A look at Kagame’s landslide win

By Vision Reporter

Added 2nd September 2003 03:00 AM

THE political storm kicked off in the run up to Rwanda’s presidential elections appears to be receding but not without queries on how the polls were conducted and the accuracy of the results.

By Grace Matsiko
and Geoffrey Kamali
in Kigali

A look at Kagame’s landslide win
THE political storm kicked off in the run up to Rwanda’s presidential elections appears to be receding but not without queries on how the polls were conducted and the accuracy of the results.

The elections handed power to the incumbent, Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame, with a whopping 95.05% while his closest challenger, Faustin Twagiramungu got a paltry 3.62%.

Rwanda has a population of eight million people, half of who participated in the presidential elections. The ethnic Hutus constitute the majority, 80% of the population.

Another candidate, Jean Nayinzira got 0.33%, while the only woman Alievera Mukabaramba, opted out of the race on the eve of the polls in favour of Kagame.

While the election was a major step towards the country’s democratisation process, questions are still lingering in people’s minds. Were the polls free and fair? Was it possible to win with such an enormous 95.5%, under the current circumstances in Rwanda?

Observers have questioned the possibility of mobilising 3,820,000 of the total 3.9 million voters to elect Kagame. There is also the question of convincing the majority Hutus to elect him.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC), headed by Prof. Chrysologue Karangwa, insisted last week that the elections, the first since the 1994 genocide were free and fair. A 70-member European Union (EU) delegation that monitored the polls, praised them as an important milestone for the country, but at the same time came short of denouncing it.

The head of EU delegation, Colette Flesch, appeared to choose her words carefully as she analysed the polls.

“I would consider the election to be free and democratic but as far as we can judge, optimal conditions were not probably entirely met,” she said.

She said at some polling stations, Kagame’s representatives controlled the voting stations, intimidating the electoral officials and voters. Her team also reported incidents of ballot staffing and that in some polling stations, they were denied access by soldiers, electoral officials and Kagame’s agents.

“But the election is a promise for the opening of a new democratic era,” she told reporters at a press conference.

Another team of observers; the Amani Forum, a group of Members of Parliament from the Great Lakes region, also acknowledged the exercise but tactfully declined to commit themselves on the issue.

“The fact is that there were difficulties both in pre-election and during elections. It is difficult to say the elections were free and fair,” said Amani chairperson, Mwitila Shumina.

A number of behind-the scenes issues appeared to be at play during the campaigns that could help answer some of the above questions.

Ethnicity, that much dreaded subject in Rwanda today, raised its ugly head once again in the campaigns since the 1994 genocide which claimed close to one million people mainly Tutsi and moderate Hutus.

Twagiramungu, the first post-genocide prime minister and founder of the now banned Democratic Republican Movement (MDR), was accused of calling on the sentiments of fellow Hutus to boost his standing.

The Rwandan media immediately shifted from other campaign issues of the day and dwelt on the statement, condemning him relentlessly, despite his denials.

It was on account of the presumably enormous support that Twagiramungu expected that he later rejected the poll results.

With a weak and a disorganised opposition, the campaign turned a one-man show. Judging from the amount of resources at each candidate’s disposal, Kagame was no match to the rest.

He flew in a military helicopter to some rallies, his supporters travelled in expensive cars and he erected animated billboards to announce his candidature.

Kagame’s campaign officials, however, denied that Kagame used state resources and that some of the privileges he enjoyed during the campaign like flying in a helicopter, was because of his role as President.

Meanwhile, Twagiramungu, Kagame’s key opponent, traversed the regions with his sole rickety Pajero, accompanied by six, thinly armed police escorts and two assistants.

His supporters apparently were not free to hold posters at his rallies. His campaign materials imported into the country, were impounded at Kanombe airport for reportedly containing divisive information. His rented apartment served as his residence and campaign office.

Nayinzira’s office was his cellular phone which was more often than not, off. His only campaign venue was the Catholic Church where he is a strong believer. Mukabaramba, the only daring female candidate before dropping out, ran her campaigns in a dilapidated building.

The candidates were not allowed to receive a penny from the state so they had to rely on their ever shrinking pockets.

Analysts believe that the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) was not ready for the elections, but were pushed against the wall by the international community and the need for image building for Kagame.

For years since RPF took over power, Rwanda was internationally considered as a military state. It could be possible the RPF decided to hold the elections to cleanse its international image.

First, there was no money to hold the elections and not enough sensitisation was done but these crucial factors did not halt the polls.

It was further believed that the elections would quicken Rwanda’s entry into the East African Community where Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania are members. Some members of the community had reservations about Rwanda’s political transformation.

Despite a directive from the Media Council to give equal airtime on the state television and radio, the time allocated to Kagame was much more than that given to his opponets.

Finding no remedy at home, Twagiramungu and Nayinzira sought refugee in the international media to air out their views, leading the government to conclude that the foreign media was ‘bought’ by the opposition.

Other analysts believe that having set in motion the electoral process, the army, which has been at the centre of politics in Rwanda conspicuously stayed back and watched the events unfold.

The raging poverty among the eight million people could have played in the hands of the candidates.

Kagame promised goats and cows. His agents were prominently covered by the State television, distributing the animals as was the case in Butaro in Ruhengeri Province on August 22. Analysts were at a loss whether this was bribery to voters.
Critics of RPF allege that the NEC chief, Karangwa was the Front’s campaign agent for Butare University, close to the border with Burundi.

Their argument came to hold water when Karangwa addressed a press conference to parade a man who claimed to have defected from Twagiramungu. The journalists became hostile and challenged him whether his role as chairperson NEC doubles as RPF agent.

Kagame’s leadership could have also propelled his chances of winning the elections. Under his leadership, Rwanda remained relatively peaceful, united and attained minimal levels of economic growth.

A person who visited Kigali, three years ago, would be surprised to see the massive construction going on in the city. However, there has been limited development in the countryside.

The issue of former President Pasteur Bizimungu, a moderate Hutu now in incarceration at Rwanda’s 1930 prison in Kigali was raised by Twagiramungu and Nayinzira.

It is believed that Rwandans still treasure Bizimungu’s contribution to the country’s reconciliation process.

Though largely considered a ceremonial president, he gave the RPF the national outlook it badly needed since it was considered a Tutsi dominated and its leaders were considered young.

Some observers say, despite the massive turn up at polling stations, the population’s enthusiasm to the elections was lacking. Firstly, there was apparent lack of information on the electoral procedures. For instance, it is difficult to obtain a copy of the country’s constitution unless one applies to the Prime Minister’s office. It is not available in bookshops.

Besides, the number of the 3.9 million voters who can read, write or even understand the constitution is diminutive.
Four days to the elections, we visited Byumba and Umutara prefectures, and there was not a single poster for all the candidates, save for a few of Kagame’s that were pasted on cars.

It is little wonder that at one of the polling stations in Kigali, no voters turned up during the vote counting exercise. Seven of us witnessed the exercise among them four officials from NEC, New Vision reporter and two of Kagame’s agents.

But long before the counting began at 4.00p.m, Kagame’s supporters were already in jubilation while sombre loomed among Twagiramungu’s crestfallen supporters.

A look at Kagame’s landslide win

More From The Author

Related articles