Perhaps with the exception of political trends in the relatively functional, democratic and wealthy South Africa or the very stable and quiet Botswana, a typical theme arising out of many African elections seems to be the perceived rubber stamping of yet another post-colonial despot. Such may be the case with the recent re-election of Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
On one hand, Kagame is referred to as the sophisticated and politically-savvy technocrat credited with transforming the post-genocide country into a dynamic investment spot (check out his website). On the other, observers – primarily human rights activists – point to signs of a wily dictator quietly squashing the opposition. Throwing in a bit of distressing hypocrisy and adding insult to the injury, the European Union offers kudos to Rwanda for an upstanding election, reports Afrique en ligne:
The European Union (EU) on Wednesday congratulated Rwanda for holding ‘a calm’ presidential election on Sunday, hailing particularly ‘the discipline’ of voters at polling stations.Not absolving Rwandans of any personal responsibility for their own actions, but the humor in the above statement is rife with irony and delicious neo-colonial paternalism. Still, it’s mighty fishy and hard to dismiss Kagame squeaking by clean with one of the highest voting margins ever seen in an election faking democratic funk: he wins with 93% of the vote. The New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman hints at something rotten in Rwanda:
The EU, however, expressed concern about ‘the serious incidents’ that marked the pre-election campaign and asked for investigations to be opened so that those responsible for those acts would face justice.
Many Rwandans said they had voted for Mr. Kagame for delivering very tangible benefits to their lives, like more schools, more roads, decent Internet service and a sense of peace and security. However, some Rwandans complained about being forced to vote for him … several opposition leaders and journalists were jailed or killed.
The leading opposition politicians who have spoken out against Mr. Kagame and might have actually tested his popularity were barred from competing. One opposition leader was recently found dead, with his head nearly chopped off.
This becomes an all too familiar narrative on the continent, an upsetting mix of political arm hustlers and regime pimps snapping their populations into forced attention. Especially since we’re hard pressed for a positive modern African story. Kagame, though, realizes he’s in a good spot for the moment (see Paul grin with Bill), since no one in their right Western mind wants to see replay of that gruesome 1994 slaughter of nearly one million Rwandans. Kagame is keeping it tight and, relatively, peaceful while easily claiming the most vibrant economic revival in Central Africa. Truth commissions are maintained; roads are getting paved; folks get universal healthcare with 50 cent co-pays; the Education Ministry is pushing One Laptop per Child; and the President has his own Twitter account for good measure. And, hey, he’s U.S. military trained and DoD approved!
Still, the latest post-election Associated Press report out of Rwanda carries shades of 20th century turmoil:
A grenade exploded near a bus station in Rwanda’s capital late Wednesday, wounding at least seven people in an attack that came two days after the country’s presidential election, a police spokesman said.Still, Kagame believes he’s the man to keep Rwanda from repeating history. Heard that before.
Rwanda has seen several grenade attacks this year. Authorities previously blamed the … attacks on a dissident Rwandan general. That general, former army chief Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, was shot and wounded outside his South African home last month, and his wife blamed Kagame.