Under a barrage of criticism for seeking a third term, President Paul Kagame, 59, of Rwanda, has made clear his determination to continue leading the country he is credited for turning around over the past 23 years.
Kagame first became president in 2000 and was elected in 2003 and later in 2010 for seven-year consecutive terms.
On Friday August 4, Rwandans came out in their millions to vote in an election whose outcome was obvious.
The electoral commission chairman, Kalisa Mbanda, declared the incumbent and his party, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) the winner on Saturday after securing 98.66 per cent with 80 per cent of votes counted.
President Kagame won the 2010 election with over 93 per cent of the vote.
Shortly after casting his vote at APE Rugunga, in the Kigali suburb of Kiyovu, President Kagame did not address the media (both local and international) as usual, opting to leave immediately. Perhaps to show his disapproval of the reporting he and Rwanda have been subjected to especially by international media.
Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Government Spokesperson Louise Mushikawabo, on Friday hit out at the dishonesty of Western media and cheekily alleged that the executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) Ken Roth had “come off his medication,” urging him to get help at Rwanda’s Ndera Psychiatric Hospital.
“Dishonesty of some Western media on Rwanda elections is flagrant, but thank God, only a distraction to us,” she tweeted.
Recently TheEconomist magazine has run articles disparaging the success story of Rwanda, stating that President Paul Kagame is both feted and feared, and that his government is repressive.
The voters, some of whom had woken up as early as 5am, said voting was a democratic right, but voting for President Kagame was even more important.
“I came to vote because President Kagame has made me who I am. I have benefited from many government programmes which support the needy, today I have my own business,” said Venentia Mukamurenzi, a resident of Kimironko, a suburb of Kigali.
Critics of the Rwandan government and style of democracy argue that Rwandan elections are held in a “climate of fear,” and the people are “forced” to attend campaign rallies and vote for the ruling party. If they don’t, they risk being chastised by local leaders who take note of all activities.
However, Rwandans who support the president, express love and admiration for him.
“He has given us roads, schools and opportunities,” said Didacien Munyurangabo, a 45-year old teacher, who says that he has lived under past governments and later under Kagame’s governments and he can tell the difference between the two.
Proponents of the Rwandan leader, in an attempt to distinguish him from other African leaders who change constitutions to stay in office, cite his achievements and the country’s impressive economic gains over the past years. His critics are now turning to scrutinising the numbers and statistics fronted by the government.
With the landslide win, observers say the next seven years in office for President Kagame are likely to see more scrutiny of the government. In his party manifesto, the president promises grander projects, which if achieved, may lessen the criticism.
Targets versus promises
President Kagame’s next seven years will be highly scrutinised based on the promises in the party manifesto and the country’s Vision 2020.
The ruling party is promising to double the country’s achievements through industrialisation, job creation, and improved access to education, electricity and healthcare.
The government plans to achieve middle income status by 2020, transforming the country into a knowledge-based economy and cutting poverty levels to less than 20 per cent from the current 39 per cent. These are people living below the poverty line.
Under the revised Vision 2020, Rwanda hopes to achieve lower middle income country status with a gross domestic product of $1,240. Kigali also hopes to increase access to electricity to 70 per cent coverage of the population from the current 24.5 per cent.
The government had earlier set a target of reaching 568MW electricity production by 2018 but now that seems impossible, as current generation stands at 208MW. The president has promised to add 355MW of electricity on the country’s grid over the next seven years.
On the campaign trail, President Kagame promised to take the country to the next economic level, urging citizens to focus on development matters and turn a blind eye to critics.
“I will be your shock absorber, they will target you but I will take the shots on your behalf,” President Kagame declared at the final rally held in Kigali, urging citizens to foster unity, and aim at development and socio-economic growth.
Proof of development
Scholars such as Dr Phil Clark, from SOAS, University of London argue that President Kagame will need to prove that socio-economic development in Rwanda will be holistic over the next seven years.
“The three biggest challenges for Kagame after this election are how to maintain socio-economic development in the countryside, how to manage a transition to new leadership within the RPF, and how to foster a more open political space nationally while guarding against the danger of ethnic extremism,” said Dr Clark.
Critics of Rwanda argue that while the government portrays general development of the country, the countryside tells a different story. President Kagame has also been accused of not nurturing a successor. He however recently urged young people to begin taking leadership and responsibility.
“There is already pressure within the RPF for the president to outline a clear succession plan. Various senior figures over the past five years have praised the RPF’s gains under Kagame’s leadership but also stressed the need for a new generation of leaders.
“There is a clear party programme that would allow new leadership to smoothly and effectively take over when Kagame leaves the scene,” says Dr Clark.