Touting his development record, Kagame kicks off campaign for fourth term

Elated supporters of President Paul Kagame during the start of his campaigns on Saturday. [Mark Oloo, Standard]

Bullish and unperturbed by critics, Rwanda President Paul Kagame has launched his bid for a new term, as the official campaign period started on Saturday. The East African country goes to the polls on July 15, giving candidates three weeks to campaign. Diaspora citizens will cast their votes on July 14.

Kagame will face off with two other presidential hopefuls. It will be the first time that Rwanda, whose 70 per cent citizens are under 30, will be electing a president alongside MPs.

On Saturday, the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) held a rally at the University of Rwanda, Busogo campus grounds in Musanze, attended by an estimated 350,000 delegates and supporters. 

And Kagame, widely admired locally but whose latest move has attracted criticism from outside Rwanda, did not disappoint. The president insisted he has projects to complete and that his country’s citizens have the right to decide who leads them.  

“Democracy is about making your choices. Rwandans must be allowed to decide what they want. We don’t make choices for those criticising us, they make their choices. Here, we also do have democracy. Aren’t there other candidates? That’s a sign of democracy,” he said.  

Speaking in his native Kinyarwanda, the RPF leader added: “I am seeking another term to finish some of the projects I had started. We have work to do and ours is to make life better for the citizens and to uplift our country further.”

Rwanda has 9.5 million registered voters in a population of 14 million. The President’s two challengers, Frank Habineza of the Democratic Green Party and Philippe Mpayimana, an independent, are yet to officially launch their campaigns.

Kagame, who became president in 1994 and is seeking a fourth term, has previously faced accusations of downplaying human rights and constricting the civil space, with Kigali’s current spat with the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) over rebel groups proving to be a fodder for more denigration against his administration.

But his supporters and close allies credit him with ending the 1994 genocide, restoring citizens’ dignity and putting the country on a path to economic prosperity, seen in the rising employment rates, growth in manufacturing, tourism and other crucial sectors.

 Rwanda’s uniqueness

RPF spokesperson Nathalie Munyampenda said critics are free to speak but “no one in the West will vote for President Kagame.” In a media interview, she said: “The president is only interested in the ideas and concerns of the people who will vote for him, and they are the Rwandans.”  

From ululation, song and dance to the miniature flags with RPF colours and the wild chants of ‘Inkotanyi’, the RPF slogan, an upbeat Kagame may have gotten the much-needed oomph from his massive support base at the Saturday rally as he faces the ballot next month. Nonetheless, political analysts in Rwanda say his re-election isn’t in doubt.

“If you know our history, stating with the 1994 genocide where close to a million people were killed in ethnic clashes, then you would understand why we love Mr Kagame. It is important to understand Rwanda’s uniqueness,” said Ms Diana Omutoniwase, a voter, during the Saturday RPF rally.

“All we ask for from the international community is some little respect for our choices. We have every right to make our political decision. As a youth, I know how Mr Kagame has our interests at heart,” Mr Jeanpiere Ngabo, a small-scale trader, told The Standard in Musanze.