Rwanda Rocks the Vote, Kagame Rocks the RPF

Its election time in Rwanda and the public image of the world’s favorite development playboy is splintering to reveal that the RPF – Kagame’s political party in power – is fairly unstable.

Back story goes like this. A few weeks ago, ex-Rwandan Army Chief, Lieutenant General Kayumba Nyamwasa, who decided to go on an indefinite vacation in South Africa after a falling out with Paul Kagame, was shot. South Africa’s Foreign Minister claimed that ‘foreign operatives‘ were responsible for the assassination attempt. Their statement essentially claimed that it was Kagame in the billiard-ball room with the candlestick. After some backdoor politicking, they then denied everything they said and Rwanda has done everything in their power to refute involvement in the assassination attempt.

Behind the back story, however, it’s a bit trickier. Kayumba was initially exiled because of his involvement in starting a new political party that challenged Kagame’s authority. Debate crumbled into violence and Kayumba is thought to be responsible for this season’s grenade attacks in Kigali. Kayumba’s support within the Rwandan Army has been growing over the past six months – before and during his exile – among a splinter faction disenfranchised with the powers that be. This is fairly serious. Rwanda has seen its fair share of civilian opposition parties emerge, and, well, be put in jail. However, the power in Rwanda rests with the army. If the army fragments, so goes Kagame’s ability to rule with an iron fist and reinforce the security and intelligence structures he’s built throughout the provinces.

So what’s a semi-autocrat to do? Word on the street in Kigali is that Kagame has been purging the army of Kayumba-supporters. This follows the government’s recent strategy of “removing” political dissidents. However, opposition groups within the army and civil society run deeper than their leaders. The political tectonics of this year’s election has revealed the depth of these fissures.

Kagame’s development-as-always agenda seems to buckling beneath the weight of the politics it masks. Rwandans see beyond the image that international organizations and European governments so often laud – the fragmentation of the army and the burgeoning opposition is testament to the fact that Rwandans are dissatisfied with the regime’s policy choices and governance.  Worse, Kagame’s own RPF party is fracturing.

Elections provide insight into RPF cohesion and political disenfranchisement in Rwanda. However, they will come and go. The fundamental question is how Kagame decides to address these problems in the coming month.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Rwanda Rocks the Vote, Kagame Rocks the RPF

  1. Great post, Grant. I’d add that it’s not just about how Kagame decides to address the situation, it’s also about what Kayumba and many others decide to do. They seem to be convinced that violence is the only way to get Kagame out, and there are real fears that they may end up fighting it out in North Kivu.

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