“Paranoia on all sides is rife” That’s the last line in a June 2010 Economist article about the situation in Rwanda. Grenade attacks, detention of opposition candidates, assassinations and assassination attempts, coupled with a weak press and an overactive rumour mill has meant that paranoia and fear is common among Rwandans. With the Presidential election scheduled for August 9, let’s take a look at some of the key concerns for the coming months.
The state of the political opposition
Everybody in Rwanda and overseas knows which candidate from which party will win the election on August 9. It’s how they win that is important.
Which leaves us with just four candidates in the Presidential race; Paul Kagame (RPF) who won the 2003 election with 95.1% of the vote, Prosper Higiro (PL), accused of being an RPF “satellite party” who is yet to unveil a manifesto, Dr Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo (PSD), who denies being an RPF “stooge candidate” and Dr Alvera Mukabaramba (PPC), who withdrew from the 2003 election to side with the RPF.
Regardless of stooge candidate claims and the like, the fact that the more vocal opposition candidates are out of the race looks like blatant suppression to outsiders. Never mind who these candidates are and why they are not being allowed to run, their exclusion has also added to a sense of fear among Rwandans.
Assassinations, assassination attempts, arrests and extraditions
There is no evidence of government involvement in any of these events. Regardless of who is guilty, these events have helped increase levels of paranoia, suspicion and fear among voters. Despite the denials of the ruling party that “everything will come back to normal” after the election, suspicion is rife that there are deep rifts within the RPF.
A number of suspects have been arrested over the Kigali grenade attacks, that began in February 2010. However, the attacks continue. There are several theories about who could be behind the attacks. The one that seems to have gained most credence among analysts is that Nkunda sympathisers are to blame. Laurent Nkunda, the CNDP warlord leader, has been held under house arrest in Rwanda since January, 2009. The most recent grenade attack in Kigali was in May. It was reportedly a nail bomb and not a grenade. 2 people died and 28 were injured in that attack.
The state of the media in Rwanda
Whatever the wrongs of popular tabloid newspapers Umuseso and Umuvugizi, banning them for six months was a mistake. Why not take them to court on individual libel cases from individual stories? The 6 month ban looks draconian, regardless of prior warnings. In addition, it looks calculated, as the ban extends well after the August 9 election date.
From what I understand of the content of both publications, the government/prosecution have a very good case on a story by story basis, so why the six month ban? Was Umuvugizi banned because of alleged ties to Kayumba Nyamwasa? Likewise, was Umuseso banned because it was about to publish an interview with Kayumba Nyamwasa?
The Media High Council didn’t do itself any favours by banning the two newspapers, yet failing – in it’s role as media overseer – to do anything to help them steer a more ethical journalistic path. As one source close to the Media High Council told me,
“So they banned them for six months. Great. But, are they helping them become better. To help them do better journalism? No. They’re not even talking to them. So, can we assume, when the ban’s lifted that they just come back and continue as before, business as usual?”
For further analysis about the current state of play in Rwanda, take a look at Reuters political risks to watch, the observations of the Brussels-based EurAc and the perspective from South Africa in the Daily Maverick.
Come the run up to the election in early August, I hope to have a lot more coverage of events in both pictures and words. I plan to get out of Kigali to see what’s happening in rural Rwanda at election time. I’ll publish everything I find exclusively on kigaliwire.