Kagame wins Rwanda election

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

Now we know the result – roughly the same as the result in the 2003 election – let’s look at some of the more unreported issues around the election and also what the result means for Rwanda and the region going forward.

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”.

On the quirkier side, the fact that (at least one rally in Muhanga) by the Liberal party was funded by the RPF seems to have gone unnoticed by all media outlets bar Reuters. Even though it supports the over-riding media narrative that there is no convincing opposition,

At one Liberal Party rally, which attracted 200-300 people, an official said the event was funded and organized by Kagame’s ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). She too would vote for the incumbent, the official added. link

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?

This BBC report, in particular, was damning. However, it’s the links, more perceived than proven, of recent events being made by western media that have probably been most damaging.

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.

Ingabire is president of two Rwandan émigré parties based in Europe. One is the RDR, the other the FDU; they are essentially the same, save for the alphabet-soup acronym intrigue of émigré politics. Both are the descendents of the RDR party established in 1995 in eastern Congo by Rwandan military leaders of the 1994 genocide against the minority Rwandan Tutsi. Their intent was to replace, with less compromised faces, the Rwandan interim government that had committed the genocide and then retreated to eastern Congo.

The founding RDR ideology and strategy, never repudiated since 1995, is to return the genocide perpetrators and their supporters to power in Rwanda by force or by negotiation. Ingabire’s predecessor as RDR president in Europe, Charles Ndereyehe, is the subject of an Interpol warrant for genocide crimes committed against Tutsis in 1994. Ingabire’s RDR and FDU have long had ties with the FDLR in eastern Congo. link

Election day

Most foreign hacks stayed in Kigali for election day. This is largely because of the need to feed the media agenda; get the buzz in the capital, film the President casting his ballot, await preliminary results and make sure you have time to get to the 7pm victory party at Amahoro Stadium in the capital. The schedule doesn’t allow for the parachuted-in foreign correspondent, who might be unfamiliar with Rwanda, to get out of the capital on election day. However, for those of us that did, the Kigali “showboat election” as one western diplomat described it, wasn’t necessarily mirrored across the country,

In at least one incident, however, voters were ushered into polling stations hours before voting officially opened and instructed to vote for Kagame. “The first picture on the ballot sheet was Kagame. We were told to take their thumbs and show them where to vote. I know personally because I oversaw 83 people,” said one man identifying himself as a village chief and RPF member. A second man in the same village in Rwanda’s Eastern province told Reuters he used a megaphone to order sleeping residents to vote: “Wake up, go to vote early, the one you have to vote for, you know him.” link

Going forward

I’ll blog some more thoughts on Rwanda’s prospects over the coming months and years when I’ve had more time to digest recent news and events. However, I suspect any election quibbles will very soon be forgotten. Whichever ever way you cut it, this was an emphatic victory. The President has already stated that Rwanda is not ready for the medicine of democracy and given the country’s unique history he may well be right. Time, or the next seven years at least, will tell.

The Christian Science Monitor has a good initial analysis of Rwanda’s role regionally over the coming years,

Seen by the US, Britain, and increasingly by France as a reliable strategic partner in Africa, Kagame would appear to have a secure position. But a string of defections and arrests of top Rwandan military and government officials, and assassination attempts against Kagame’s critics, are starting to leave a bad taste in the mouth of even those African leaders who once voiced their solidarity and support. link

And Reuters has a useful “snap analysis”,

Some analysts say Kagame must repair his image following the crackdown on political opponents and critical media ahead of the vote and prove he is not just another African strongman with a slick international public relations machine. They say the bush war veteran will need to convince foreign donors and investors that he remains committed to his promise of democratising the country to ensure the impressive development seen over the past decade will be maintained. Analysts say Rwanda can expect far more foreign direct investment if it improves democratic accountability in the years to come rather than taking an increasingly autocratic line. link

Lastly, I’ll leave you with one abiding memory of this intriguing election period in Rwanda – the campaign trail dust. As filmed on the road to a PSD rally in Karenge. I’m still washing it out…

4 Responses to “Kagame wins Rwanda election”

  1. Anon says:

    The media has become the story. Given the obsession there is with Rwanda this has become increasingly tiring but perhaps not that surprising. As a supporter of Rwanda and its progress I feel increasing contempt for the media and its negative coverage – much of which has been poorly researched. Positive stories about development get ignored.

    A blogger (anti-RPF pro-Ingabire) said the other day that if a Hutu candidate had stood e.g. Ingabire s/he would have won because of the precedent of the 1993 Burundi election (when the unknown (Hutu) Ndadaye won (due to the popular vote) but was immediately killed in a failed coup which gave way to widespread violence and years of instability). The blogger argues that Hutus would [always] vote on so-called “ethnic” lines given the chance.

