How Popular is Paul Kagame?

An interesting insight from  Nkunda Rwanda, one that is definitely worth reading.

By Nkunda Rwanda

There is no doubt that Paul Kagame’s campaigns have been well attended. In Rwanda, the Presidential campaign(s) are big events. They are bracing parties, complete with glamorous music, dance troupes and a lot of fun-fare. This is, more so, the case for a political party like RPF with immense wealth.

For ordinary Rwandans, the campaigns offer a rare chance for them to get a glimpse of the pomp and color that surrounds the political elite. This behavior of passive on looking is known locally as “gushungera”. If you are a Kigali urbanite, or a white person visiting the Rwandan villages, you must have noticed the kind of attention you attract. If you are driving in a car, kids in their tattered clothes and bare feet will chase after your vehicle for very long distances.

The spectacle of Kagame with his convoy of vehicles definitely adds a new component to village life.

Equally important, the villagers want to see the man, with a tight control over their country. The urge to see is so strong that very few people can resist. Thus, when the New Times Reports that the RPF’s campaigns are, “characterized by extreme excitement [among the peasantry]…” I do not dispute.

However, claims by the Rwanda News Agency, an arm of the Rwandan intelligence claims that the mammoth turnouts are an indication that the RPF will be voted for “100%” are very misleading.

On the surface, Kagame appears to be immensely popular among rural Rwandans. The image given, particularly during this campaign period is that of “A man of the people”, who has taken Rwanda by storm.

Beyond this romantic picturesque, there is another reality that is rarely told.
Thus, you may ask, how can a leader who attracts crowds of thousands at rallies get defeated in elections?

Here is the tragic reason:

On the village level, local officials market RPF’s campaigns as part of a government project necessary to fulfill vision 2020. Just like Gacaca or Umuganda, attendance to these rallies is mandatory. Failure to turn up, which is monitored by the local officials in charge of security, is interpreted as a mild form of treason. You are likely to be reprimanded and possibly punished for being an enemy of the state “kurwanya leta” or/and for subverting the government’s agenda “kutubahiriza gahunda za leta”, or/and disrespect for government authorities “gusuzugura abayobozi”.

Failure to embrace the “government’s agenda” puts one into a constant battle with state authorities, and is a cause for perpetual harassment. Should you be remotely classified as such, it will be hard for you to get access to any services.

This is exactly what has happened to some of Victoire Ingabire’s supporters. In 2003, Faustin Twagiramungu’s supporters faced the same problem. After he the end of the elections, many chose to flee into exile.

Elections are tense everywhere—but in Rwanda, it means life or death. Any minor breach of the expected order brings unwanted attention. Moving with the “flock” is a common survival strategy. Thus, as a general precaution, when the RPF invites you to the stadium, it is wise to abandon your daily quest for survival, walk the many miles, and show up to their rally.

Under this tightly controlled environment, it is impossible to have a free and fair election. When people are coerced to attend political rallies, their presence, however mammoth, does not represent their satisfaction with the political system. In fact, as is often the case with dictatorships worldwide, this huge gatherings reflect barbaric control and manipulations.

The RPF has tight control over rural Rwanda and they decide what happens and how. On top of their agenda, many believe, is the desire to subvert the spread of democracy in order to guarantee their political survival.


Author: ellyakanga

I am Eleneus Akanga. Welcome to my blog about my experience as a Rwandan journalist and all that comes with the trade in East Africa. It's been a great journey so far but very challenging at times. Join me, let's get cracking!

2 thoughts on “How Popular is Paul Kagame?”

  1. Contrary to your article, i believe that Kagame is immensely popular in Rwanda, and many in Africa share that belief. And to be honest, at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter whether he is popular or not, what matters are results. And in that area, no one, absolutely no one can criticize him.

    You see, you African journalists often get lost in western rhetoric. You repeat, the same tiring tantrum day after day: free and fair election, need for strong opposition, no political space, no freedom of expression, blablabla. Literally borowing words and ideas from the west, the very people that left you when it mattered most.

    You talk as if democracy or free and fair elections was the remedy for all of Africa’s ills. Understand: democracy is not a prerequisite for development! Look at the Asian Tigers, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam. Did they develop because of democracy? The answer is a big No. They developed because of strong benevolent leaders that were willing to push through the necessary reforms to kick start the engine of economic growth. It is development first and democracy second. Not the other way around! There are certain elements that have to be in place before you have a western style democracy. First of all, you need an educated electorate (informed public) able to make the difference between policies. Second you must eradicate extreme poverty or at the very least drastically lessen it. In Africa, as it stands, people are hungry. You could literally buy people’s vote with cassava. To add to the mayhem, Africans have a natural tendency to vote along ethnic lines not policy positions. You must mold the ideals of democracy to fit your specific circumstances; not just copy and paste from the West! It won’t work and hasn’t worked. What baffles me is that in many cases it is African themselves making all the unnecessary noise. You should judge your leaders by their results, developmental results that is, not on whether they meet specific western standards of democracy.

    Come on, give the country some slack. It took the US and Europe hundreds of years to perfect democracy. How do you expect a country just emerging from genocide to have a perfect democratic system?

    Your name (Nkunda Rwanda) is unfit, as i really question whether you really like Rwanda… Since you like your country, why don’t you focus on the positive side? Or are you seeing everything that happens there through ethnic lenses?

    What i (i am not Rwandan by the way) have seen happen there is beautiful… The country is growing, thousands of people are being lifted out of poverty, agriculture is blossoming on the countryside, Kagame is fighting corruption with an energy that i have rarely seen in Africa and even the West for that matter. Roads are being built all over, public services are improving and so is the business environment.

    I mean what more do you want at the moment? In due time, when full development as occurred and people are no longer blinded by ethnicity, democracy will occur as a natural process.

  2. While what you have put forward makes sense given your job role and responsibility, you should remember that the issue here is not whether Kagame is popular or not but if his popularity is not by coercion.

    Kagame may be a good leader but that does not mean he should not be asked to try and become a great one. He has been pulling crowds of people to his rallies since the campaigns started, something his campaign managers and himself knew was meant to happen given what they and he, say he has done for the country. I would think someone so popular would take no trouble allowing unknowns like Victoire Ingabire, Bernard Ntaganda and Frank Habineza to contest. The fact that his government has tactfully managed to phase the three out of the on-going campaigns, by gagging or imprisoning them could as well be interpreted as reason to believe Kagame does not trust his popularity or it is based on some myth.

    President Kagame would have duly silenced his critics and still made sure of his victory by allowing a free and fair elections. He had this choice but chose to go against it because he knows something you don’t know or he simply fears genuine competition.

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