Rwandan presidential vote cannot hide problems

Paul Kagame is accused of ruling in an authoritarian way Keystone

The next few years will be crucial for Rwanda, regardless of whoever wins Monday's presidential election, says a leading expert.

This content was published on August 10, 2010 - 07:45

André Guichaoua, a professor at the Paris 1 University and a key source of information about Rwanda for Switzerland’s development cooperation, told that should Paul Kagame win re-election, it will also be a testing time for his hard-line government.

Kagame is expected to win the election by a landslide. Preliminary results from the National Electoral Commission on Tuesday showed that in 11 out of a total 30 districts Kagame had won 1,610,422 votes out of 1,734,671 votes cast.

Between 1990 and 1994, the regime of Juvénal Habyarimana was incapable of dealing with the problem of Rwandan refugees, an issue which dated back 30 years after the country became independent from Belgium.

The regime proved so incapable that the children of Tutsis, who had fled the country and the Hutu majority after independence, took up arms and returned to fight in Rwanda.

It was an unequal war, with strong foreign support for the rebellion, and power in Rwanda collapsed in 1994. Kagame and his men, who had been in Uganda, gave themselves the label of liberators.

“This regime effectively freed Rwanda from its past and seized complete control. Some of the former elite have lived abroad since then,” Guichaoua explains. Kagame has been in de facto power since the end of genocide in 1994. Can we speak of an authoritarian power or dictatorship?

André Guichaoua: It is surely an authoritarian power and perhaps even totalitarian. I don’t know whether the word “dictatorship” is appropriate. What is quite clear is that paradoxically, authority has become tougher.

It is becoming tougher despite control of all the activities concerned with the economy, politics, society and ideology, and control of all means of power like the press and political parties. This is certainly the most worrying issue after 15 years of this Rwandan regime. How do you explain this situation?

A.G.: The explanations are internal, with an external dimension. They are external in the sense that the international community wants to atone for not having reacted in 1994. It seems to turn a blind eye to almost everything that happens in Rwanda in terms of political freedom, press freedom, forced labour, the eviction of people from their property and so on.

In the interior, there is really no opposition, no opposition that is tolerated anyway. Before the presidential elections there was a wave of arrests, abductions and assassinations. What do those in power fear?

A.G.: The previous presidential elections in 2003 took place in a similar fashion. That is except for that, at the time, leading Hutu personalities paid the price for this harsher political line. This time, those in the firing line are the Tutsi elite, who control power.

All those who were not part of the group that came from Uganda have been progressively eliminated. Disagreements are now taking place within this core group, that means those who led the so-called “liberation” war from 1990.

We are witnessing a concentration of power around President Kagame and some of his close friends. His main rivals are now the officers who led the rebellion at the same time as he did.

swissinfo: Kagame looks set to retain the presidency. But should we expect a coup during his next term in office?

A.G.: I do not know. What is clear is that Kagame was trained in the field of intelligence and was head of army intelligence in Uganda under Yoweri Museveni.

Since he has been in power in Rwanda, he continues to concentrate on this activity and the surveillance of his peers. The current killings and arrests are all preventive measures.

For the next five years, it is very difficult to imagine that the country can carry on as at present… if only for the reason that new generations, who did not experience the genocide period, are hoping for a different situation.

Many of those leaving the country paradoxically are young educated Tutsis who no longer want to live in a country where liberties are so restricted.

Things could also change outside the country. President Kagame has put himself forward as a role model for Africa, while stringing along Western countries and the international community. But a certain number of countries are putting up less and less with the price they have to pay, as well as repression and blackmail of their citizens. Where is change going to come from?

A.G.: From inside the country, with the exasperation of a very large number of people, including some of those who have always supported the regime.

A million and a half Rwandans have been sentenced by so-called popular justice, that means practically all Hutu males who were older than 14 in 1994. That is also an issue. You cannot have 600,000 to 700,000 people condemned de facto to forced labour for ten, 15, 20 years or more.

On top of that, the credibility of the charges and the way those people were judged are a problem Some are now calling for a reassessment of their cases by people likely to hand down actual justice.

There are many issues that cannot be predicted. That is also true for the gulf between enrichment and corruption which prevails at the top, and the incredible misery of the rural population in the interior of the country. That may be the most important issue.

Pierre-François Besson, (adapted from French by Robert Brookes)


Rwanda covers an area of about two-thirds that of Switzerland and has a population of more than ten million.

In 1994 there was a genocide in which more than 800,000 people were killed, according to the United Nations. Other sources put the figure higher.

As Rwanda’s strongman since the end of the genocide in 1994, Paul Kagame, formerly exiled in Uganda, won the presidential election in 1994 with 95% of the votes.

Rwanda is a member of the International Organisation of La Francophonie and the Commonwealth.

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Swiss development cooperation

Switzerland has been active in Rwanda since 1963, following the country’s independence in 1962. Until the genocide of 1994, Rwanda was a priority country for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

From 1994 to 1997, Switzerland provided Rwanda with humanitarian aid. From 1998 it resumed cooperation with the country and this was integrated into a programme aimed at the whole Great Lakes region.

Switzerland spends about SFr30 million ($28.85 million) annually for humanitarian aid and development in this programme.

Its two main priority areas are peace consolidation and good governance as well as health. The agency also finances a media programme for the region.

(Source: SDC)

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André Guiachaoua

As a sociologist and professor at the Paris 1 University, Guiachaoua is the author of several works on development and on Rwanda.

He is chairman of the executive bureau of the International Documentation Network on the Great Lakes Region of Africa. This programme, based in Geneva and Dar Es Salaam, is financed in particular by the SDC. It aims to offer reliable information about the countries of the region.

Guiachaoua was in Kigali in 1994 at the time of the genocide.

He is an expert witness in the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

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