on political opponents, the arrests within the military have occurred on legal grounds. However, experts believe they indicate rifts within the RPF, which could be a major political challenge in the future. Phil Clark, author of The Gacaca Courts, Post-Genocide Justice and Reconciliation in Rwanda, believes that if the string of arrests, killings and silencing of the press are motivated politically by the government, it is President Kagame’s way of intimidating and showing dissidents within his own party the extent of his power. Fear among analysts is that hostility will escalate within Rwanda and, given the crucial role the army has played in the country’s recent history, experts are concerned that dissidents will take over from within the RPF through violence instead of the electoral process.
Preventing future violence
The international community began paying attention to the suspicious activities occurring in Rwanda as the election got closer, beginning mainly with the murder of Rwisereka of the Green Party in July. As a result, it was impossible to implement any independent investigation of the alleged oppressive acts. Human Rights Watch, however, reported on the controversial arrests, killings and prohibitions on the press as they occurred months before the election but no action was taken. It also called for an independent autopsy and investigation into the death of Rwisereka, claiming there have been many discrepancies in the government’s version of his death.
Now that President Kagame has been re-elected, the country will most likely continue to see economic growth. Experts believe that Rwanda will receive more foreign investments if transparency and freedom of expression within the country are improved. The economy is dependent upon foreign investments and donations: according to a recent report by the Economist, foreign donations currently make up half of Rwanda’s government spending. It can safely be assumed that foreign investors and governments will have the most influence over President Kagame. Susan Thomson, a Five Colleges professor who has been studying Rwanda since 1996, suggested in the San Francisco Bay View in early August that corporate investors and governments use their donations to pressure President Kagame to work towards a more open democracy. While he has shown ambivalence towards international criticism, he is dependent upon international money to help his country’s economy grow. Thomson explains that if more investors ensure their money is supporting democratic ideals, President Kagame may be more inclined to listen.
Rifts within the RPF party are also a concern. On the day of the election, Thompson wrote in Democracy Watch – Rwanda 2010 that if dissident voices from within the RPF are not allowed to be heard, the next change in power could occur through violent action instead of peaceful elections. Independent investigations need to further explore the nature behind the arrests of former army officials. Days before the election, the Observer’s Phil Clark argued that the international media treats the RPF as a solidly aligned party, when in fact it is made up of many different factions with different political leanings. Clark believes that if foreign governments worked more closely with moderate RPF politicians, instead of solely with President Kagame, different opinions within the party would be given more credibility. It would also show President Kagame that his decisions will not be blindly supported by the international community.