Rwandan president promises elections will be free and fair


RWANDAN PRESIDENT Paul Kagame has promised that next month’s elections will be free and fair, dismissing criticism from the opposition and human rights groups ahead of the August 9th vote.

“Rwandan voters have the freedom to decide,” he told reporters in Kigali yesterday, as he launched his campaign for the presidential election.

“But we have to seek their support and explain how we deserve their support.”

Several critics of the government have been murdered recently, with one opposition leader buried as Mr Kagame was speaking.

The body of Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, vice-chairman of the opposition Democratic Green Party, was found almost decapitated on July 14th.

Several senior army officers have been arrested in recent months with the former Rwandan army commander Kayumba Nyamwasa surviving an apparent assassination attempt on June 19th in South Africa.

Days later the journalist Jean-Leonard Rugambage, who had published evidence that the government was behind the attacks in the Umuvugizi newspaper, was shot dead.

The Rwandan government has denied any part in the attacks but the United Nations has demanded a full investigation into allegations of politically motivated killings, as speculation mounts that opposition figures are being targeted ahead of next month’s poll.

Hutu opposition leader Victoire Ingabire has claimed that she is under house arrest and unable to register for the elections while the Socialist party’s leader Bernard Ntaganda has been arrested for holding an “illegal gathering”.

“How much longer will the international community continue to endorse this repressive regime?” press freedom group Reporters Without Borders asked last week.

“The international community is becoming its accomplice by supporting next month’s election, for which the preparations are being accompanied by widespread harassment and abuses.”

Long praised by the international community for rebuilding Rwanda after the 1994 genocide left over 800,000 people dead, Mr Kagame has presided over several years of stellar economic growth in the small landlocked central African country.

After growing by 8.6 per cent last year, Rwanda was recently ranked by the World Bank as the world’s top “business reformer”, the first time a sub-Saharan country won the award.

However, concerns over the increasingly repressive political environment in the country has caused unease in the international community, with Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero cancelling a scheduled meeting with the Rwandan president last Friday.

Mr Kagame has ruled Rwanda since 1994, when his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) ended the genocide carried out by extremists from the Hutu majority against his Tutsi minority.

However, he has been controversially indicted by a French judge for ordering the shooting down on April 6th, 1994, of the aircraft carrying Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, the event that triggered the genocide.

A US lawsuit also accused Mr Kagame of making the order.

After winning the last election in 2003 with over 90 per cent of the vote, Mr Kagame is expected to win by a comfortable majority next month.