Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rwanda's Sham Elections

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The attempts to establish democracy in African countries has failed due to rampant election rigging and abuse of state power.  Rwanda has fallen into the same trap.

Susan Thomson wrote an insightful piece on the impact of the August Presidential elections on ordinary Rwandans. In the essay she states that “the US and the UK view the continued harassment and intimidation of political opponents and critical journalists as par for the course in the transition from civil war and genocide to democracy.”

While the above position has some merit, it fails to appreciate the whole reality on the ground.

It’s true that Kagame is using political violence against his opponents; however, other than the usual “muzungu” manipulations, there is no serious evidence that Kagame is interested (or was ever interested) in democratic reform. Every action that he takes (good or bad) seems to be calculated to maintain his tight grasp on power. Thus the label of Rwanda as country that is undergoing democratic transition lacks a sound basis.

How else would one explain the fact that the opposition parties have been denied the right to register and to participate in the electoral process? How would one explain the fact that only parties friendly to Kagame will be allowed to run? Which democratic country in the world practices this kind of politics?

Granted, democracy is not just about elections. It is about the rule of law and the establishment of functional institutions. But elections are a big part and unelected leaders lack the moral and political legitimacy to rule.

That is the fate of Rwanda’s Paul Kagame.  But, he seems to have found his way around it.

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