Are the Rwandan elections free and fair?

Rwanda is heading for the polls and it is very likely that Paul Kagame will once again win with a massive majority. He probably deserves it too for rebuilding the country after the genocide and creating one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. There are however questions about the quality of the democracy he leads. The media is harassed and pretty much muzzled within Rwanda and only those who are not a threat are allowed to stand. Is Rwanda a democracy that is a darling of the west or another dictatorship using elections to try and claim legitimacy?

Are the Rwandan elections free and fair?

Yes because... No because...

Kagame is the best candidate and this is why he won.

Rwanda is today considered one of the top five countries in Africa in which to do business. In Kigali, the capital, living standards are rising while the streets are startlingly clean of litter, crime and beggars. Household incomes have tripled, and in the next decade, Rwanda is tipped to turn itself into a middle-income country. A massive turnaround from when Kagame first took over.

Despite his possible involvement in the silencing of opposition and even the civil war in the Congo, his own people are very unlikely to go against him simply because of the recovery he has achieved for their country.

Are the Rwandan elections free and fair?

Yes because... No because...

High Profile Rwandans are critical of the electoral process

Paul Rusesabagina, hero of Hotel Rwanda, is critical of Kagame’s government accusing it of ‘torturing and killing its own citizens’. He is critical of the West for its uncritical support of Rwanda’s government and has a point, the Conservative Party have been sending volunteers to the country every summer for many years but have so far failed to voice any critical opinions.

Rusesabagina went on to state that “President Kagame has already eliminated or arrested his opposition” and that the dollars donated over the years by the West to help make Rwanda one of Africa’s most thriving economies “have bought an illusion, not an election." [[http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/rwanda/7931897/Why-the-hero-of-Hotel-Rwanda-fears-for-his-people.html]]

Are the Rwandan elections free and fair?

Yes because... No because...

Opposition figures have faced violence

Victoire Ingabire, 41, the chair of the opposition United Democratic Forces has been under house arrest since April after questioning why the genocide memorial in Kigali did not remember the Hutus who were also killed. Her brother was one of the moderate Hutus who was murdered by the Genocidaires.

The vice-president of the Democratic Green Party was found with numerous machete wounds, almost decapitated. A harsh and violent reminder of the violent genocide which some ordinary Rwandans fear will. Just a month before this a journalist was shot dead after their story linked Rwandan intelligence to an assassination attempt on a general in South Africa.

Are the Rwandan elections free and fair?

Yes because... No because...

The press is not free

In the last year many journalists from Rwandas low-budget, struggling, independent newspapers have left the country in fear of their lives, after the attacks on journalists who have criticized Kagame’s party.

Two Kinyarwanda newspapers Umuseso Umuvugizi have published stories investigating the reasons behind General Kayumba Nyamwasa's escape to South Africa,disharmony in the army ranks, and government corruption. The Media High Council (supervised by a dictatorial sounding Ministry of Information) has repeatedly written to both newspapers requesting them to "accept their errors" and inviting them to "review their working methods. In April after the newspapers refused to apologise the MHC wrote to them notifying that they had been suspended for six months for misdeeds including "publishing false news", "insulting, slandering, defaming innocent individuals", "publishing biased information" and "abusing and insulting the president of the Republic of Rwanda".

Both newspapers have now been forced out of Rwanda.Umuseso journalists now publish an English language newspaper from Uganda. Copies of the paper into the country were recently impounded at the border. Umuvugizi publishes online but its website is blocked by the Rwandan government. One of its journalists who remained in the country was shot outside his house in June [[http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2010/aug/09/rwanda-paul-kagame-media-censorship]].

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