Sunday, August 24, 2003

Rwanda: election round-up

Rather than make you trawl through the entire blog ... I've pulled together some of the more interesting stories about the Rwandan presidential election that have come up over the past few weeks.

Rwanda is going to the polls to elect a president on Monday, August 25. This is the first presidential election since the genocide in 1994. Legislative elections will follow next month.

Rwanda has three ethnic groups -- the majority Hutus (84%), minority Tutsis (15%) ... and the Twa (Pygmy) which constitute about 1% of the population. During the 1994 genocide, extremist Hutus massacred minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Estimates vary, but anywhere between 500,000 and 800,000 people were murdered in 100 days in 1994.

Presdient Paul Kagame is expected to win easily. His campaign appeared both more organized and had more resources than his opponents. Kagame is facing off against two candidates, Faustin Twagiramungu and Jean Nepomuscene Nayinzira. Here is a tidy profile of these these two men. Because ethnicity casts such a long shadow over the country, you should probably know that Kagame is a Tutsi and his opponents are Hutu.

A third opponent, Alivera Mukabaramba, also a Hutu, dropped out of the race today and told her supporters to go to the Kagame camp. Mukabaramba was largely invisible during the campaign period and people had given her very little chance of winninng, or even placing well.

Faustin Twagiramungu is considered Paul Kagame's most serious opponent. During the campaign, he complained that his supporters were being harassed by police and the supporters of Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Police today confirmed that they arrested 12 of Twiramungu's campaign workers. Police allege that the 12 were planning to violently disrupt tomorrow's presidential elections.

Twagiramungu returned to Rwanda in June after eight years in a self-imposed exile in Belgium. He served as Prime Minister in a post-genocide government with Paul Kagame's RPF. After a year in that post, he had a falling out with the RPF and went to Belgium. Twagiramungu was very active in politics in pre-genocide Rwanda as well. He agitated for multi-party system and stood up against the Hutu extremists. He was a target of the militas during the genocide and barely escaped with his life. Here is a long-ish profile of Twagiramungu (worth a read).

This past May, Twagiramungu's party, the Hutu-dominated Democratic Republican Movemement (MDR), was officially dissolved for allegedly fomenting ethnic division.

That same month, Human Rights Watch, published this briefing paper saying that Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) are "working to eliminate any opposition to its [RPF] victory in elections...".

Rwanda's constitution says that political parties must ''reflect Rwandan unity" ... which I think means that you cannot appeal to people's ethnicity when campaigning. Candidates have also had less than two months to campaign to reduce the chances that passions might be inflamed.

Twagiramungu has also had other troubles. He was recently called before the National Electoral Commission, accused of appealing to ethnicity in his campaign ... a charge he denies. And the VOA reports that during a big election rally yesterday, President Kagame issued "... a thinly-veiled warning to his political opponent, ... [when he said] that he will not tolerate anyone who tries to stir up ethnic troubles."

And there's more. This story was in Uganda's Montior newspaper two weeks ago ... "Rwanda's cabinet announced ... that it had rejected the registration of Twagiramungu's new political party, ADEP-MIZERO."

Yesterday (Saturday, August 23), Amnesty International issued this condemnation of what it calls "... the growing number of incidents of politically motivated threats and intimidation of individuals and local communities in the run-up to the presidential elections of 25 August."

About a week ago, the Netherlands froze financial aid for the elections because it hadn't been satisfied by the government's explanations concerning the disappearance of five opposition politicans. The Netherlands is one of Rwanda's largest donors. Here is a very brief post about the disappearances.

You are probably wondering about the incumbent, President Paul Kagame. (Please note that he wasn't elected to that post by the electorate.) Here is a decent bio of Kagame from the BBC ... which also offers a good outline of the relationship between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Thumbnail sketch ... Kagame is a fighter turned statesman. He led the Rwandan Patriotic Front into Rwanda (from Uganda), helping to end the 1994 genocide. He's been in charge ever since. Even if you don't like him or agree with his political decisions, you have to give him some credit for keeping the country together following such a traumatic event like the genocide. The core of Kagame's campaign in these elections has been this idea -- 'I saved you from the genocide and I'm the only one who can keep you safe.'

The Financial Times interviewed Kagame last week ... I posted the interesting bits from the article here.

Kagame recently resigned from the military because the new constitution doesn't allow military personnel to stand for public office.

~~~---~~~

The president will serve a 7-year term. The country also held municipal elections in 2001.

This San Francisco Chronicle article is one of the better pieces on the elections. Worth your time.

One last thing ... about the genocide casting a long shadow over the country. If you read more into the issues, you will discover that Faustin Twagiramungu gets into the most trouble for saying that all who committed human rights violations during the genocide should be held to account. This includes members of the Rwanda Patriotic Front who participated in revenge killings when they marched into Rwanda in 1994.

In a related story, Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), has been trying to investigat/try members of the RPF for years. She has run into problems every time. Recently, Kofi Annan, suggested that the Security Council appoint somebody else to be chief prosecutor of the ICTR ... del Ponte is fighting to keep her job.

The Economist does a brilliant job of summarizing the problems facing del Ponte and the ICTR. And here is an earlier post about the concerns expresssed by some international groups about the impartiality of the ICTR.