Kagame clinging to power
More cartoons online at Angela Mudukuti is an international criminal justice lawyer
LAST week, President Paul Kagame was re-elected as head of state by 99% of the Rwandan electorate. This signals the beginning of Kagame’s third term after 17 years at the helm.
Kagame ushered in an era of prosperity for many Rwandans in the aftermath of the devastating genocide. He enjoys genuine support from many of his people. However, a number of sources indicate that his years in power have included the violation of human rights and the deterioration of justice in Rwanda.
Kagame is accredited with ending the genocide when his party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, seized power. He began as the minister of defence and vice-president in 1994 and became president in 2000.
Kagame began by consolidating his power and eliminating any political threats. He also prioritised economic growth. According to The Economist, Rwanda still has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and its per person income has gone from $150 in 1994 to $700 (R9 400) in 2017. Kagame was able to secure foreign aid and ensure it was used wisely. His government provided public services, reduced poverty and increased life expectancy.
Many believe his leadership inspires his people to vote for him, but others question election results, alluding to the pervasive atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Human Rights Watch reports indicate that dissent and opposition are brutally crushed. Political activists, journalists and anyone who expresses an unfavourable opinion is beaten, abducted, imprisoned or murdered.
Journalist Jean Rugambage was shot and killed for allegedly investigating the attempted murder of Kagame’s former comrade-turned-rival, Nyamwasa. Nyamwasa, the former chief of staff of the Rwandan armed forces, fled to South Africa after falling out with Kagame. According to reports, Nyamwasa is certain that Kagame is after him.
Kagame’s tactics comprise more than just the generation of fear, but, like any strategic leader, he has used the law to suit his political objectives. He has ensured that he is legally empowered to influence various institutions – for example, as president he has the power to appoint the prime minister and council of ministers.
The most significant yet unsurprising legal amendment came in 2015, when the Rwandan constitution was amended to remove presidential term limits. This allowed Kagame to run for president this year and gives him the opportunity to potentially remain in power until 2034. Achieving this goal was relatively simple: the government organised a referendum, and according to the results, 98% of the voters voted in favour of the amendment.
Interestingly, all of Kagame’s elections result in landslide victories. In 2003, he won 95% of the votes and in 2010, 93%.
While many would say the re-election of a resolute and consistent leader who has brought significant economic improvements to a country brutalised by violence is a positive development, there is another side of the story. Compromising human rights and the rule of law is a slippery slope towards anarchy and uprising. Democracy, prosperity and the rule of law in Africa can be sustained only if human rights are respected, presidential terms are reasonable and new leaders are groomed.
Leaders clinging to power at all costs have tipped many African nations into chaos and civil war; Burundi is a classic example. President Pierre Nkurunziza is doing his utmost to remain in power, including executing and punishing civilians, to suppress opposition. Nkurunziza wangled a controversial third term in office, which caused uproar in Burundi. Between 2015 and 2016, reportedly 430 people were killed, 3 400 were arrested and more than 230 000 Burundians sought refuge in neighbouring countries.
Rwanda is not quite there yet, as the ruling party seems to have effectively silenced any dissent and thus prevented protests or calls for change.
While a strange combination of genuine support and a climate of fear seem to hold the nation together, one has to wonder how long it will last. For as long as leaders remain in power for prolonged periods using dubious methods, any hopes for the existence of peaceful democratic nations is severely compromised.
Kagame’s contribution to his nation is invaluable, and credit must be given where it is due. He has guided Rwanda through the transition from a genocide that claimed the lives of some 800 000 people in just 100 days, to what is considered a prosperous East African nation today. However, the future and prosperity of Africa don’t lie with ageing leaders, but in grooming successors, protecting democracy and showing there is life after the presidency.
RIGHTS VIOLATIONS: Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is holding on to power, says the writer.