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Rwanda: Bloggers Discuss Presidential Election 2010

Rwandan presidential election was held in Rwanda on 9 August 2010. Preliminary results released by the National Electoral Commission show that President Kagame has won by a landslide.

What does Kagame's victory mean to Rwanda? Was the election free and fair? What are the real challenges facing Rwanda now that the election is over? These are some of the issues that bloggers are discussing following the release of preliminary results.

Susan Thomson of Democracy Watch Rwanda 2010 says that that Kagame's re-election is not a surprise because the opposition was silenced:

As predicted by friends and foes alike, Paul Kagame has been re-elected by a landslide. This is no surprise as the opposition was silenced. Some critics assume that because Kagame and his RPF did not allow the opposition to register as formal political parties that the major crisis facing Rwanda is its weak political opposition. I have never thought this was a major consideration as there is very little chance of political power to pass democratically. The opposition is divided, has no meaningful or even distinct platform, and likely has little support among elites and peasant folks alike (we don't actually know because no one has asked Rwandans themselves what they think).

The real challenge for Rwanda, argues Susan, lies in the power struggle within the ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF):

The real issue now that the elections are over is the undeniable emergence of a power struggle within the ruling RPF. This has not been reported upon in any meaningful way. Partly, I'm sure, because critical academics and journalists have yet to interview the main actors. We are working with newspaper interviews, and Kagame's reaction to these public offerings in campaign speeches and during his monthly meeting with journalists based in Kigali.

What we do know is that since the RPF took power in 1994, it has continued to consolidate power in its own hands. We don't know the political intentions or power base of those that have fallen out with Kagame.

Most significant is Kagame's sidelining of much of the RPFs military elite. These include several senior officers who were in the bush with Kagame, and who arguably had a role in forming the then-rebel RPF. These include, among others, General Sam Kaka and General Frank Rusagara. In 2001, General Kayumba Nyamwasa also fell out with Kagame, as well, and in 2005 the head of external intelligence Colonel Patrick Karegeya was arrested on allegations of insubordination.

This much is widely known. The divisions with the RPF came to a head when General Kayumba fled into exile in South Africa. In addition, two other generals (Karake and Muhire) were arrested, accused of masterminding the grenade attacks that happened in the spring. In sum, most of the senior RPF military brass from 1994 have fled into exile or have been arrested (a few have retired and have been relieved of their duties).

The election results were a foregone conclusion. The question was how much was Kagame going to win by:

There was no discussion about who would win Rwanda’s 2010 Presidential election among Rwandan and foreign hacks as we drove through the eastern provinces yesterday afternoon. As we passed shuttered polling stations, the betting began. How much would President Paul Kagame win by?
By 5pm, we’d heard three preliminary results from three separate polling stations. The consensus in the car put the win at around 96%. I’ll admit, I went for a 90% Kagame win purely for pragmatic reasons. As far as I understand it, and please correct me if I’m wrong, the opposition parties need 5% of the vote each to secure government funds to stay in existence.
If the preliminary result of almost 93% for Kagame stands, I’m not sure what it will mean for the opposition, such as it is,
According to the preliminary results released by the National Electoral Commission, President Kagame won by 92.9 percent. The PSD candidate, Dr. Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, has 4.9 %, Prosper Higiro from the Liberal party (PL) 1.5 % and the PPC candidate, Dr Alvera Mukabaramba 0.7 %. link

Graham Holliday looks at unreported issues around the election. He begins with the campaign period:

Campaign period
The crowds at the RPF campaign rallies were colossal. This show of strength was aimed at three audiences. To Rwandans, it emphasizes the strength and perceived popularity of the RPF. To foreign observers, it’s a fantastic piece of PR for the ruling party. In addition, and most importantly according to western diplomatic sources, this impressive show of support was directed at “enemies of Rwanda outside Rwanda”.

He then goes on to discuss what he calls “Rwanda PR machine melts down”:

It was just late 2009 when the head of a western NGO talked to me about how incredible Rwanda’s PR machine is. “How do they run their ship so tightly?”, she asked. Well, 2010 saw that ship all but sink. It’s unclear whether any amount of professional shoring up will stop the tide of bad press, at least in the short term. How did it happen and happen so quickly?

Grenade attacks, defections, assassinations, press freedom and repression of political opposition… they are regularly bundled into your average Rwanda story. There is no proof (that I know of) linking any of these events, but the portrayal by western media often leaves readers with the impression that some or all of these events can be linked and linked back to the government.

For example, the common narrative with the banning of Umuseso and Umuvugizi newspapers for six months is that this is a bad thing. However, I’m reliably told that both Umuseso and Umuvugizi regularly fabricated entire stories and made up quotes. Sure, the 6 month ban looks draconian, but it’s clear these papers were, at best, unprofessional.

Another case is Victoire Ingabire’s FDU-Inkingi Party party which was not allowed to register for the Presidential election. She has been held under house arrest and had her passport taken away. Western media outlets often portray this as blatant suppression without looking at some of the more damaging facts. Ingabire refuses to divulge how her party is financed and she is President of two somewhat dodgy Rwanda diaspora parties – the RDR and FDU.

The election was flawed and the country is fractured. Is Rwanda progressing or regressing?:

However, given that the elections have been marred by fundamental breaches of democratic principles, it is irritating and shocking that some sections of the international media are not yet sure whether Rwanda is progressing or regressing.

