On Monday, August 9th, Rwanda held the presidential election. Four candidates were in the race, but nobody questioned Paul Kagame's re-election. The question was how much support will he win? The preliminary result shows that Kagame has won approximately 93% support with the second runner-up winning only a 4.7% support. It is going to be a landslide win for Paul Kagame.
The international media, however, seems very uneasy about several incidents that have taken place during the time period prior to the election.
One of Kagame's former close aides, General Kayumba fled the country and was almost killed in South Africa. Deputy President of one of the opposition parties was hacked to death by a river. One media reporter was shot to death in front of his home after he wrote an article criticizing the current government's oppression on freedom. Of course, Paul Kagame and his government deny any involvement in all incidents. A Hutu female leader, Ingabire, and her party were denied for the party registration and she was placed on house arrest during the election time based on the charges of "divisionism" and genocide denial. She claims that the election did not have true candidates for the people to choose from. Some people say that many civilians were mobilized to register to vote and to show up at the Paul Kagame's campaign.
In summary, several international media claims that Rwanda has serious oppression on the freedom of people.
The media is asking questions if the freedom can be sacrificed for the efficiency or economic development.
I do not know how truthful the news media's claims are. But I can tell a few facts with reasonable confidence.
First, if the citizens did not have true choices, they did not have to vote for Paul Kagame. There were other candidates. The candidate issue seems not so convincing.
Second, I have seen many people who are genuinely happy about Paul Kagame's re-election as President. These are people I run into at the market and in the villages. If their smiles and happiness are disguises made in fear of retaliation, they must be excellent actors and actresses. The number of people who are genuinely happy about his re-election seems to be at least the majority. That is enough for Paul Kagame to be Rwanda' president for the next seven years. It is the fact.
Third, I have been hearing some inside stories about the people who have been opposing Paul Kagame. Without going into details, there were reasons behind several incidents that have happened and the rationale sounded pretty reasonable to me.
Fourth, I was born and raised in S. Korea in the post-Korean War era. I experienced the poverty and also the economic development. I also experienced the "dictatorship" and lack of freedom firsthand. I did not like it when I was undergoing it so I participated in the student demonstration against the dictatorship. Looking back, however, Korea achieved significant economic development under the so-called "dictator" who led the country as President for 18 years. Even after his unfortunate assassination by his security chief, there were two more military general turned presidents. But the presidency was transferred to civilian presidents peacefully and now the current president is the fourth civilian president in S. Korea. There was tension between the military power and the president's cabinet initially, but now the military forces subject themselves to the chief commander of the country willingly and gladly. S. Korea is now a democratic country even under the "cease-fire" state facing the constant threats from its northern counterpart.
My point? I fully understand and agree with Paul Kagame's statement and that of S. Korea's former president Park Chung Hee, (President Kagame reminds me of Park Chung Hee in many aspects) in that the western style democracy cannot be transplanted to Rwanda or Korea, respectively, the way it is in the western world. It needs to be contextualized. I interprete that as "It will take time until the full democracy will be implemented because it will take time until the citizens collectively gain independent minds to think and decide on their own who their leaders should be without feeling threatended no matter what."
The fact of the matter is that Paul Kagame has been re-elected with the landslide support for the next seven years. I think Rwanda needs him at least for now. There are so many projects and programs under way and Rwanda cannot afford a change at present. His strong leadership with solid principles and discipline is essential for Rwanda to continue the transformation that has already taken place in this small African country.
I personally admire with deep appreciation Paul Kagame and what he has done. It is remarkable and impressive in short.
Nonetheless, I have a few prayers for Rwanda.
First, I pray that Paul Kagame's leadership will stay on course for the rest of his term with zero tolerance for corruption, enhanced focus on education and health, investor-friendly business environment, private-sector-driven economy, transparency, responsible governance etc.
Second, I pray that Paul Kagame will focus on developing the next-generation leadership so that there will be competent candidates to run for presidency as his successor. Many great leaders failed in this regard. I am reminded of an axiom: "Success without succession is not genuine success." May this not be the case for Paul Kagame.
Third, even if Paul Kagame remains on course as a clean and exemplary leader, he should not neglect the responsibility of surrounding himself with only like-minded people. Many great leaders failed at the end of their tenures, not necessarily because of their own faults but because of the mistakes or bad decisions made by their own aides/lieutenants. May this not be the case for Paul Kagame.
Like many others, it is my sincere prayer that Rwanda becomes a model African country in all aspects. For this purpose, Rwanda needs God's mercy and grace. Without them, there will be no true redemption of Rwanda and Rwandan people at the end. Oh, Lord, be merciful and gracious to Rwanda. - Jeffrey
P.S.: The election day was a public holiday. I am not used to it, but I can understand and accept it. But the following day, Tuesday, was also declared a holiday in the Monday evening. The reason? Because people were celebrating Paul Kagame's re-election with Kagame's family at the national stadium, called Amahoro Stadium, until 5AM in the morning. So it became a holiday. Does it make sense? Well... I am still learning. So should Rwanda.