KIGALI, Thursday - Some four million Rwandans will turn out to vote on Monday in the first multi-party presidential elections since the former Belgian colony achieved independence in 1962, a poll the incumbent President Paul Kagame is tipped to win.
Kagameâ€™s main rival is Faustin Twagiramungu, a former prime minister and a moderate Hutu who returned to Rwanda in June after eight years of self-imposed exile in Europe.
The electoral campaign, which started on August 1 and ends on Sunday at 6:00 am (0400 GMT), has been characterised by accusations of â€œethnic divisionismâ€ aimed at Twagiramungu.
He has hit back, slamming what he calls â€œa tough dictatorshipâ€ put in place by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, formerly a Tutsi rebel movement headed by Kagame and now a political party.
The accusation of â€œdivisionismâ€ is not to be taken lightly in this tiny central African country, traumatised by the 1994 genocide during which one million people â€” mainly Tutsis, but also Hutu moderates â€” were slaughtered in the space of 100 days.
Human rights organisations in the country of eight million people, however, accuse the RPF of applying the â€œdivisionistâ€ label to all opponents it wishes to discredit.
In addition to Kagame and Twagiramungu, who is standing as an independent, two other candidates, both Hutus, are in the running: the former minister Jean-Nepomuscene Nayinzira, an independent, and Alivera Mukabaramba, the first woman to run for president in Rwanda.
She is representing the left-wing Party for Progress and Concord.
Kagame, elected in 2000 by MPs, is standing for public election for the first time. â€œThere is no doubt whatsoever that heâ€™ll win,â€ a human rights activist, who asked not to be named, told AFP. â€œBy intimidating the opposition, the RPF has taken all the necessary precautions to ensure that nothing is left to chance.â€
Kagame, who has effectively led Rwanda since 1994, has visited even the most out-of-the-way areas of the country, welcomed on each visit by thousands of people assembled in the local football stadium, sporting Kagame baseball hats, T-shirts and sun umbrellas.
Among his campaign promises is free education up to the end of the third year of secondary school.
Twagiramungu, who shared power with the RPF for a year after the genocide as prime minister, has campaigned on a less ambitious scale, lacking Kagameâ€™s means.
The main opposition candidate has committed to helping all the countryâ€™s orphans, not only those orphaned as a result of the genocide, but also those orphaned as a result of RPF abuses, and ensuring justice for all crimes, including those allegedly committed by the RPF during the war that put an end to the genocide.
Pro-Kagame banners are in evidence across the country, while photos and slogans likely to remind the countryâ€™s inhabitants of the presence of opposition candidates are conspicuous by their absence.
Kagame Set To Win Poll