Monday September 6th was a national holiday here in Rwanda as the nation celebrated the inauguration of President Paul Kagame for a second seven year term. Outside of the filled to capacity National Stadium, I, along with thousands of Rwandans, watched as President Kagame signed the Oath of Office and accepted the Instruments of Office – a copy of the Constitution, a National Flag, and a Coat of Arms. Later he was given a spear and a shield, traditional symbols that signify his duty to protect the nation.
Elections were held on August 9th and President Kagame garnered 93% of the vote. In the months before the election, the government banned two newspapers and arrested journalists and opposition leaders. The New York Times reports that popular opposition candidates were denied the opportunity to run and that a dissident general was nearly assassinated in South Africa. In July, a member of the opposing Democratic Green Party of Rwanda was found dead.
Despite all of this, the East African Community election observers deemed that the election met international standards. “In general, the August 9 presidential elections were peaceful, well organized, and free and fair,” said Sarafina Kwekwe of Kenya. Two days after the election, and the day that I arrived in Kigali, there was a grenade attack in the center of town that wounded a disputed number of people (reported numbers range from 7-12). It was the fifth such attack since February.
Controversy aside, there is no denying that President Kagame gets results. He was the leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) that came to power following the 1994 genocide. Since his 2003 election to the presidency Rwanda has seen new roads, health clinics, increased foreign direct investment, broadband internet, and even a national health insurance program. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has lauded their healthcare initiatives. CNN’s foreign affairs analyst Fareed Zakariah says that more than Ghana, Rwanda is Africa’s biggest success story. President Kagame has attempted to unite a divided Rwanda by encouraging a national identity as opposed to ones based on ethnic lines.
In his inaugural address, President Kagame condemned the “onslaught of bad press reports from sections of the media and human rights organizations that deliberately misrepresented the situation in Rwanda…” He went on to criticize the international news media’s coverage of Rwanda in the months leading up to the election:
“In the months and weeks preceding our elections, there was an onslaught of bad press reports from sections of the media and human rights organizations that deliberately misrepresented the situation in Rwanda, and sought to give the impression that our country was, so to speak, falling apart. This led some to expect an eruption of violence, in line with the prejudiced way in which African affairs are viewed.”
He highlighted the challenges and successes of his administration:
“Our practical experience has taught us to deal with the toughest challenges. We have had to manage countless orphans and supported hundreds of thousands of widows; repatriated millions of refugees and settled them back into society; reintegrated thousands of soldiers who served in the genocidal government; administered a difficult restorative justice process, which has built bonds between victims and perpetrators of genocide. And all of this would not have been possible without a political system of where power is shared to unite rather than divide.”
And articulated his objectives for the future:
“We will continue to ensure food security; provide better education and health for all; promote trade and investment; and build modern infrastructure that responds to the direct needs of our citizens, including access to clean water, and energy to power homes, schools, health centers and industry. We will also promote economic and political participation of all our citizens, as well as deepen empowerment of our women and girls; and ensure that our people have the skills necessary to succeed in a competitive world. We will advance regional integration, and nurture good relations with our neighbors, because we share the similar aspirations and continue to work for the wider integration of our continent.