Rwanda’s national election occurs in 3 weeks. That has nothing to do with who will win.
President Paul Kagame, the leader of Rwanda for the last 16 years, and prior to that, the paramount general of the Tutsi led RPF army that stopped the 1994 genocide, is the winner and champion.
Kagame has imprisoned all his viable opponents. Members of his military – which are really the political and economic controllers of the country – who have dared to criticize him have either been demoted, exiled or killed. Newspapers have shut down or shut up.
This will not be a free election.
Frankly, I don’t know if there should be a free election. If there were, the Hutu-defined factions would win. The government would be in turmoil. Businessmen would flee the country. It would cause an extraordinarily awkward situation with regards to the brutal war going on in the eastern Congo (led by Rwandan exiled Hutu extremists).
And this tiny, currently peaceful country would go to pot.
Obviously no one knows this better than Kagame. Like so many African dictators before him, he has emerged over a good period of time as a leader who has painted himself into a box of eternity.
He has been essentially benevolent and fair. Particularly in the beginning few years after the genocide, he was remarkably tolerant and forgiving. He has adroitly danced on the world stage, criticizing his donors while getting more of their money (including the U.S.). And he has overseen a ravaged and poor country grow into one of Africa’s most successful economies.
Kagame’s life goal has been to reverse the powerful currents that separate his population into two factions that despise one another. Hutus call Tutsis “cockroaches.” Tutsis – now in firm control – are less derogatory about Hutus. Instead, they ignore them, hire them for slave wages and refuse to matriculate them up the political or business ladder.
So Kagame has suffered the biggest failure of his own stated goals: he has not brought together the warring factions that led to the genocide. If anything, he has presided over an increasing gap.
And as I’ve written before, deep down it is not an ethnic divide. And this incredibly unique and confusing aspect muddies the waters even more. Hutu and Tutsi speak the same language. They have intermarried for nearly a millennia. The physical differences of their ancestry are blurred at best.
But there was enough physical difference at the start of the colonial era, that the Belgians could attempt a differentiation, and that reenergized and refined the division that lasts until today. Still, it is less an ethnic divide than a typical political class divide. The rich and powerful against the poor and disenfranchised.
Were it simply ethnic, Kagame’s task would have been easier. But he entered the modern world like any leader, anywhere. It’s not only old scores that have to be settled, it’s .. Poverty.
So yes, Rwanda is safe, and yes, Rwanda is economically prosperous by African standards. But no, it’s not free.
Which is better?