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Rwanda's presidential elections: Four candidates, but same old policies

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-08-04

Three candidates will challenge incumbent leader Paul Kagame (pictured) in Sunday's presidential elections in Rwanda, but it is hard to distinguish any real difference between their respective political platforms…

The Rwandan presidential campaign is entering its final phase, with election day sceduled for Sunday August 9. Three candidates are challenging incumbent Paul Kagame for the presidency. But although Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, Prosper Higiro and Alvera Mukabaramba are all campaigning vigourously, their positions on many key issues are remarkably similar. 

Economic development, social unity and fighting corruption are the main themes that all four candidates have taken up as their central campaign tenets. Each of Kagame’s three challengers have been described as allies of the president, and even characterised as “political satellites” of Kagame and the RPF.

Paul Kagame, incumbent president

Kagame was first elected in 2003 with 95 percent of the vote. He is widely regarded as a strongman credited with stabilizing the country in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide. Running on a platform highlighting the solid economic growth over the past seven years and the return of order and civil society following the genocide, Kagame is favoured to win re-election for a second seven-year term.

Kagame has been the leader of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) since 1990. A member of the Tutsi ethnic group, he rose to prominence after he fought the Rwandan armed forces and the Hutu-led interim government responsible for the mass killings in 1994. An estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in the genocide that occurred between April and July of that year. The country was in a daze when Kagame first assumed power. Since then he has been lauded as the architect of Rwanda’s social and economic reconstruction.

After 16 years at the helm (seven years as elected president), Kagame's successes have come at a considerable price, with human rights groups and dissidents accusing the president of squashing political dissent through authoritarian measures. Many of the president’s main political opponents have been killed or are in jail, and numerous civil rights, particularly freedom of the press, have come under attack during Kagame’s time in office.  

Jean-Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, Vice-President of the National Assembly

is the Social Democratic Party’s (PSD) candidate and a veteran political operator who came to prominence in 2006 when he became Rwanda’s Minister of Health. During his time as Health Minister Ntawukuriryayo expanded the country’s social security system to cover over 80 per cent of the population. In 2008 he became Vice-President of the National Assembly.

Although Ntawukuriryayo seeks to replace Kagame as president, many of his policies echo those of the incumbent’s: promoting reconciliation, strengthening national unity and pursuing economic development through public investment.  With his politicies so similar to those of Kagame’s, Ntawukuriryayo’s opponents accuse of him of being a “stooge” for the president and providing an illusion of pluralism.

Prosper Higiro, Vice-President of the Senate
The Liberal Party’s (LP) nominee, Prosper Higiro is a one-time political opponent of former president Juvenal Habyarimana, whose assassination in 1994 is widely regarded as one of the main trigger events for the ensuing genocide. Higiro, a Tutsi, survived the violence in 1994 and later became a close ally of Kagame. He served as Minister of Commerce, Industry and Crafts from 1994 to 1997. Since 2003 he has been active within the RPF, and has also become Vice-President of the Senate.

With a degree in management, Higiro is running on platform focusing on deficit reduction and balancing Rwanda’s balance of trade. He also seeks to address the chronic problem of youth unemployment in the country. None of his policies appear to challenge the status quo of the RPF.

Alvera Mukabaramba, Senator
Mukabaramba represents the Party of Progress and Concord (PPC), the smallest of the four parties competing in the upcoming presidential election.  This is not the first time that Mukabaramba has sought to campaign for the presidency. In 2003, just after PPC was formed, Mukabaramba had entered the race but later withdrew before the election to support Kagame.
Mukabaramba is a physician by training and is the only woman running in this race. She is currently a member of the National Assembly and also sits on the Committee for Social Affairs and Human Rights.
She has campaigned on a platform of an improved social policy that encompasses free health care, education and unemployment benefits.

Date created : 2010-08-04


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