"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


Rwanda's elections: what to watch

Rwandans go to the polls on Monday to choose from among four candidates, one of whom is current President Paul Kagame and the other three who were specially selected to pose no threat whatsoever to Kagame's rule. Here are a few things to watch as the day draws near:
  • The government (and its mouthpiece, the New Times) will tout the presence of Commonwealth election observers, who arrive in-country this week, as evidence that the elections are free and fair. There's no reason to believe the Commonwealth won't certify these elections as free and fair, but keep in mind that a serious observation mission would have arrived in the country six months or a year ago. By not allowing the most significant opposition parties to register their candidates for the election, Rwanda's government sealed the deal long before this week.
  • There's no reason to believe that any electoral shenanigans will affect the August 9 polling, although it's likely that the burgomeisters will, ahem, strongly encourage every adult in their municipalities to vote.
  • However, look carefully at the percentage by which Kagame wins the elections. He's likely to garner more than 90% of the vote (really), but some observers believe that his actual total will be tamped down in order to make the election appear more legitimate. If he wins with 75-80% of the vote, that's a likely sign that the numbers were manipulated after the fact, albeit in a direction that won't affect the outcome.
  • The New Times staff will continue to take dictation from various government officials, releasing breathless stories assuring us that the elections are a model of democracy, completely free and fair, open to real debate, etc.
  • What happens after the elections? Rwanda likely returns to its usual, sleepy self. However, the status of Laurent Nkunda will be a top question, both for the international community and Nkunda's supporters within the RPF. Nkunda is supposed to get a hearing in a military court in September. No one - not the RPF, Kagame, the RPF dissenters, Kabila, or Museveni - wants Nkunda to testify in a civilian court. This will be key.
  • Watch for what happens with Kayumba Nyamwasa. Whether there's a new assassination attempt or he attempts to use violence to affect outcomes in Kigali, it's gonna be messy.
  • See also this excellent political risk analysis from Reuters' Hez Holland.


Blogger Nkunda said...


Good observations you make. It seems clear that Rwanda's propaganda is failing to convince. For it is now a well known secret that the elections are a sham.

The latest attempt by the beleaguered international media--beleaguered because they falsely believed that Rwanda was geared towards democratic reform--is to argue that Rwanda needs a "strong man" for economic and social progress.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010 9:27:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So Nkunda, and TIA if you like, what alternative political vision would you like Rwandans to be able to vote for?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010 11:45:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A man has admitted the killing of Rugambage after being paid by a man who alleged that Rugambage had killed his relative in 1994. Reuters must know this if the article is written in Kigali. Why is it not mentioned? In the circumstances how can the report be "excellent"?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010 11:59:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

I would like Rwandans to be able to vote freely for the government they want. That means, among other things, being able to freely choose from all qualified candidates, not just those the administration in power likes.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010 12:24:00 PM

Blogger James North said...

Laura: Do you really think Kagame would get 90 percent? I agree he is popular, insofar as you can say in the current climate, but surely the "ethnic" proportions alone would suggest fewer votes.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010 12:35:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well it depends what you mean by a "qualified candidate" of course. There are 10 registered political parties in Rwanda. Only 4 have put forward candidates. The law says that in the circumstances parties with ethnic agendas cannot register and that candidates facing criminal charges should not be able to stand. That rules out two of the so-called opposition parties. Is the candidacy of Ingabire a loss? Someone clearly a stalking horse for the FDLR and its supporters. Would you like people to be free to vote for Ingabire for President?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010 12:53:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since the presidential campaigns begun, people have been watching. Those with eyes have seen how Pauk Kagame is attacting crowds and those with ears have heard his message which is loud and clear. He wants to continue the path that will lead Rwandans to prosperity. In this race he is contensting with other candidates. Whether he gets 70% or 90% it will depend on what the electorate decides. There is no need to give away some votes and what people will see will be the decison of Rwanda. I wish President Kagame well.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010 1:17:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

James, I do. Given the limited choices, some people won't vote, others will be afraid to vote for anyone else, and others will vote for Kagame because they genuinely support him.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010 5:24:00 PM

Blogger James North said...

Laura: I think I understand you better. You are saying Kagame will get 90 percent of the votes from among the existing candidates. If others had been allowed to run, his vote percentage would drop -- although still be considerable.
I spent a few weeks in Rwanda/Burundi in May, and I found Rwanda the most efficient surveillance state I've ever seen in Africa, on a par with apartheid South Africa.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010 9:01:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

James, exactly.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010 9:07:00 AM

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