2003 Presidential Election
|Candidate (Party)||Number of votes||% of votes|
|Paul Kagame (RPF)||3 544 777||95,05%|
|Faustin Twagiramungu (Independent)||134 865||3,62%|
|Jean-Nepomuscene Nayinzira (Independent)||49 634||1,33%|
Rwanda enters its second Presidential election since the brutal genocide that led to the extermination of some 800 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The election is scheduled for August 9, 2010. Since the end of the 1994 genocide, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), led by President Paul Kagame, has made steady progress in ensuring relative economic stability and dealing with the social consequences stemming from the genocide. Kagame has largely been applauded by the international community for his economic vision and his ability to stabilise Rwanda after the ethnic strife experienced in 1994. More recently, however, Kagame, and the RPF, have been accused by human rights groups of becoming increasingly intolerant of dissent and negligent of human rights in the run-up to the August 9 election.
Rwanda has a past that is largely characterised by ethnic divide. Institutionalised through a Belgian colonial system of divide-and-rule, the minority Tutsis traditionally held economic and political power over the Hutu majority.
Independence from Belgium was achieved in 1962, after the Hutu Emancipation Movement (Parmehutu) won an overwhelming victory in a United Nations- (UN-) supervised referendum, which precluded the formation of a Parmethutu government after an election in late 1961. Grégoire Kayibanda was the country's first President and he effectively ran a one-party State that promoted a Hutu supremacist ideology.
By the late 1960s, corruption within the governing ranks had spread to the country's economic and social life, causing widespread internal criticism. As a result, General Juvénal Habyarimana seized power through a military coup on July 5, 1973. Habyarimana dissolved the National Assembly, banned Parmehutu, abolished all political activity and pronounced himself President. In 1975, he formed the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND), which, despite still being a single-party State, advocated peace, unity and national development.
Rwandans, under the MRND, went to the polls in 1978 and confirmed Habyarimana as President, and overwhelmingly endorsed a new constitution. Habyarimana stood unopposed in 1983 and again in 1988. In 1990, following intense political pressure, he announced his intention to develop Rwanda from a single-party State into a multiparty democracy.
The Rwandan Patriotic Front
In October 1990, exiled Rwandans, who mainly consisted of Tutsi exiles after the Parmehutu takeover, banded together to form the RPF and launched attacks on Rwanda from their base in Uganda. The RPF blamed the incumbent Rwandan government for failing to effectively democratise and embodied the frustration of some 500 000 ethnic Tutsi refugees living outside the country. The RPF invasion gave rise to ethnic tensions between the Hutu and the Tutsi and can be seen as a contributing factor to the rise of Hutu power and the genocide in 1994.
The war between the Rwandan government and the RPF lasted for two years and eventually came to an end with the signing of the Arusha Accords on August 4, 1993. The ceasefire was overseen by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), and the talks lead to a powersharing agreement between the two sides. A neutral OAU military observer group oversaw the implementation of the Accords. What ensued, was a period of relative peace and calm between the signing of the Accords and the breakout of genocide in 1994.
With ethnic tensions on the rise, the Hutu-dominated government began to organise and plan the systematic killing of the Tutsis through an armed wing known as the Interahamwe. The genocide was promoted by State media through propaganda that encouraged Hutus to take up arms against the Tutsi, through the Hutu Ten Commandments, which fomented anti-Tutsi feeling among Hutus. On April 6, 1994, President Habyarimana's plane was shot down over Kigali, killing both him and the Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira. The assassination of the President proved to be the event that catalysed the Hutu killings as, almost immediately, military and militia groups began to round up and kill scores of Tutsi and Hutu moderates, mainly by using machetes. Further, the RPF battalion stationed in Kigali under the Arusha Accords, came under immediate attack from Hutu militants. The battalion, however, was able to fight its way out of Kigali and join up with RPF units in the north.
The RPF then resumed its invasion of Rwanda and swiftly defeated the Rwandan army and declared victory on July 16, 1994. The victory, however, did not come quickly enough, as for the 100 days that the war lasted, an estimated 800 000 Tutsis were slaughtered, with some two-million Tutsis being displaced to neighbouring countries and another one-million Tutsis being displaced internally.
