Rwanda’s Dual Realities: Vote Today about Kagame’s Progress…and Repression

By Bradley Blackburn

Aug 9, 2010 4:26pm

Dana Hughes Reports from Nairobi, Kenya: As millions of Rwandans take to the polls today to vote in their second democratic election since the 1994 genocide, the country may represent one of the world’s greatest come-back stories. Less than 20 years ago this tiny East African nation suffered unconscionable horror. In less than 30 days 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered, representing roughly 10 percent of the entire population at the time – while the entire world stood by.  Judges, businessmen, teachers, lawyers, people that held up what little infrastructure Rwanda had were almost entirely wiped out. It was a rebel leader named Paul Kagame, a Tutsi in exile, who led the militia that defeated those carrying out the genocide. Kagame was hailed a national hero and he vowed to rebuild the country, making it even better than before the genocide. He’s effectively ruled the country since 1994, first in a transitional government, and then as its first elected president in 2003 when more than 93% of Rwandans voted for him. In many ways he’s succeeded in exactly what he set out to do, rebuilding and bettering the nation.  Since the genocide Rwanda has seen an average of 8 to 10% economic growth nearly every year. Despite last year’s global economic downturn, according to the Rwanda Development Board, pledged investment in the country was $1.1 billion, a rise of 41 percent from the previous year. Since Rwanda is land-locked and small, without a port, highways and other resources that larger countries like Tanzania and Kenya have, Kagame has decided Rwanda will be the IT capital of East Africa. He’s invested billions of dollars into using the latest technology to continue to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and education. Kigali, the capital, once the center for some of the worst atrocities committed during the genocide, is now one of Africa’s safest and cleanest cities. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush have reaped praise on President Kagame, as well as other world leaders like Tony Blair. He’s been called “revolutionary” and is credited for bringing Rwanda back literally from the depths of hell. But now human rights activists and some Rwandans are asking what the cost of President Kagame’s vision really is.  The vote today was peaceful, but not considered free or fair by most international election standards. President Kagame is essentially running un-opposed. There are three other candidates, but they all say they agree completely with the president’s platform.  The truly opposing parties have been silenced. One was disqualified for not following correct registration “procedure”  according to the government and another’s leader is currently on house arrest, convicted of espousing “genocide ideology,” a charge she denies. According to Victoire Ingabare, who is Hutu, President Kagame’s version of stability is based on repression. "If Kagame stays there and does not change, then Rwanda will go into chaos," she warned reporters in an interview before the election. At least three suspicious attacks on critics of Kagame’s administriation since May have occurred. One opposition leader was found dead, nearly beheaded. A former Tutsi general in Rwanda’s army was shot in South Africa while living there in exile in an apparent assassination attempt, and five days later a journalist who published an article linking Rwandan intelligence to the attack was shot dead in Kigali.  The Rwandan government denies being involved in any of the incidents, but critics of the government have their doubts. President Kagame maintains these critics and human rights groups don’t understand Rwanda and the country’s needs. He says voters are supporting him because he has brought them a better life, and not out of fear. Like 2003, he is expected to win a second term by a large landslide.   But Patrick Karegeya , the former general and ally of Kagame who survived the assassination attempt agreed with Ingabare.  He told the Associated Press that stability borne out of oppression is a recipe for future problems. "What's the point if I survived genocide and I don't have rights?” he said. “I'm as good as dead."

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