Last Saturday, barely two days before the parliamentary "elections" (well, the appropriate term is selection), a section of the Kigali suburb of Kicukiro was in flames. Another grenade attack, by some estimates the fourth since January.
The grenades have so far caused minimal damage and the fact that they are always detonated in places that are faraway from popular elite hangouts has raised some questions. "Kagame wants to remind us that he exists", some have whispered to the author.
Yet, there is little doubt that the dictator exists. He is everywhere. Whether during his regular television appearances or his larger than normal picture frames that hang in almost every office/business; the signs are loud and clear.
What is unclear is why he insists on holding elections. This is not a factitious puzzle. Kagame regularly garners a Stalinistic 95% of the vote. He is also viewed, by some in the west, to be fanatically popular. At home, the frustration (or excitement) is best captured by a local Kigali resident Jean Claude Uwizeyimana interviewed amid the ongoing (s)election. "We all know who's going to win, so there's no reason to vote", he said. My sentiment exactly!
But the West has continued to cheer this mockery of democracy and to foot the bill of its excesses. UNDP country director, Auke Loostama, gleefully praised the charade. "The upcoming parliamentary elections, from 16 to 18 September, will be held against a backdrop of impressive improvement in the areas of democratic governance and political space," he wrote. Betraying UNDP's mission, Mr. Loostama has no sympathy for the opposition activist that are languishing in jail or the journalists that are fleeing for their lives. What many denounce as political enslavement, he sees as political liberation. Indeed, the regime in Kigali has captured his heart.
Mr. Loostama gives us an important clue. Perhaps the motivations of this election, which according to UNDP is the cheapest on the continent, is to please the likes of Mr. Loostama. As Kagame has previously said, "they want elections so I will give it to them." The only requirement, at least by international observers, is that you make it cheaper.
I suspect there is another more sinister motive. To score an international record (yet another one) that will win Kigali additional admirers, thus sustaining the regime's foreign aid lifeline. In the previous (s)election cycle, Kigali had the largest number of female parliamentarians in the world. A record that left international feminists believing Kagame to be god-send and further "complicating" Kagame's image. Its all about image and dictators are good at self-invention.
As a friend on Twitter noted, Kigali will break its record on female representation once again. The number of women in parliament this time will have to be nothing less than 60%. How can we then say that Kagame is a dictator? A dictator who empowers women and gives children free laptops? The script is being played out and history taking its course.
UNDP and the rest of the gullible world will continue to cheer on the "visionary" leader. In the meantime, Rwandans are exhausted and see no reason to vote. Hoping to avoid the sporadic grenades that add chaos (or flavor) to an otherwise "peaceful" existence.