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Rwandan President Says Critics Are ‘Blind to Success’

Rwandan President Paul Kagame fired back at critics of this month’s elections, saying the media and outside observers have overlooked positive political changes following the 1994 genocide.

“Too many observers are blind to the success of our political evolution,” Kagame said in a column in the Financial Times newspaper published today. “No country has moved from genocide to confrontational politics overnight.”

Kagame, 52, won a second term with 93 percent of the vote in the east African nation’s Aug. 9 presidential election, which a Commonwealth observer group declared free and fair.

The U.S. “expressed concerns” to the government of Rwanda after it suspended two newspapers, expelled a human-rights researcher, arrested a journalist and barred two opposition parties before the vote, National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said Aug. 13.

Political rivals of the ruling party and other activists confronted harassment and journalists were “silenced” in the run-up to the election, Human Rights Watch said in a report on its website dated Aug. 2.

Kagame led rebel forces that ended Rwanda’s genocide, in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed over 100 days in 1994. He came to power in 2000 after President Pasteur Bizimungu was ousted and then won a seven-year term in September 2003 in the country’s first multiparty elections.

Economic Growth

Under his watch, the coffee-producing economy has seen an average of 8.3 percent expansion annually in the nine years through 2008. The country was rated the top reformer in the World Bank’s report on the ease of doing business for 2010.

The country’s accomplishments since the genocide include the creation of Gacaca community courts, which have allowed 1.2 million perpetrators of the genocide to confess their involvement, beg forgiveness and return home, Kagame said.

Rwanda scrapped the death penalty, amended the law to permit political parties to campaign at the “grassroots” level, and built 3,000 classrooms last year, he said.

“Nonetheless, these truths were ignored during our election,” Kagame said. “Some in the media and the international community seem uninterested in fact-checking, and simply invented stories that play to damaging historic prejudices.”

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