Rwanda’s elections will be free – but will it be fair?

Foreign diplomats and human rights groups say signs of repression have marred the run-up to Rwanda’s elections. The country’s donors expect the polls to be peaceful and say the revised electoral code will make it more transparent than in the last elections in 2003. Kagame is admired by some, locally, for rebuilding institutions, promoting women, boosting agricultural output and tripling household income. But Amnesty International says the poll will take place in a climate of fear.

Problems with registration prevented three outspoken parties from fielding candidates. Two party chiefs were arrested on charges including stirring ethnic hatred and genocide ideology. Opponents say they have been threatened and intimidated.  In April, two newspapers were suspended and a journalist critical of Kagame’s rule was shot in the head in June and a senior member of the Democratic Green Party was found nearly beheaded in July.

Although Rwandans would like more choice, they are haunted by the genocide, in which it was claimed that gangs of Hutu extremists slaughtered 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Victoire  Ingabire, a former accountant who lived in exile in the Netherlands for 16 years, returned to Rwanda earlier this year to run for office. Her name will not appear on the ballot paper. She has been a victim of Kagame’s ruthless suppression of all those he sees as threat to his dictatorship.

The genocide that Rwanda witnessed, was spawned, in part by the surge of radical ethnic politics that followed the birth of multi-party democracy in Rwanda in the early 1990s. According to a western diplomat, it seems Kagame is afraid that widening the democratic space would allow in wolves in sheepskins.  It seems Kagame’s real challenge comes from within his Tutsi cadres in the ruling party and army and that his war on graft, which has seen former political associates locked up, is a way of side-lining possible threats to his power. At the start of the year top army officials have fled the country, been arrested, demoted or shot in mysterious circumstances.

The Rwandan president, rejects allegations of a rift with his brothers in arms. “What I know does not suggest any kind of crisis at all. There are differences in terms of opinions like anywhere else in the world,” he said. Army and intelligence top brass in exile are sounding increasingly belligerent and say Rwandans should stand up and fight for their freedom. The ambition to hold on to power may have deprived Paul Kagame of any human rights consideration.

© 2010, Ahmed M Kamara. All rights reserved. – The views expressed here are purely those of the author and not necessarily those of the publishers. – Newstime Africa content cannot be reproduced in any form – electronic or print – without prior consent of the Publishers. Copyright infringement will be pursued and perpetrators prosecuted.

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