Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Looking Beyond Political Deception: How popular is Paul Kagame?

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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 fan-fare. This is, even more so, the case for a political party like RPF with immense wealth and means.

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, never giving up.

The spectacle of Kagame with his convoy of vehicles, no doubt, adds a new component to village life. As such, it helps attract big crowds.

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 that the mammoth turnout is an indication that the RPF will be voted for “100%” is 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.

For this crime, 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 social services.For instance, you'll never get a passport, drivers license, certificate of good conduct etc.

This is exactly what has happened to some of Victoire Ingabire, Frank Habineza and Bernard Ntaganda's supporters. In a similar manner, in 2003, Faustin Twagiramungu’s supporters faced the same problem. After the end of the elections, many of his supporters had no option but 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, such 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.


ColoredOpinions said...

Popularity is indeed a very fluid factor in politics. Hard to define and hard to get a finger on. And even when someone is popular, how long does it stick. Mobutu See See Seko attrackted immense crowds at some point in time.

At the same time comes to mind the entrance of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey/mule. People shouted: "Hallelujah, son of David" and put out their clothes for him to ride over on his donkey, but not much later they shouted "crucify".
Tears rolled down his cheeks when he saw Jerusalem and said: "if only you knew what really serves your peace". A riddle which summarizes the work which He has since completed in Jerusalem.

susan thomson said...

nice job. and important for westerners to know...

susan thomson said...

thanks for writing. so powerful from a Rwandan voice....

ambrose nzeyimana said...

It's true rural Rwandans must attend Kagame's rallies for their own good. There are situations in life where people find themselves in, and because they don't have any other alternative, they make the best out of what they get.

They know they are consciously or unconsciously pushed, but at the same time, they have a moment of fun, which lets them forget for a day their miserable life that the entertainer of the day - Paul Kagame is responsible for.

Like at that evening in London where I was invited at a top class cocktail party and be told how great imperialism was. It made me feel convinced for a moment but later to realize that that's the way it conquers minds to exploit them almost willingly.

Anonymous said...

"He advances to the crowd, jumps over the cordon of school desks and joins a group of singers as they belt out what has now become a popular tune across Rwanda.

“How can you betray a man who has given your children milk?” asks the lead singer as the crowd joins in chanting “Tora Polo” (we learn it translates to Vote for Paul)."

"Under the hugely successful Girinka project, the government decided to give a cow to every poor family. The aim of the scheme, which started in 2005, was to improve livelihoods and boost milk production.

A farmer is given a dairy cow, most of them imported from Kenya, South Africa and Ireland. When the animal calves, the family surrenders the calf to neighbours and the circle continues.

Officials say nearly 110,000 families have benefited.

A chunk of Rwandese voters, mostly in the rural areas which constitute a bulk of the country’s 11 million population, are prepared to support him on this one consideration — the family inka (cow).

“I would certainly vote for him,” says Salama Francein, a mother of three.

“Because of the cow I can afford school fees for my children.”

Mr Manishimwe Emmanuel, a resident of Rulindo is equally excited. “If you want to say it is political bribery, then Mzee has bribed the poor with a cow and we are happy.”

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