KIGALI, Rwanda — On August 4, millions of Rwandans went to the ballot box to vote for their next president in the 2017 Rwandan election. Their choice was between Frank Habineza, the founder of the Rwandan Green Party, Philipe Mpayimana, a political journalist and an independent, and Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s incumbent president.
Kagame is the candidate who pollsters predict will carry the Rwandan election. Kagame has been Rwanda’s president since 2000, and led the rebel forces that ended the Rwandan genocide in 1994. In 2010, he was elected to a second term, garnering an unprecedented 93 percent of the popular vote. After a referendum to amend the Rwandan constitution passed, Kagame was approved to run for a third term come this August.
There’s a reason why Kagame is so popular among Rwandan citizens. He is largely credited for ushering in Rwanda’s recent successes as a country. Since the Rwandan genocide, maternal and child mortality has dropped by more than 50 percent, the life expectancy for an average Rwandan has risen by 36 years and the country’s GDP has grown steadily and is projected by the World Bank to continue growing by 7 percent in 2017.
Kagame has also introduced free education, high-speed internet and reliable electricity to the country, lifted one million Rwandans out of poverty, while simultaneously reducing corruption. Transparency International named Rwanda the third-least corrupt African nation. Kagame has even convinced huge companies like Starbucks to invest in Rwanda.
But Kagame’s critics point out that while he may have bolstered the Rwandan economy, he has also silenced political expression and free speech and has been accused of stifling political opposition parties from running against him. Some see his bid in the Rwandan election for a third term presidency as overstepping the bounds of presidential power.
These critiques are not without weight. According to USAID, Rwanda is below average when compared to the sub-Saharan Africa region when it comes to democracy, human rights and governance. Rwanda received Free and Fair Elections Score of 2 (on a scale of 1 to 10); the global average is 5.84.
But USAID is committed to strengthening Rwanda’s democracy, with plans to “strengthen civil society” and “create meaningful opportunities for civic engagement” by working with government, civil organizations, media, universities and communities, with the overall goal of making a more democratic Rwanda. Thus, the August Rwandan election is not just important because it decides who Rwanda’s next president is, it is also important because, if it is run fairly, it brings Rwanda one step closer to a thriving democracy, regardless of who the winner is.
Thus, the August Rwandan election is not just important because it decides Rwanda’s next president, it is also important because, if it is run fairly, it brings Rwanda one step closer to a thriving democracy, regardless of the winner.
President Kagame’s policy decisions have transformed Rwanda into a country crippled by brutal genocide into one of the fastest-growing countries in Africa. But it’s important to remember that a country’s development is two pronged, and a booming economy is unsustainable without strong civil liberties and a functioning democracy. This August, the Rwandan election will be one to watch, and a reminder that a crucial part of developmental policy is nurturing sustainable democracy.
– Adesuwa Agbonile