No change of guard in Rwanda till 2034

When Rwandans vote for a president on Friday, the only open question is how large a majority Paul Kagame — the dominant figure in the East African country’s politics for over two decades — will win when he is re-elected.
In the two elections that have taken place since Kagame stopped the1994 genocide by overthrowing the extremist Hutu government, he took 95 per cent of the vote in 2003 and 93 per cent in 2010.
The 59-year-old is only facing two challengers: Frank Habineza from the tiny Democratic Green Party (DGP) — the country’s only authorised opposition party — and little-known independent candidate Philippe Mpayimana.
Kagame’s election rallies have been packed, while those of the other candidates have drawn few people. Election posters on the streets show only Kagame.
“I am happy that we already know what the results are, because that decision was made in December 2015,” Kagame said at one rally.
He was referring to a referendum, triggered by a petition signed by3.6 million Rwandans, that saw 98 per cent of the electorate in favour of changing the constitution to allow Kagame to seek a third term.
Ultimately, the Rwandan leader — already one of the longest-serving in Africa — could stay in power until 2034.
Critics say many of those who signed the petition did so under pressure, and point out that the two previous polls were fraught with allegations of fraud. Government critics have been jailed, have disappeared and even been killed in recent years. “I don’t feel safe. I can jog a street, but I cannot come back and jog the same street a second time,” says Habineza, whose deputy was decapitated in 2010.
Opposition representatives have alleged bureaucratic hurdles and say local officials discourage people from attending opposition rallies.
Hotels told Habineza they could not host DGP meetings because the party is “fighting the old man,” the environmentalist candidate, who returned from exile in Sweden in 2012, said.
However, analysts say, Kagame’s expected victory will also be based on a considerable amount of support for him in the country applauded for its economic and social achievements, which some hail as a model for Africa.
“Kagame has enormous popularity,” said Steven Gruzd, head of the governance and foreign policy programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs. “He was instrumental in stopping the genocide. He is seen as a strong and committed leader … who gets thing done,” Gruzd said. The president’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) has governed the country since its armed wing ended the genocide of 800,000 Tutsis — Kagame’s ethnic group — and moderate Hutus following decades of inter-ethnic tension and conflict.
Kagame has wielded wide powers since the end of the genocide and became president following the resignation of his predecessor in2000.
The austere and soft-spoken leader has transformed the country wrecked by the genocide into one of Africa’s stablest and, many say, most successful nations.
Rwanda’s gross domestic product grew by an average of 8 per cent between 2001 and 2015, according to the World Bank.
The economy is still largely based on subsistence farming, and the government relies heavily on foreign aid.
But Rwanda has also become one of the region’s technological hubs,with 90 per cent of the population due to have access to high-speed internet this year, and an innovation centre being set up in Kigali.
Unlike in many other African countries, there are no police officers seeking bribes in Rwanda, which the watchdog Transparency International ranks as the fourth least corrupt country on the continent. The World Bank Group ranks Rwanda as the second-best African country to do business.
More than 90 per cent of Rwandans are covered by community-based health insurance. The poverty rate dropped to 45 per cent of the population in 2010 from 57 per cent in 2005, according to World Bank figures. More than half of legislators are women. — dpa