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Paul Kagame
Image: Picture alliance/AP Photo/E. Murinzi

Election countdown in Rwanda

Antonio Cascais
July 23, 2017

There is little doubt that Rwanda's President Paul Kagame will win the elections on August 4, as his government leaves no room for opposition. But will he leave at the end of his next term of office?


Rwanda is getting ready for its federal election on August 4. If nothing unexpected happens, then President Paul Kagame will win a third term. But there is only one remaining question: Will he get more votes than in the last elections seven years ago, when he won 93 percent? Or will it be even higher than it was in 2003, when he got 95 percent?

It seems certain that the opposition doesn't stand a chance. The press coverage from the mostly government controlled media is concentrated on the ubiquitous Paul Kagame and his FPR party.

Nevertheless, two other candidates were allowed to contest for the presidency:  Frank Habineza, chairman of Rwanda's Green party and a former member of the current ruling party. Little is known about the second candidate - Philippe Mpayimana - a former journalist who recently returned to Rwanda after years of exile in the Central African Republic and France. He is contesting as an independent candidate in the elections.

All the other candidates did not make it past the preliminary stages after failing to fulfill certain administrative hurdles, such as attaining the required number of signatures. One of the nominees gave up after nude photos of her were published online.

Frank Habineza, chairman of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda
The opposition in Rwanda has no chance of winning the presidencyImage: DW/A. Le Touzé

No chance for the opposition

"The candidate for the Green Party and the independent candidate do not have any chance against Kagame," said German author, Gerd Hankel, in an interview with DW. He has been researching Rwanda's history for years. "I think Kagame will get more than 90 percent."

In order for Paul Kagame to run for a third term, he required meticulous political preparation. Rwanda's constitution originally did not allow a president to serve a third term in office. In October 2015, the members of the National Assembly unanimously adopted a constitutional amendment allowing Kagame to contest in the 2017, 2024 and 2029 elections. Theoretically, he could remain president until 2034. The Senate also voted in agreement, and the public blessed the changes in a referendum.

Rwanda | Presidential candidate Philippe Mpayimana
Philippe Mpayimana is not known by many in RwandaImage: Getty Images/AFP/C. Ndegeya

"According to the constitution, Rwanda is a democracy. But, it has become a state ruled by the authoritarian Paul Kagame. It is a country with strict, dictatorial features," says Rwanda expert Hankel. Officially, President Kagame announced that he would retire after the end of his third term in 2024. Henkel, however, believes that Kagame might succumb to the temptation to remain in power.

Previously, Kagame said he would only rule for two terms (14 years). But unfortunately he did not honor this promise, Hankel stressed: "There is a big danger if he does not leave. The country will fall into a vacuum, which in turn can release forces that are not good for the stability of the country."

Africa Rwamagana Solar Farm in Rwanda
President Kagame is praised for spearheading development in his countryImage: Imago/Nature Picture Library

Economic success and political repression

Despite the criticism regarding the human rights situation, the president has been praised for his economic successes. The economy has been growing by an average of seven percent for years. Ninety five per cent of the population has access to the internet and over ninety five percent benefit from at least basic health care. In the past 20 years, infant mortality has been reduced to one-sixth of the original level.

Many Rwandese living abroad feel attracted by the economic miracle in their home country and are going back. Rwanda is making the right economic decisions and is offering young academics and investors a good standard of living and employment opportunities. Many authorities work efficiently, while the rate of crime and corruption is low.

Congolese analyst Jean-Claude Mputu also recognizes this success. But in an interview with DW, he stressed that economic success alone cannot permanently cover up the problems of the country. "Rwanda is held together mainly by economic success and the development of infrastructure," says Mputu. "But that is something transient, or in other words, Kagame has built castles and fortresses on sand."

Many experts share this opinion. They say that Rwanda's economic development is accompanied by political repression and Kagame's increasing self-rule.

African expert, Filip Reyntjens, from the University of Antwerp, also does not believe that Kagame's chances would be as great as they are now if free elections were held. "If Rwanda had a free political landscape and the opposition had the opportunity to present their proposals during the campaign without fear of arrest or assassination, the election result would be quite different."

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