Paul Kagame has developed a cultivated an image that is almost impossible to criticize, notes Nkunda:

Paul Kagame has cultivated a certain image that is almost impossible to criticize. In a way, this image is responsible for corrupting democracy. Many of the Anglophone journalists and writers, who first came to Rwanda, did so under the protégé of the RPF. Kagame was always (and is still) media/PR conscious. He knew from the beginning that he would never win the battle without the latter’s help. Journalists were ushered to strategic locations where the worst crimes had been committed, and they were fed with a simplified and protected version of the Rwandan history—which glorified the Tutsi army while demonizing their opponents.

According to Nkunda, disputing the “protected version” of the Rwandan story is a crime:

In this story, the Hutu majority are wanton killers who (with no context) turned against their innocent Tutsi neighbors and butchered them for 100 days. The RPF is the army that fought to stop these killings. 16 years later, this story is still widely mimicked, and is used to justify Kagame’s despotism and to feign off any criticism.

It is important to note that serious questions have been raised on the story’s accuracy. Counteracting the story remains the highest crime in Rwanda. For instance, it is illegal to question the story of President Habyarimana’s assassination, to claim (despite the overwhelming evidence) that the RPF was involved in serious crimes against humanity. Needless to say, it is in Kagame’s interest and that of the RPF elites that this story is protected and given credence.

It is therefore no wonder that the greatest enemy to the RPF establishment is anyone who dares refute or question the story.

Rwandan election took place against the backdrop of some unsettling events, observes Will Jones:

* Much of the opposition crumbled: Victoire Ingabire (remember her?) was arrested, and the Canadian avowed revisionist Peter Erlinder was sent in to be her lawyer, and was promptly arrested too. For a very interesting take on what the hell it is with Canadians and genocide denial, see here. Here she is adding her ever-mature voice to the debate (brink of collapse? Give me a break). Another party collapsed into internal infighting (allegedly the result of RPF interference). The registered opposition gamely ran a couple of rallies, but when Kigaliwire went along to this Liberal Party rally, everyone there said they were voting for Kagame anyway.
* People are dead: Andre Kagwa Rwisekera, deputy of the Democratic Green Party, was found by a river with his head nearly hacked off. Jean Leonard Rugambage, acting editor of the suspended newspaper Umuvuguzi, was shot dead in front of his home in Kigali. Paul Kagame blames foreign dissidents, as usual.
* At least one other is lucky not to be dead: Former General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa was shot near his Johannesburg home. I've blogged a bit about Kayumba before, but I'd rather leave comment on this and the other killings to another full post.
* Former RPF insider and now exiled dissident Patrick Karegyeya is now openly calling for violence. Kagame's response was less than confidence-inspiring: ‘those that want war, we will give war’

He also looks at international coverage of Rwandan election:

However, and interestingly, the international coverage is completely different. For a start, the guardian's coverage has been uniformly brilliant (kudos to Gavin Illsley for spotting this excellent piece on Rwanda's Western PR firm) and detailed, which is itself new. In general, though, there is a critical tone to the journalism coming out of the international press which is completely new (see the New York Times, the Huffington Post, the Observer, and the Mail and Guardian for details). More on why the wheels might be coming off the international charm offensive in a later post, but for a start, we might look to the brave new breed of critical blogs out there, such as Democracy Watch, Coloured Opinions, and Texas in Africa (this one is particular is great).

Final important thought: the ever-brilliant Jason Stearns points out that in Rwanda, as in many places, elections are a distraction from politics, not the thing itself.

Finally, according to Will Jones, the most important news of all concerning Rwanda is this: Rwanda has it's first ice-cream parlour!

  • J. Twahirwa

    What happened in Rwanda on the 9th August was election simulation where Kagame and his junta tried to tell once again a big lie to the whole world especially to rwandan fund donnors. This was done to legalize the lie that rwandan people did elect him freely. Observers leaded by a Tanzanian Salim Saleh former secretary general of african union were misguided by their leader because is RPF supporter since this movement was a rebel movement. He was controversial, he was always sided to RPF. Therefore, whateever he can do can not be given a credit.

    The UN as a world body has failed for many occasion to do good in favor of rwandan people. This UN world body should remove a genocidaire Kagame from the leadership and be prosecuted according to various sources.

    Bil Clinton, Tony Blaire, Salim Saleh, Thabo Mbeki and others can not fight with the Almighty God!

  • Ndezee Bantu

    We can all of us sit here and whin all we awant but we are not doing any good to the Rwandan people who for so long have suffered alot more than we can talk about in a day or year. People have said that Poul Kagama is a bad man I sure no bad in him but I seem him like a man who has taken over a difficult problem of building a nation that once was forgotten by the same people who are talking or develop interest in it.
    Rwanda has had two president who both dieded in office, Rwanda has haad refuges outside since its indepence who everyone including the UN thought that can assimillate and disapear in think air. But with Kagame unlike the ones before him everyone is allowed to come back as long as he or she can live by the laws of the land, all laws I have seen, read about in all countries I have visted are very different /dificult to understand especially when they are not crafted westerners but at least these laws that we are talking are meant to protect everyone (Rwandan) and build one people in one Nation, the laws will evolve give them time and remember this is the last term for Kagame Poul.

    NdezeeB

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