Tragedy at President Kagame’s Rally in Rubavu: One Dead and 37 Injured

On June 23, 2024, a tragedy marked the second day of President Paul Kagame’s campaign rally in Rubavu. One person died and 37 others were injured in a stampede that occurred at the end of the rally as thousands of participants attempted to leave the site simultaneously. The incident happened at Gisa, a site about 5 km from DR Congo border, in the Rugerero sector, Rubavu district, in the Western Province.

According to a press release from the Rwandan Ministry of Local Government, the medical team present on site did everything possible to assist the victims. The injured were transported to Gisenyi hospital, while four severely injured people were transferred to Kigali for more intensive care. The ministry expressed its condolences to the families of the victim and assured that it would closely monitor the condition of the injured.

Local authorities quickly responded to contain the incident and minimize its impact on the electoral campaign. However, according to sources on the ground, the actual toll of the victims could be heavier than officially announced. It seems that the authorities tried to downplay the incident to avoid disrupting the presidential and parliamentary campaign of the RPF-Inkotanyi.

It is well known that attending the electoral rallies of the RPF-Inkotanyi party is almost mandatory for the population. Local authorities strictly ensure that everyone is present, under threat of reprisals, including denial of administrative services or being labeled as opponents of the regime. Financial contributions are also demanded, even from people who are not members of the RPF-Inkotanyi.

The RPF-Inkotanyi party did not comment on the incident, preferring to post on its X account (formerly Twitter): “President Paul Kagame was greeted by over 250,000 enthusiastic supporters as he arrived in Rubavu District for the second stop of the RPF Presidential campaign.”

At this tragic rally in Gisa, President Kagame delivered several speeches, excerpts of which were published on the RPF-Inkotanyi party’s X account. Kagame spoke about Rwandan cultural values, stating, “If somebody gives you a cow, it means they love you. It is a symbol of their wish for you to prosper. That is what a cow represents in our Rwandan culture. Expressing gratitude is paying forward the generosity received through that cow. It is returning the best wishes for prosperity that you have received.”

He also talked about the importance of mutual trust: “The trust we have in each other is very precious; it is what makes everything possible. Have trust in each other, have trust in your leaders, and in building ourselves this way, we become strong, so that development aligns with time, but in this period, you want to move quickly.”

Kagame emphasized the need to strengthen security capabilities: “As we achieve progress and build more, we continue to strengthen our security capabilities to ensure the sustainability of what we build. We want good relations with our neighbors and beyond, especially African countries and others around the world. For us, the first thing is good collaboration. When you develop and want to have good relationships and when you build partnerships, you also have to be prepared. What would happen if some don’t want a good relationship with you and instead want to destabilize your security, are you prepared to confront them? We are always aiming to have the ability to respond when the answer to that question is needed. We do what concerns us, we focus on ourselves and on our goals, we transform our lives, and we leave to others what concerns them. We know what is up to us and we are always ready to work and live well with those who are willing. But when what I will not mention occurs, we are always going to be prepared.”

He insisted on the importance of concrete actions: “It is actions that help us achieve our desired goals. If you just sit and sing slogans, and only talk without doing what is needed, you will not achieve anything. The RPF and the parties in coalition with us call on all Rwandans, whether in the country or living abroad, to work hard and together, and achieve development without leaving anyone behind. What divided us in the past, we have left it behind, we have surpassed it. Each one of us, Rwandan or foreigners living in Rwanda, has to enjoy the benefits that come with our development because we are a united people working together to achieve our goals.”

Finally, Kagame stated: “There is no other path Rwanda will follow or that Rwandans will accept if it doesn’t include the three pillars [Unity, Democracy, and Development]. That is what we strive for, be it in the RPF, the parties in coalition with the RPF, and all Rwandans in general. That is what we want to achieve at the highest level possible.”

At this meeting, Kagame also praised the political parties supporting the RPF-Inkotanyi candidate, namely PSD, PL, PDC, PPC, PSP, PSR, PDI, and UDPR.

The incident in Rubavu raises questions about the security conditions at mass gatherings and how authorities manage such events. It also highlights the coercive practices of Kagame’s regime to ensure massive attendance at electoral rallies, often at the expense of the safety and well-being of the citizens.