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Africa

Kagame poised for poll victory but ex-PM slams rights record

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Rwandan President Paul Kagame of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) at his final campaign rally in Kigali on 2 August 2017. Reuters/Jean Bizimana

President Paul Kagame has already claimed victory in Friday's presidential election. He is credited with steering Rwanda from genocide to prosperity but his critics argue that development can't replace freedom.

This is President Paul Kagame's third election campaign.

He won the previous polls in 2003 and 2010 with more than 90 percent of the vote each time.

His supporters are confident that he will do the same again this time round.

"If you look at his popularity which is not hidden, you can feel all the time that he’s going to win," Richard Gisagara, a Rwandan lawyer who's lived in France for over 10 years, told RFI.

"You can see all the large numbers of people who gather at the meetings he is holding, even myself I really have no doubt that he’s going to win."

Nor does Paul Kagame. He told supporters at a mass rally on 14 July that the outcome of Friday's vote was a foregone conclusion.

"Rwandans made their position clear in 2015," he said, referring to the overwhelming yes vote to change the constitution, which could keep him in power until 2034.

Little-known opponents

In Friday's vote Kagame is up against two opponents: the Democratic Green Party founder and leader Frank Habineza and Philippe Mpayimana, a political outsider who's spent 18 years out of the country.

"Those candidates are simply playing a game to show the international community that an election has taken place," former Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu, who led Rwanda between 1994-1995, told RFI by phone from Brussels, where he now lives.

"I don’t think that this election should be qualified as an ordinary election. It is something rather which we can compare to a kind of coronation."

Twagiramungu, like many critics of Kagame, accuse him of intolerance and preventing any dissident voices other than those which support the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) party.

Atrocity allegations

Twagiramungu says the international community has turned a blind eye to allegations that Kagame's forces committed atrocities while bringing the 1994 genocide to an end.

"The international community doesn’t want to address these issues," he says.

"[Slobodan] Milosevic massacred 6,000 people only. He has been arrested, put in jail in Holland and died in that jail. But when it comes to the question of Kagame, we have this cover-up."

Rwanda's former prime minister says that Kagame's impressive gains in social development are not enough to mask the slow pace of democracy.

"We hear how he has developed Rwanda, the GDP has increased, all African countries would wish to be like Rwanda. We don’t care! We did not fight to develop Rwanda only, we fought for our freedom."

That freedom is being chipped away, he says, as political opponents after the other disappear or go into exile.

"The international community I must stress, is supporting Paul Kagame for one reason: because the international community failed to intervene in Rwanda to stop genocide, whereas Kagame did."

Return to stability

The genocide was sparked by the death of the then Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, when his plane was shot down close to Kigali airport on 6 April 1994.

An estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in the space of 100 days.

Paul Kagame is credited with putting an end to the bloodshed and putting Rwanda back on the path towards peace.

"He brought security back to Rwanda," says Gisagara.

"He brought social cohesion. No one now in this country is discriminated on the basis of his ethnic origin or the place he's born from. All Rwandans are now considered the same."

Double standards

"I don't care if he's done miracles, that's not a reason for him to stay in power forever," retorts Twagiramungu.

"Why not?" challenges Gisagara.

Unlike Twagiramungu, very critical of the West for blindly supporting Kagame, Gisagara criticises international powers for "double standards" in criticising the constitutional changes.

"If you look at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, this is going to be her fourth term in office if she wins reelection and no one is saying she is a dictator. Why should it be a problem for President Kagame in Rwanda if the Rwandan population want to continue to have him as their leader given the achievements he has had so far?"

Several Western governments have been criticised for not doing enough during the Rwandan genocide.

But for Twagiramungu, "This should not be the reason to give him credit of pretending that he has developed Rwanda while we are living under a system of dictatorship."

Some 6.9 million Rwandans are eligible to vote on Friday, with the first results expected over the weekend.

To read our reports of the 20th anniversary of Rwanda's genocide click here

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