Democracy Is Rwanda’s Losing Candidate

merlin-to-scoop-125499506-423236-master768Supporters of Rwandan president Paul Kagame attend the closing rally for his campaign in Kigali, two days before he was reelected to office on August 4. CreditMarco Longari/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Paul Kagame has held the reins of power in Rwanda since 1994, when his forces ousted the Hutu-led government that oversaw the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis and others.

Since that bloody beginning, Mr. Kagame’s notable success in turning Rwanda around has raised hopes among not only his supporters but Western governments that, beyond healing divisions at home, he could be a ray of hope in a continent long troubled by authoritarian rulers.

But his election to a third term last week with a ludicrous 99 percent of the vote, against two opponents, is further evidence that despite Mr. Kagame’s achievements, he has all the makings of yet another strongman going through the motions of democracy.

Rwanda’s political opposition is all but eliminated, its news media silenced. The United States State Department cited “irregularities observed during voting” on Aug. 4. Elections in Rwanda have become little more than rubber stamps for Mr. Kagame’s perpetual presidency. Mr. Kagame has done everything possible to make sure balloting “will just be a formality,” as he put it last month. And a 2015 constitutional amendment paves the way for Mr. Kagame to remain in office until 2034.

Unlike others in Africa who use similar tactics to stay in power, Mr. Kagame has delivered real progress — economic growth, reductions in poverty and maternal mortality, progress in education and a business-friendly environment with low corruption and low crime.

Some of those gains may be exaggerated, however, and lower crime levels have come at a terrible price.

Last month, Human Rights Watch published an alarming report on the summary executions of suspected petty thieves by the Rwandan military, police, security units and even civilians encouraged by local authorities. Rwanda knows too well what can happen when the rule of law breaks down and citizens take justice into their own hands.

Meanwhile, world leaders have also been lulled into willful amnesia concerning the mass killings of Hutus in Congo in which Mr. Kagame’s forces were implicated after he took power.

His supporters abroad do Rwanda’s people no good by remaining silent on Mr. Kagame’s authoritarian behavior, with citizens fearful to speak their minds, run for political office or go about their business. As well as the country is doing, the dark side of Mr. Kagame’s success story makes Rwanda no model for the developing world.

New York Times


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