Rwandan President Paul Kagame has warned Western diplomats against meddling in the country’s elections, urging them to let the National Electoral Commission (NEC) do its job.
The ruling RPF Inkotanyi’s presidential candidate said foreign envoys should “stop fuelling fire” while describing the ‘interference’ as a “bizarre situation”.
He was speaking during a Rwanda Television panel discussion as the country marked the 23rd Liberation by the RPF following the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis on Tuesday evening.
His remarks came days after several diplomats including the EU, ambassadors from the UK, South Korea and the US visited the electoral commission to “understand better” the vetting process which left out independent presidential candidates on the provisional list.
According to Michael Ryan, the EU delegation head to Rwanda, diplomats wanted to understand from the NEC’s perspective the process which raised fears that independent candidates could be left out, and possibly denting the credibility of the elections.
'NEC should make own decisions'
The Rwandan leader, who is seeking a third term, said that NEC should be left to make its own decisions, and not be put under pressure from anyone.
“My question is, does the electoral commission, or will the electoral commission clarify things they should because the European Union representative has said so?” he posed, adding that the NEC shouldn’t be doing its work based on what the EU says it should do or not.
“This is a bizarre situation and we have to learn to live with this and work around it and with it and still make progress,” he said.
Through his Twitter handle on Tuesday, Mr Ryan posted a photo of him and Diane Rwigara, saying he had “good talks with the presidential candidate”. He also urged the electoral commission to “quickly clarify why so many signatures were rejected”.
The envoy’s tweet was met by hostile responses, with some Rwandans accusing him of meddling in the country’s election, while others backed the ‘concerns’ expressed by the diplomat.
Last week, the US Ambassador to Rwanda Erica Barks Ruggles through her Twitter handle said that the diplomats had a “frank discussion” with the electoral body on election regulations and “the need for a free, fair and competitive election process”.
She later posted photos of her meeting with the two independent candidates Ms Rwigara and Gilbert Mwenedata.
“It is the same sort of interference I have read on Twitter and different news statements, where you find embassies calling candidates to meet them and give them their complaints.
“Well, I think there is something wrong. I can live with it, but what is wrong here is that diplomatic missions here are not, and shouldn’t replace the electoral commission. They should allow the people of this country, the electoral commission to do its work,” President Kagame said.
In a veiled reference to the US-Russian election interference allegations, President Kagame said that the same people meddling in Rwanda’s election are the same ones crying about their country's poll intrusion from elsewhere, almost going to war for it.
“The argument I am raising here has nothing to do with saying that nobody should talk about what might actually be going wrong. No, I am not saying that. But if anything is going wrong, people have a right to talk about it, but how far do you go?”
“What are some of the implications in some situations of what you are doing?” he asked, adding that in some cases in other countries where things have gone wrong, such statements “add fuel to the fire”.
Dr Christopher Kayumba, a scholar and political commentator who was on the discussion panel, pointed out that while it is okay for diplomats to meet different players in the country, including presidential aspirants to gather information, it is not right for them to probe the credibility of institutions or rank candidates.
“Once a diplomat in a country starts talking about the credibility of institutions and ranking candidates, who should be accepted by electoral commission, you have jumped from diplomacy into the politics of the country,” Dr Kayumba said.
Reached for comment, Mr Ryan said that the EU cannot remark about President Kagame’s concerns at this stage.
Earlier, the EU said it would not send poll observers to Rwanda with Mr Ryan saying there will only be “diplomatic observation” in the presidential elections.
NEC will announce the final list of candidates on July 7. Campaigns officially start on July 14 just three weeks to the August 4 election. Rwandans in the diaspora vote a day earlier.