African Elections or Masquerades to Deceive the World: The Case of Rwanda

In Europe and North America, the winner of the vote is known after 12 hours of counting; in Africa, the winner is known 6 months before the election! As decisive elections approach for most African countries in general and more particularly in the Republic of Rwanda, many citizens still question the utility of elections and the necessity of voting, asking, “what is the point of elections whose results are known in advance?”. It is unlikely that nearly half of the elections will be competitive due to the heavy management of the electoral process by well-established incumbents. What about Rwanda? The Kigali regime works to sideline real or potential opponents. Anyone who dares to contradict falls under the draconian laws that Kagame has instituted as a “protective wall” with vague but so severe crimes that the accused stand no chance. This was the fate of Madame Victoire Ingabire, who returned in January 2010 to register her party and then run for the presidential elections. Released, she is now under house arrest. Other opponents are simply assassinated. Such was the fate of the poor André Kagwa Rwisereka, vice-president of the Green Party. He was found beheaded on the outskirts of Butare. The following lines analyze the prevailing situation in this country in an electoral context dominated by the terror of presidential guards disguised as police officers.

I. Facts

The electorate received eight independent presidential candidates and 41 independent parliamentary candidates. In total, 9.5 million Rwandans were registered on the electoral lists for the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for July 15, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) announced on Thursday. The president of the National Electoral Commission, Oda Gasinzigwa, revealed this figure at a press conference in Kigali, stating that about 2 million of these people are first-time voters. The National Electoral Commission noted a significant increase in registrations among Rwandans in the diaspora, with about 53,000 registered for the upcoming elections, a notable increase from the 21,000 registered during the 2017 electoral cycle. Gasinzigwa stated that the electoral commission had received eight independent presidential candidates and 41 independent parliamentary candidates. The official submission of candidacies is expected to begin on Friday. The ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi), earlier this year designated incumbent President Paul Kagame as its presidential candidate, after his overwhelming victory with 99.1 percent of the vote during the party congress in March. Rwandans participated in the 2017 presidential elections, followed by 8.1 million in the 2018 legislative elections.

II. Analysis

1) The RPF’s strategies to stay in power for life

Elections in Rwanda are manipulated in various ways, including banning opposition parties, arresting or assassinating critics, and electoral fraud. The 2024 Rwandan elections are not expected to differ from previous polls as the winner is already known. President Paul Kagame was declared the winner of the 2017 elections with 99% of the vote, and it is unlikely that the results will vary much in this cycle. Independent observers concluded that the previous electoral process was marred by numerous irregularities, including political intimidation, unfair registration practices, and allegations of fraud during the vote itself. A controversial constitutional amendment in 2015 allowed him to bypass the existing two-term limit of seven years and run for two additional five-year terms, which would bring his tenure in power to 40 years. This circumvention of term limits was part of a wave of term limit evasions in Africa that began in 2015 and reversed a period of norm-respecting term limits. In effect, Kagame is able to remain president for life. The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) has prevented serious candidates from running through intimidation, arrests, and legal prosecutions. One of Kagame’s fiercest critics, Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, is also interested in running. However, she is excluded due to a previous arrest for “incitement to divisionism and conspiracy against the government,” a charge that most observers and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights consider politically motivated. Ingabire served a total of 8 years in prison until 2018 when she was released following a presidential pardon.

2) Rwandans living abroad abstain from political activism and live in fear of attacks against them or their relatives in Rwanda.

Rwanda has gained a reputation not only for intimidating its national opponents but also for threatening its critics in exile, including through attacks and extrajudicial executions. Rwandans living abroad therefore practice self-censorship, abstain from political activism, and live in fear of attacks against them or their relatives in Rwanda. The government has made it a criminal offense to “create a hostile international opinion” towards the Rwandan government. The media in Rwanda are tightly controlled, and those engaging in independent reporting face criminal charges and intimidation. Revisions to the penal code in 2018 criminalized cartoons and writings that “humiliate” Rwandan leaders. As more Rwandan journalists go into exile and attempt to write from outside the country, the government increasingly blocks access to news services and websites outside the country. The judiciary lacks independence in practice. Senior judicial officials are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate dominated by the RPF. The military remains one of the country’s most powerful political institutions, with several ambitious military leaders vying to succeed Kagame. It is believed that this explains Kagame’s decision to reshuffle the military hierarchy and retire 83 senior Rwandan officers, including 12 generals, following the wave of coups in Africa.

3) Excluded contesting candidates

Facing threats and to safeguard their livelihoods in managing the country, potential political parties like the PSD and the PL have resigned and ceded their supporters’ votes to the RPF. All other small parties have followed suit, except for the Environment Party, little known in rural areas. Well-known candidates like Diane Rwigara, Fred Barafinda, and Professor Mbanda Jean, who represented the true opposition to the regime, saw their candidacies rejected based on unfounded allegations, just to avoid hindering the process with denunciations of daily abuses committed in the country and distracting the hungry population whose children die every day unnecessarily on the front in eastern DRC. Furthermore, to avoid the single-candidate phenomenon, the regime deliberately maintained two candidates alongside Paul Kagame who worry no one. These are Frank Habineza and Philippe Mpayimana, whose campaign programs only echo that of the RPF leader; even better, they are both state agents, one being a deputy, the other a director-general of the Ministry of National Unity and Civic Engagement.

