As Rwanda prepares to hold presidential elections next year, the dominant ruling party — Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) is expected to front President Paul Kagame as its flag bearer.
The party held its internal elections on April 2 and re-elected him as chairman for the next five years alongside a new youthful executive team.
President Kagame was seconded as a candidate for re-election by Senator Marie-Rose Mureshyankwano, who said he has proven himself as a selfless leader who has already delivered positive results to the party.
“As Rwandans, we cannot do things as everybody else in the usual way. The challenges they face and those that we confront are different. The one thing that you can do, and everyone starts saying ‘Rwanda did this, Rwanda did that!’ Others would do things a hundred times worse, but no one will ever talk about them. For us to live well, we need to do things in a unique way so that even those who want to accuse us of all evils can hardly find any wrongs about us,” said President Kagame in his acceptance speech after being re-elected as chairman of the RPF-Inkotanyi.
While the National Electoral Commission is yet to release the official calendar, parliament recently approved the merger of the parliamentary election originally scheduled for September this year with presidential elections happening next year. The merger gave current Members of Parliament one extra year in office.
Now Kagame, 65, may have little competition when it comes to elections. But that doesn’t stop him from pitching his long list of achievements to the electorate.
Once in a while, he tours the country, reminding Rwandans to work hard, but also revealing what he has achieved and where he plans to improve. That may inform his continuous reforms of the public sector, including purging officials deemed to undermine the national goal of development.
Ismael Buchanan, a senior lecturer of Political Science at the University of Rwanda told The EastAfrican that President Kagame has been largely successful in instilling good governance under RPF.
“The way RPF has promoted good governance and the rule of law, unity among Rwandans and gender equality has stood out. Women’s empowerment has been a major achievement…,” he said, adding that it has also delivered peace and security to Rwanda.
On August 18, 2017, shortly after securing a new seven-year third term with 98.7 per cent of the votes, President Kagame pledged to “continue transforming Rwanda and ensuring a dignified life for every citizen.”
But he has faced criticism too including charges that he has turned authoritarian and limited political dissent.
Human Rights Watch, for example, says press freedom, human rights, and opposition suppression have featured this term.
“The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) continued to stifle dissenting and critical voices and to target those perceived as a threat to the government and their family members,” Human Rights Watch argues in a bulletin.
“The space for political opposition, civil society, and media remained closed. Several high-profile critics, including opposition members and commentators using social media or YouTube to express themselves, went missing, were arrested or threatened,” Human Rights Watch said in its annual report 2022.”
Since 2017, his administration has focused on promoting investment, infrastructure development, and private sector growth. This has led to improvements in areas like healthcare, education, and technology, positioning Rwanda as one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies. One area that seems to keep giving is meetings and international conferences and exhibitions (MICE) which Rwanda has banked on to boost its tourism.
President Kagame is credited with positioning Rwanda as a hub for diplomacy and regional cooperation. He has made the country a major player in peacekeeping across the world currently ranked the 4th largest blue helmets contributor to the UN with 5,931 troops as of February, after India (6090), Nepal (6264), and Bangladesh (7269). He also entered bilateral deals with Mozambique to help them beat down insurgencies there.
Analysts say the challenge for the Kagame government over the past six years has been keeping peace with its neighbours, however. Until last year in January, Rwanda was at loggerheads with Uganda and Burundi and common land borders between these countries were closed almost three years. The closure of the major regional transport corridor border between Rwanda and Uganda- Gatuna/ Katuna in February 2019 significantly obstructed trade not only to Rwanda but also to Burundi and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Relations between Rwanda Burundi, and with Uganda have been restored but tensions remain high between Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kagame’s government also continues to grapple with job creation and enabling inclusive growth. The youth unemployment rate remains high. It decreased to 20.40 percent in the first quartre of 2023 from 29.70 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2022 according to figures by the National Institute of Statistics (NISR).
NISR figures show that Rwanda has been generating around 140,000 jobs per year since 2019 which is well below the target of 240,00 jobs annually set in the seven-year Government Programme: National Strategy for Transformation (NST1 2017 – 2024).
What are your thoughts about the achievements ?