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Kagame backs opposition ban as Rwanda election nears

June 22, 2024

Rwanda's president defended the central African nation's democratic record as campaigning for next month's vote got underway. Two prominent opposition candidates are barred from running by an appeals court decision.

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame attends the first campaign rally ahead of the July presidential vote at Busogo, Rwanda, on June 22, 2024
Nine million Rwandans are registered to vote in the presidential election, to be held concurrently with legislative electionsImage: Jean Bizimana/REUTERS

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame said Saturday that his country's democracy reflected the "unique reality of Rwandans" as he launched his election campaign at a rally in the north of the country.

The central African country goes to the polls on July 15 with the incumbent widely expected to extend his 24-year rule.

While Kagame has been praised for Rwanda's economic recovery after the 1994 genocide that claimed 800,000 lives, he faces criticism over rights abuses and political repression.    

What did Kagame say?

Kagame took an apparent swipe at allegations of stifling the opposition after Rwandan courts rejected appeals from two prominent opponents, Bernard Ntaganda and Victoire Ingabire, to remove previous convictions that effectively barred them from contesting. 

"Democracy is often misunderstood or interpreted differently by people, but we have our own understanding based on the unique reality of Rwandans and what needs to change in our lives," he told an audience of thousands of supporters.

“Our politics today, as we start our campaign, and seek your vote; when you do this, what is in peoples’ mind and hearts, is this politics of wanting to transform Rwanda, to transform the lives of Rwandans for the better, and achieve as much as anyone or even more," Kagame added.

Who else is in the running for the president's job?

Kagame will face Frank Habineza, the leader of the opposition Democratic Green Party and former journalist, Philippe Mpayimana, who is running as an independent in the presidential election.

The country will also hold legislative elections on the same day with 589 candidates vying for the 80 seats in the lower house of parliament.

Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front currently holds 41 of the 53 seats allocated for parties, while opposition parties have 13 seats, including the Social Democratic Party on 5 and the Liberal Party on 4.

The remaining 27 seats are reserved for women elected by provincial councils and representatives from youth and disabled groups.

Supporters of Rwandan President Paul Kagame attend the first campaign rally ahead of next month's election, in Busogo, Rwanda, on June 22, 2024
Kagame held his first campaign rally ahead of next month's election in Busogo, a town in the north of the countryImage: Jean Bizimana/REUTERS

As well as Ntaganda and Ingabire being ineligible to run, Diane Rwigara, a fierce critic of Kagame, was rejected by the election commission as she had not shown that she had received 600 supporting signatures from citizens. 

The 42-year-old Rwigara fell out with the leaders of Kagame's party before being detained and disqualified from running in 2017 over allegations of forgery. She was later acquitted.

Who is Paul Kagame?

Kagame became the Great Lakes region's leader at the end of the 1994 genocide that claimed mostly Tutsi lives but also moderate Hutus. 

He became president in 2000 and has won three subsequent votes — 2003, 2010 and 2017.

In 2015, Kagame presided over controversial constitutional amendments allowing him to potentially rule until 2034.

Kagame is credited with improving the living standards of thousands of millions of Rwandans, thanks to a booming economy.

But criticizing his human rights record recently, Human Rights Watch hit out at, "The threat of physical harm, arbitrary judicial proceedings, and long prison sentences, which can often lead to torture."

mm/lo (AFP, DW Sources)