RWANDA held elections on Monday with an outcome which was known well before the polls even closed. Paul Kagame, the Rwandan President and his government made it all but academic through their widely reported stifling of political opposition in that country. The opposition that did run against Mr Kagame and his party were largely thought to be aligned to his thinking in their political philosophy, bringing into question the validity of their challenge at the polls.
This East African country has been in a weird place politically since the 1994 genocide. The country has held one election prior to Monday’s vote. On that occasion Kagame won overwhelmingly. Rwanda is a widely praised country among Western countries but according to reports the political situation is less than laudable.
This election brings to question whether Rwanda can be legitimately acknowledged as a democracy or a dictatorship that flirts with democratic elements every so often to keep up its international image. Kagame has done a lot of economic good for his country and has tripled the country’s GDP since he came into office. He has attracted foreign investment which has assisted in rebuilding the country since the tragedy of 1994.
He has overseen the redevelopment of Rwanda and has led its wider acknowledgement on the world stage, but all this has been achieved at greater cost to civil liberties in the country. Recently a former military chief, General Kayumba, who criticized Kagame and subsequently sought exile in South Africa, was shot outside his home in Johannesburg, bringing into play questions over whether Kigali had ordered the attempt on the military chief’s life.
Talk or discussion of the 1994 genocide is taboo in Rwanda and is a sore subject for citizens and expatriates of that country alike. Some have referred to Rwanda as nothing more than a minority ethnic autocracy that is led by an uncompromising man who will not tolerate opposition of any kind. Talk along ethnic lines has largely been muted since the 1994 genocide but reports indicate that it may yet rear its ugly head yet again. This coupled with unresolved reconciliation issues may lead to greater problems for Rwanda in the future.
Kagame is also accused of formerly backing rebels in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo and adding further problems to the attainment of peace in that region through his backing of those rebels. In his own country, Kagame has sidelined NGO’s and limited their role in Rwanda’s civil society. He and his government are accused of having had a hand in the assassination of some of his more vocal critics and political opponents. This once again brings into question whether Rwanda qualifies as a democracy or a well run dictatorship.
History has shown that when issues are repressed and debate is muffled, things eventually boil over and things get out of control. One way or another the essential question posed by this article will one day be answered by the people of Rwanda, for while they may be content today the unresolved issues of the past and present my bubble over in the near future.
Written by Tatenda Goredema Deputy Editor of Varsity Newspaper
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