The victorious RPF inherited a country ravaged by war and genocide. The economic and social consequences will leave scars on the country for years to come, and serve as a reminder of one of the biggest humanitarian tragedies the world has ever seen.
The Humanitarian Effort and the International Community
The aftermath of the Rwandan genocide brought on one of the largest humanitarian efforts ever mounted by the international community. The refugee crisis, known as the Great Lakes refugee crisis, brought about mass human flight and destabilised neighbouring States, such as Burundi and the then Zaire. French forces arrived in the South East region of the country in June 1994, with the intention of stopping the fighting. The area became known as "Zone Turquoise" and became an avenue through which genocide offenders escaped into the eastern Congo.
The UN Assistance Mission into Rwanda (UNAMIR) was a UN-launched operation designed to implement the Arusha Accords. The actions, or lack thereof, of the operation are regarded as a huge failure mainly owing to their limitations with regard to their Rules of Engagement specified by their mandate. The body has come under heavy criticism for not taking enough action in stopping the killings. Under the leadership of Romeo Dellaire, UNAMIR is seen as the embodiment of the lack of action taken by the international community in preventing the genocide.
The damage caused by the civil war and the genocide runs deep. As has been mentioned, the Great Lakes refugee crisis is an issue that has destabilised the whole region owing to its spillover effects.
Secondly, the social impact will have a lasting effect on the country, in which the current RPF government, under Kagame, is tasked with trying the genocide offenders. The government has implemented a series of grass-root courts, known as gacaca, to address the enormous backlog of genocide cases. Further, the government has also introduced periodic prison releases to relieve the case load. By the end of 2008, 818 000 genocide suspects had been identified by the gacaca system.
With the post genocide government being lauded for its economic policies and its progress towards ethnic reconciliation, the regime has recently come under fire for the curtailment of media freedom and intolerance of opposition dissent.
With the RPF being the biggest party by far, Kagame is tipped to retain the Presidency for another term, especially now that the three main opposition parties are effectively out of the running. The United Democratic Forces party has not been registered by the electoral commission and leader Victoire Ingabire faces legal action after being accused of negating the genocide and abetting terrorism.
Facing similar problems, the Social Party's leader, Bernard Ntaganda, has been imprisoned since June 24, while the vice-chairperson of the unregistered opposition Democratic Green Party, André Kagwa Rwisereka, was found dead, on July 14.
Further, several senior army officers have been arrested in recent times, while one general, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, narrowly survived an assassination attempt while in exile in South Africa. A few days later, an opposition journalist, who claimed to have uncovered the government's role in the assassination attempt, was shot dead. Kagame's regime denies involvement in the incident.
Opposition groups point to these recent incidents as a government crackdown, attempting to intimidate opposition parties from effectively challenging Kagame at the August polls. UN secretary-general Ban ki-Moon has subsequently called for a full investigation into the incidents owing to the potential instability that the incidents may cause in a pre-electoral environment.
The Rwandan President is elected by direct popular vote to serve a seven-year term. If an outright majority is not reached, the election will move into a second round, contested between the two candidates with the highest number of votes.
Going into its second Presidential election since the 1994 genocide, Rwanda is faced with two major challenges. Firstly, the social scarring left by the 1994 slaughter of 800 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, remains an important issue for the country. The massacre remains fresh in the country's memory as a number of offenders await trial. The gacaca system is currently in operation and aims to bring closure to the many victims affected by the genocide. Healing the social divide, therefore, remains a priority for the incoming President.
The second challenge rests in encouraging economic growth. In a country with few natural resources, Rwanda is heavily reliant on foreign investment. Political and economic stability is, therefore, a top priority to ensure poverty alleviation and social upliftment.
Owing to a weak political opposition, it is likely that Kagame will win another term in office. Although lauded by Western nations for his economic policies, recent allegations of political crackdown and curtailment of press freedom have cast doubt on the credibility of the upcoming poll.
GlobalResearch. Rwanda's 1994 Genocide and the 2010 Elections. (January 25, 2010).
US Department of State. Background Note: Rwanda. (July 21, 2010).
Mail & Guardian. Political violence casts pall over Rwanda election. (July 19, 2010).
Consultancy Africa Intelligence. Pre-election Rwanda - Presidential Election. (July 21, 2010).
African Elections Database. Elections in Rwanda. (July 19, 2010).