One month to Rwanda’s election

“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

  • In addition, it is reported that a number of Rwandans, including Innocent Karuta, have been arrested in Burundi and extradited to Rwanda.

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.

Grenade attacks

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.

3 Responses to “One month to Rwanda’s election”

  1. The truth says:

    I find this article shallow and full of rumours, absolutely no factual evidence. I just returned from Kigali a few days ago and the situation is nothing like you described. Given that this is Rwanda’s second presidential election, it is completely natural for Rwandans to feel a little bit of anxiety, and i emphasize, a little bit. It feels to me that the writer/reporter in question wants to give the impression that he is “full of courage” for stepping into “volatile” Rwanda and defending the cause of democracy and all the BS that comes with it. People in the west might buy it but I see right through it to what it is: opportunistic journalism lacking ethics and professionalism.

    That being said, i wish to state that i am baffled at the stubborn belief by western media that “Democracy” is the miracle cure for all of Africa’s ills.. The western media/journalists are so blinded by this opaque view of development that they often revert to glorifying opposition leaders, media outlets- for the sake of it and without any idea of what they stand for… I ask myself, how long will it take them to understand that a hungry stomach does not care about votes? How long will it take them to understand that it is development first and democracy second (if needed).. Have they forgotten that democracy is a process that took them hundreds of years to perfect?

    Take a firm look at countries that have developed in that last quarter century… Singapore, Malaysia, Indosenia, Thailand, China have twisted democracy to suit the cards they were dealt with… Development occured because not because of democracy but because of strong benevolent leaders who took charge and put in place the necessary reforms to kickstart the economic growth engine, regardless of the noise from the west (WB,IMF…). Today the west is silenced when it comes to asia’s models of development, very clearly it was proven wrong: democracy is not a prerequisite for development! And so, they have chosen to intensify their energy on Africa, repeating relentlessly, day after the day, in a trance like state, the tiring mantra of Democracy, Multipartism, Strong opposition, Freedom of Speech and blablabla.

    Understand: Rwanda has chosen a development path in many ways similar to that of the Asian tigers. Paul Kagame is making miracles in this country. The economy has averaged 8% GDP Growth over the last 10 years, there is free primary education for all, Rwandans are slowly but surely reuniting, security is garanteed throughout the territory, it is the largest attractor of FDI in the region, was named number 1 in the World for Business Reforms by the WB doing business indicator. I mean, come on, instead of tarnishing the image of the country by publishing half-truths and rumours, couldn’t you focus on the positive things happening on the ground? A bon entendeur salut!!!

    The truth

  2. David McSwain says:

    I also have recently returned to America from Rwanda a few days ago. I was in Kigali, Ruhengeri and Kibuye. The writer of the article seems to be in alternate universe.

    There is no increase levels of paranoia, suspicion and fear among voters. The streets are filled and bustling. Kigali is building, growing and booming.

    Many are happy and working hard. Fiber optic cable is being installed from Kigali to both Ruhengeri and Kibuye. Thousands are employed.

    I saw no evidence of grenade attacks. Or anything of any kind that would indicate instability. After speaking with bright and intelligent Rwandans it is clear that the path Paul Kagame is taking is the best path for Rwanda.

    If crazies like the writer of the article don’t take hold Rwanda will emerge as the brightest nation in Africa.

    -David McSwain

  3. […] Rwanda in the future will be easier to fob off. For Rwanda’s part, it could do better. As I blogged previously, The Media High Council didn’t do itself any favours by banning the two newspapers, yet failing […]