Rwanda’s 2024 Presidential Elections: Victoire Ingabire, a Risk or Opportunity for Paul Kagame?

Gustave Mbonyumutwa

In an opinion piece by Gustave Mbonyumutwa, a Belgian-Rwandan human rights activist and co-founder of the Jambo asbl association, a detailed analysis is presented on the critical electoral milestone scheduled in Rwanda in July 2024. Gustave, the grandson of the first President of Rwanda and a knowledgeable observer of Rwandan politics, highlights the stakes of this presidential election and the simultaneous legislative elections, both set for a five-year term.

The focus is on Paul Kagame’s candidacy for a fourth term, after more than 24 years in power, and the dominance of the FPR-Inkotanyi party since 1994. Gustave’s main concern lies in Rwanda’s ability to present a credible and independent opposition to the FPR, for both the legislative and presidential elections.

Historically, the FPR and Kagame have sidelined any serious opposition, securing nearly total electoral victories. However, the re-emergence of Victoire Ingabire, an emblematic figure of the opposition, who recently appealed to the High Court of Kigali to restore her civil and political rights, represents a potential turning point. Gustave notes that this move, made on February 14, 2024, aims to allow Ingabire to run in the elections after being imprisoned for eight years and then released by presidential pardon in 2018.

The situation of Ms. Ingabire, sentenced to 15 years in prison in a controversial trial, raises questions about the independence of the Rwandan judiciary and the country’s political future. Gustave speculates on the FPR’s motivations for possibly allowing such a candidacy, in a context of increasing international criticism regarding freedom of expression in Rwanda.

The awaited decision of the High Court, scheduled for March 13, 2024, is crucial. It will determine not only Ingabire’s political future but also the perception of Rwanda’s democratic openness. Gustave presents several possible scenarios, questioning whether the FPR will take this opportunity to demonstrate some openness or continue to suppress any significant opposition.

This article highlights the fundamental dilemma faced by Kagame’s regime: to open up the political space and face real competition or maintain strict control, risking further criticism of the lack of political freedom. Through his expertise, Gustave Mbonyumutwa provides crucial insight into the political dynamics at play in Rwanda on the eve of a decisive electoral moment.