    Following this reasoning for a moment (Burundi is a different country with a different history but for people who see things in “ethnic” terms, the same) we can easily imagine the furore if Ingabire had stood.

    The govt would have been asked what they would do if Ingabire won. Whatever they said her supporters and the outside opposition would say they were afraid of the Army if she won (would there be Burundi 1993 Number 2?). And by letting her stand was Rwanda playing Russian roulette? Foreigners would start leaving and investment and Aid would cease. Ingabire’s supporters would accuse the RPF of predicting chaos if Ingabire won and therefore pressurising her supporters to vote RPF. They would say that the election was not fair. Whatever happened the RPF would be blamed by the media and “we told you so” releases would start flooding out of Human Rights Watch and all the usual suspects.

    As has happened many times already the Kigali govt is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. In today’s Independent in the UK Human Rights Watch makes it clear that it is trying hard to get Aid stopped (as it has tried to do before with many other NGOs in support). HRW likes threatening Rwanda; most recently over the visa application of its researcher and before that after its tailor made reports helped to stop the extradition of 4 men from London. If Rwanda would only do what HRW told them, they say, they would back off.

    Is it not bizarre that the accountability of the Rwandan govt is being questioned by an organisation that is not accountable to anyone? We know who gives Aid to Rwanda but not to HRW. Its website does not even take comments. We can see, for example, that it takes the news from the Rwandan opposition, as with its release condemning the “politically motivated” arrest of Ingabire’s assistant which was not based upon any solid evidence because he subsequently confessed.

    Its recent reference to this is typical. It says that the assistant pleaded not guilty initially. In the mind of HRW if someone confesses to a murder e.g also that of Rugambage, it means they are clearly innocent.

    Quite what is behind HRW’s wish to see Rwanda fail I do not know but it has faced stiffer obstacles before and come through.

  2. […] 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 […]

  3. Pierre de la Billiere says:

    Anon, you wonder what the motivations of Human Rights Watch and many such NGOs might be.

    Basically, many NGOs are merely fronts for foreign intelligence agencies, and this goes for human-rights NGOs as well. The Anglo-American intelligence services, and the oligarchy they represent, are very sophisticated and cunning, and so their modus operandi may not be so obvious.

    If you look at the big picture, it’s all about the Great Game being played out in Africa between the Anglo-American oligarchy and China. China needs the continent’s resources and arrives offering a better deal. And a better deal it is, too! Instead of merely a small elite being kept on side by the Anglo-American oligarchy through personal enrichment, China offers generous soft loan as well as infrastructure development — that is, the actual development of the country! The Anglo-Americans, undercut by this munificence and on the back foot, endeavor to carve out their own piece of Africa to build as a showcase, demonstrating the benefits of sticking with the Anglo-Americans, namely East Africa.

    Rwanda is crucial to the Anglo-American strategy in this Great Game.

    But, golly, the Chinese really do offer a great deal. An irresistible deal. Irresistible to someone like Kagame, passionate about developing his country, and indeed East Africa, if he can. How long could he have resisted the seductive Chinese’s come-hither look.

    This threatens to throw a spanner in the Anglo-Americans’ works. They’ve recently started destabilization actions through their NGOs and the press, unleashing a torrent of negative publicity. And have you ever stopped to wonder where that general who was shot in South Africa got the money to be driving a nice BMW and living in an upscale neighborhood? Heck, while in hospital recovering from his injuries we now learn that this fugitive was visited by the South African deputy president as well as that country’s former intelligence chief! Was anyone else surprised by how quickly and breathlessly the BBC reported the assassination attempt on the General when it occurred? Were they enraged at the wounding of what may have been one of their options they were nurturing for possible military destabilization or outright regime change?

    Anyway, to see how this complicated world of intrigue works, read this long article by a clued-up guy who writes about the Anglo-American’s modus operandi in Africa with reference to Zimbabwe. As you read you’ll notice how this MO is starting to be applied to Kagame and Rwanda now. Why? Because Kagame’s giving signs of preparing to elope with China, who offer a much better deal not only for Rwanda but for the whole of Africa.

    http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/zimbabwe-at-war/

  4. A.L says:

    It is enlightening to read a more positive account of Kagame’s campaign and subsequent election. Western media, despite the respect I will always have for it, fails Rwanda continuously and has done since 1994. As a visitor of Rwanda I have seen the incredible things Kagame has accomplished and the love the Rwandan people hold for him; two things which I have rarely read about in accounts of the election.
    Thank you also for giving alternative reasons on why those two newspapers were closed and Ingabire not allowed to stand. The media is too quick to call ‘CENSORSHIP!’ and then too quick to link it to corruption.