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IN MOST election campaigns, candidates try their best to explain what they would do better than the incumbent.
But in Rwanda, voters would be hard pressed to tell one programme from another.
After almost two weeks of campaigning, President Paul Kagame and his three challengers sound almost identical, advocating the country’s economic transformation and social unity.“Change” is not a popular slogan at campaign rallies for any of the four contestants, leaving little doubt that Kagame, who has ruled Rwanda since his rebel group ended the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi minority, will keep his job.
When his 2million (about R14.5m) campaign bandwagon rolls into Rwandan towns, many of Kagame’s election pledges are the same as those voters heard before he was first elected in 2003, winning 95 percent of the vote.
Kagame promises better access to health, education and electricity, vows to battle poverty and corruption, build roads and promote agro-industry to enable “every Rwandan to have money in his pocket”. He also insists on the “pride to be Rwandan” and his commitment to consolidating the reconciliation process following the death of 800000 people, mainly Tutsis, at the hands of extremist Hutus in 1994.
The very same words can be heard at the more modest rallies for the Social Democratic Party’s Jean-Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, Liberal Party’s Prosper Higiro or the Party of Progress and Concord’s Alvera Mukabaramba.
National University of Rwanda professor Pierre Rwanyindo Ruzirabwoba – who also chairs the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace – acknowledged that “their speeches are similar, with only minor differences”.
He attributed the campaign’s striking unison to the fact that all four candidates “take part in the country’s governance”.
Critics argue the three challengers are all the dummies of chief ventriloquist Kagame and that multipartism is an illusion.
“The regime is pretending to consult the people,” said Victoire Ingabire, an opposition politician who was arrested in April.
“ This electoral masquerade is a smokescreen for international opinion,” she said in a statement.
Despite a string of damning reports by watchdogs on the state of human rights and political freedom in Rwanda, the small central African country remains a darling of the western aid community.
Any attempts by “real” opposition leaders to get their parties going have been thwarted in a number of different ways. — Sapa-AFP