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Rwanda: Kagame Provides One Man Rule In Exchange For Stability And Growth


President Kagame of Rwanda

Rwanda’s Constitution was amended in 2015, following a referendum, enabling President Kagame to run for yet another term. He remains eligible to also run for fourth term after that, permitting him to stay in office until at least 2034.

The latest electoral tally resulted in a vote that was an unbelievable 98.8% in favor of President Kagame. Not unusual, for a country that is for all intent purposes a police state and is run by a single political party the Rwandan Patriotic Party (RPF).

His inauguration ceremony, was mainly an effort to provide him further political legitimacy. Kagame was sworn in for a unprecedented third term, as the ceremony was presided over by dozens of African dignitaries and leaders. A number of the attendees no doubt, consider him a model to emulate.

Location of Rwanda on a map of Africa.

Many people coming from abroad look at the orderliness of the country and the rapid economic growth, but do not realize the cost of freedom made by the citizenry.

Some even make the inference, that maybe authoritarianism, seems to work better than democracy, in fully developing a nation.

This same argument has been made in numerous countries both on the right, in the case of Chile and Singapore for example, and on the left with nations like China and Vietnam.

As he thanked the electorate for entrusting him with another term in office, he went on to criticize attempts to interfere in the politics of Rwanda.

That was his official response, to those individuals and organizations, who question the legitimacy of the election and its results.

Supporters of President Kagame consider him a savior of the country and a visionary. He has facilitated an environment where streets are safe and clean, with the traffic police mostly honest.

Provinces of Rwanda on a map

Although at the local level, officials are more genuine than not, cronyism is quite evident at the higher levels for the government and the ruling party.

President Kagame has indeed, introduced numerous reforms that have benefited the people materially. One of them being basic health insurance for example, that in theory, all citizens can participate in.

The biggest achievement of his tenure has been political stability and social order the country. Kagame looks favorably upon both Singapore and South Korea as models for growth.

Rwanda a nation of 11.2 million people, has an economy that has been growing at a rapid 7% pace, over the last three years. The public debt to GDP (Gross Domestic Product) ratio is a low of 34.6%.

Coffee and tea production are among its main exports. The total value of trade equals 45% of GDP.

Coffee beans drying in Maraba. Coffee is one of Rwanda’s major cash crops.

The World Bank has even praised the developmental success of Rwanda. The officials of the bank have pointed to the reduction of economic inequality and overall decline in poverty. They fail to report on the lack of any real political freedom.

His government remains quite welcoming, towards foreign investment and those coming from abroad, that will benefit Rwanda.

However, the investment arm of the RPF, has major stakes in the largest companies and therefore dominates the overall economy.

In the long run, the heavy involvement of the RPF, will discourage greater investment from both domestic and foreign sources.

Frank Habineza

It was quite obvious from the beginning of the election cycle, that his two challengers had no hope in a process, that many observers have judged to be totally rigged in favor of President Kagame.

Any potential candidate must follow government rules and guidelines. In Rwanda is easy to become summarily disqualified, from seeking any public office.

Both Frank Habineza, from the Democratic Green Party and Philippe Mpayimana, an independent together received a mere 1.2% of the vote. They have together complained that their political supporters had been intimated.

Kigali, the capital of Rwanda

This is why they believe there were such low turnouts for their rallies. They go further in accusing local authorities, of taking steps to actually undermine their individual campaigns.

In the previous election held in 2010, President Kagame received 93% of the vote. That he felt obliged to grow his margin of victory, even further this go around, is indicative of the lack of any viable opposition to his rule.

President Kagame has been often accused of silencing any political resistance, through various tactics. In addition to suppressing any real discontent among those who oppose him, he has been implicated in the assassination of a number of critics.

Rural water pump in Rwanda

A former army chief who no longer supported President Kagame, felt compelled to leave for South Africa. He has since survived two assassination attempts in 2010 and 2014.

A former Rwandan spy chief, forced into exile as an opponent of Mr. Kagame, was later murdered in South Africa, also in 2014. Another former interior minister, was shot dead in Kenya.

The government ascendance over the media, has led to self censorship of many publications,those that are not already under direct control.

State television and radio reach the largest number of the citizenry, but much of the information provided, is biased in favor of the government.

The only country in Africa that has less freedom of speech is Eritrea.

The Virunga Mountains, Kagame’s RPF base from 1990 & 1991

Paul Kagame has a long history in overcoming hurdles. He was born in 1957, but was forced to leave Rwanda as a child, when 500,000 fellow Tutsi fled, following a bloody Hutu uprising.

His family would decide to settle in Uganda.

Later on, Kagame would help the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni come to power. This was accomplished by his involvement in overthrowing the previous government.

In Rwanda, Kagame led the military arm of the RPF in its war against the Hutu-controlled government, beginning in 1990.

Human skulls at the Nyamata Genocide Memorial

Paul Kagame has politically dominated Rwanda, since his rebel forces helped end the 1994 genocide. Back then, his Tutsi rebel group, was able to capture control of the capital of Kigali.

This effectively ended the Hutu government sponsored national nightmare, which lasted some 100 days, where possibly as many as 800,000 ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutus were slaughtered.

Kagame was sworn in as vice-president and defense minister, in the new government created after the national catastrophe of 1994. He was already then seen, as the real power in Rwanda.

Refugee camp in Zaire, 1994

In the year 2000, parliament made him president for the first time. He then won the presidential election in 2003, again in 2010, and now for his third term earlier this month.

There are many that deem Kagame a military genius. He has twice invaded the much larger neighbor of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire).

This was made possible by the buildup in the armed forces. He has also been accused of using the military, to assert his authority domestically, as well.

The involvement in the former Zaire in the years 1996 to 2003 took place during the civil war there. The first phase in the conflict was to help force President Mobutu from office. This led to the installation of Joseph Kabila as President. Later Kagame, would make the unsuccessful decision to oppose Kabila.

Kagame Served Under Yoweri Museveni in the Ugandan Bush War and Later in the Ugandan National Army.

To be fair the invasion of the Congo was to track down and eliminate the genocidal Hutu militias. The support they received from Mobutu, forced Kagame to work for his overthrow.

When President Kabila began to assist the Hutu exiles as well, Kagame then made a push to topple his government, after originally supporting him.

The resulting civil war, caused the death of millions of people in the Congo.

The anti-genocide legislation Kagame engineered into law within Rwanda, has often been used to harass and censure opponents. His party the RPF, has connections in every village throughout the country.

Peasants remain fearful of the government. They face heavy fines, for even small infractions. Any real criticism of the government, can easily be a violation of the anti-genocide legislation.

He claims to be a champion of women’s rights. As evidence he points to the fact that 56% of the Ministers of Parliament are indeed women. It is the highest legislative percentage in the world. The problem is, the legislative body in today’s Rwanda, has little real authority.

Kagame (right) with Congolese President Joseph Kabila (left) at a peace summit with Thabo Mbeki, and George W. Bush in September 2002.

President Kagame in pursuing his own political interests, has done little to prepare the country for a time when he will no longer be in power. He even once said, that if he did not have a successor ready to take the reins of power by 2017, he would consider it to be a personal failure.

There are no real institutions in place, to allow the country to move towards democracy and a multiparty state. The governmental interference of the judiciary and the legal system, has taken away that safety net for a truly civil society.

His suppression of dissent although expedient for now, does not actually end social disharmony, it only allows it to fester underneath, the outward appearance of tranquility.

Despite the partial success of his present model of development, in the end it will not provide Rwanda the long term stability and prosperity, the citizens of the country so desperately desire. It also will deny an entire new generation of potential leaders, the opportunity to serve their country.

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