Initial results from Rwanda’s presidential elections showed incumbent Paul Kagame leading in the race to extend his decade-long stint at the East African country’s helm.
With ballots counted in 11 of 30 districts, Kagame garnered almost 93 percent in yesterday’s vote, Chryislogue Karangwa, the electoral commission chairman, said on a Rwanda TV broadcast. That’s close to the 95 percent support Kagame won in Rwanda’s first multiparty election in 2003. Final results will be announced by Aug. 17.
Kagame has pledged to continue policies that contributed to average annual economic growth of 8.3 percent in the nine years through 2008. He has also promised to maintain peace in a country torn apart in 1994 by a genocide that killed 800,000 people. While he has been praised for resurrecting Rwanda’s economy, human-rights groups have criticized the 52-year-old leader for restricting political freedom. The election campaign was marred by attacks on Kagame’s opponents.
“If I am elected today we’ll be consolidating the things we’ve been doing,” Kagame told reporters yesterday in Kigali, where he cast his ballot with his wife, Jeannette. He pledged to focus on boosting trade “within the region and beyond” and to improve health care and health insurance, while increasing investment in infrastructure and communications and technology.
The ballot was “officially a four-horse race, but none of the challengers represent a real threat to Kagame, the most dominant political figure in post-genocide Rwanda,” Africa analyst Gus Selassie, of London-based Global Insight, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
Kagame’s only three opponents have been colleagues in his government -- Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, deputy speaker of the House of Representatives from the Social Democratic Party; Alvera Mukabaramba, a Senator from the Party of Progress and Concord; and the Liberal Party’s Prosper Higiro, the Senate’s vice president.
The election was “transparent and well-administered,” Salim Ahmed Salim, the chairman of the Commonwealth Observer Group, told reporters today in Kigali. The vote was marred though by the fact that all four presidential candidates were drawn from the governing coalition, meaning “there was a lack of critical opposition voices,” he said.
In the run-up to the election, Victoire Ingabire of the opposition United Democratic Forces was unable to register to participate in the vote because of what she described as a strategy by Kagame to block “real opposition” against his presidency.
“A number of opposition parties had earlier stated their intention to stand, but faced either legal or administrative problems, which resulted in their non-participation,” said Salim.
Under Kagame, foreign direct investment in Rwanda increased to $541.2 million in 2009 from $32 million in 2003, according to the Kigali-based Rwanda Development Board. Investors include Starbucks Corp. of Seattle, the world’s largest coffee-shop chain, and Issaquah, Washington-based Costco Wholesale Corp., which have become the biggest buyers of Rwanda’s coffee, the backbone of its economy.
Kagame has dismissed criticism from human rights groups, which say his rule has become increasingly authoritarian and real challengers were excluded from the vote.
Andre Rwisereka, deputy leader of the opposition Democratic Green Party, was found dead July 14, and Jean-Leonard Rugambage, editor of the banned Umuvugizi newspaper, was shot and killed June 24. Rugambage was investigating allegations the government was behind the June 19 shooting of Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa in South Africa. The former Rwandan army chief of staff survived. Rwanda’s government has denied any involvement in the incidents.
“Critics and some sections of the media have been reading their scripts from a different angle,” Kagame said yesterday. “They have set standards for Rwanda and for Africa and are disappointed when things go right.”