4) Some commendable exceptions in Africa

Due to the lack of citizen demands and the absence of political culture, corrupt politicians always abuse the people; that is why the African political class gets richer while the people struggle to make ends meet. This is almost the state of the political situation on the continent or the nature of the relationship between the African ruling political class and the impoverished and distressed populations. Political elections: a nonsense in Africa, when examining the state of relations between the African ruling political class and the impoverished and distressed populations, one must wonder why so much money is spent in this part of the world to organize pseudo-elections when the results for most countries are known in advance? With a few exceptions, it must be admitted that despite holding elections on the African continent since the period of independence, true political elections can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Many countries have only been able to offer their populations simulated elections where the matches are decided long in advance. That is why we Africans must respect countries like Ghana, Benin, South Africa, Botswana, and Senegal for the good example they set for the continent in electoral matters. How many tomorrows will follow their footsteps on this good path?

In reality, the government contract is just a chimera in most of our African countries where many political leaders only respect the contractual clauses during the pre-electoral period and the elections themselves, which is also a matter of political calculation and their cunning to better attract voters they need to be elected to the coveted position. Most African politicians consider their citizens as lemons that are thrown in the trash once all the juice has been extracted. They therefore do not need to worry about them after the publication of the results (which resurrects the old debate on the ability of Africans to adapt to democratic principles). That said, for many, democracy remains a real “luxury” for the peoples of Africa, due to the fault of their leaders and their elites; so much so that the countries that practice true democratic rules and organize free and transparent elections to allow their people to freely choose their leaders are obviously rare.

5) Life Presidency in Africa

The African Union is a club of presidents who support and protect each other. To stay in power, they have already violated the universal rule of the double political mandate by amending their constitutions. In Cameroon, Paul Biya has been elected without age or term limits since 1982; in Equatorial Guinea, Theodoro Obiang Ngwema has been there since 1979; in Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki has been in power since 1991. In Uganda, the head of state Yoweri Museveni has been in power since 1986 and removed the age limit. Rwandan Paul Kagame, Ivorian Alassane Dramane Ouattara, and Congolese Denis Sassou Nguesso have all extended the age limit conditions to serve their own interests. Asking them to question a system that serves them is like asking a turkey to vote for or against Christmas. To date, on the continent, the late President Nelson Mandela is one of the rare exceptions to this rule….

6) Alternatives to overcome this shameful farce

If democratic exercise is a reality in Europe and America, and increasingly in the so-called emerging countries of Latin America and Southeast Asia, the situation in Africa is still very sad and requires urgent help from the international community which must exercise a sort of right of humanitarian intervention in favor of the populations due to the political turbulence and violence of all kinds in their respective countries. The West must also help Africa to rid itself of these ugly practices of electoral cheating, degrading fraud, and vote theft. Only this path can stop attempts to return to the vicious circle of rebellions, coups and/or coup attempts, highway banditry, etc. If today young people accept to die at sea to reach the West, it is not impossible that tomorrow they will accept to become real martyrs. Continuing to support dictatorship in Africa, endorsing electoral fraud, and allowing politicians to steal votes gradually conditions African youth to survival reflexes that prepare them to embark on adventures with incalculable consequences tomorrow. In many African countries, despite the longevity of founding presidents and other fathers of independence, the population is still mired in poverty. Not that these countries do not have the necessary assets to ensure their development, but simply because these political leaders have made political careers a royal road to easy enrichment. Furthermore, seeing what is happening around us, we will quickly realize that it is high time for the West to help Africa stop wasting its scarce resources needlessly organizing simulated elections. To this end, we often hear pathetic calls on the radio and other media by political opponents in certain countries urging the people to civil disobedience on the occasion of presidential and/or legislative elections. These calls mention fraud in the electoral process aimed at ensuring the election of the incumbent candidate or president in the first round. Not that they have a viable social project to offer the people for a social contract, but they simply decide to further mistreat the people who have suffered too much from all these years of unbridled government. All this is simply sad and lamentable. Moreover, as long as there is no independent judicial system capable of preventing newly elected presidents from rigging votes or amending constitutions, signing petitions will be pointless. The wheel always turns in the same direction. A tyrant comes to power, amends the constitution to rule indefinitely, then proceeds to dismantle the judiciary. Then their cronies settle in all strategic sectors to organize the plundering of public funds.

Conclusion

A “democratic election” is the fact for a people of a given country to freely and without any constraint, at a given moment in the history of their country, choose their own leaders supposed to execute a previously agreed program, for their well-being. It is then beyond doubt that the power exercised by politicians elected from the polls has the main objective of improving the daily lives of citizens, improving living conditions and existence in the country, protecting territorial integrity, and defending national interests in the concert of nations. Such should be the nature of the contract binding the various politicians to their respective peoples. And the survival or validity of such contracts depends no more or less on the full execution of this kind of specification binding the elector to the elected. This stratification of socio-political relations means that candidates for election commit to being at the service of their people, who act as true sovereigns. The power held by politicians is therefore the emanation of these; and at their level, they exercise it by proxy. This relationship or type of contract is only valid if each party scrupulously respects and executes its share of responsibility; which unfortunately does not seem to be the case for most countries in sub-Saharan Africa (just looking at the gap between electoral promises and achievements during the reign and exercise of the much-coveted imperium and for which many candidates are ready to sell their souls to the Devil). To this imposture are added all the commitments with the circles of spirits: that is to say the lodges or pernicious sects, the marabouts, the sorcerers, and other little neighborhood charmers, to the point that everyone becomes polite, docile, and candid; even wolves cover themselves in sheep’s clothing for the occasion. But after the publication of the election results, we witness a kind of quasi-mystical transformation of all these lambs: arrogance, contempt, ingratitude, lies, carelessness, looting, etc. True nature returns until the next election. This is somewhat the ugly game wrongly called “election” in Africa, but which is actually a real dupe market.