As if the upcoming elections in Rwanda weren’t already fraught with the kind of worries, Paul Kagame, the country’s president since 2000, now faces a political challenger - one that may shake up the country’s political landscape forever, John Bavoso writes for Diplomatic Courier.
By John Bavoso for Diplomatic Courier
Her name is Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza and she is the Chairperson of the Unified Democratic Forces (UDF), a body comprised of several different Rwandan opposition political parties. The party has many supporters within Rwanda in addition to expatriates living in Europe, the United States, and Canada.
There are a few factors that make Ms. Ingabire's candidacy controversial. First is her prolonged absence from the very country she's now looking to run. Ingabire left Rwanda in the early 1990s to pursue her education in the Netherlands and, after joining an international accounting firm, stayed there until very recently, when she made arrangements to return and begin her campaign. She's been active in the Dutch branch of the Republican Rally for Democracy in Rwanda since 1997, but many contend that she lacks the on-the-ground experience needed to be Rwanda's next President.
Secondly, there is the issue of her gender. While more than 50 percent of Rwanda's parliamentarians are female, none of these women have yet risen to the rank of Head of State. In a recent interview, Ingabire brought her gender to the forefront of her campaign, saying, "Because women abhor violence, I will ensure that there are more women in power… I will set up special programmes for women and promote development projects that will help them gain financial independence."
While any student of feminist theory knows the dubiousness of claims of the inherently pacific nature of women, the women of Rwanda have played a vital role in the country's economic and political recovery and it would be interesting to see how the government would change under female leadership.
By far the most controversial aspect of Ms. Ingabire's campaign, however, is her take on the Rwandan Genocide. President Kagame's strategy for rebuilding Rwanda and forging a united national identity has been to suppress and downplay ethnic divisions within society. Ingabire, in contrast, famously espouses the opinion that the events of 1994 represented not just genocide against Tutsis, but a double genocide that also targeted Hutus.
Kagame's administration has chosen to focus on this position, with Prime Minister Bernard Makuza saying of her tactics, "Rwandans have long since done away with such fear and they cannot allow anyone to lead them into the politics of anarchy that takes them back while destroying what they have built." Ingabire's supporters have countered that Kagame's emphasis on her alleged ethnic divisiveness is an attempt to avoid competition and thwart the democratic process.
It will be a long road to Rwanda's elections in August, but the international community should pay close attention, as what happens in the next eight months may be even more telling of the state the country's political system than the election results themselves.