Right from the start, when incumbent President Paul Kagame (RPF-Inkotanyi), Frank Habineza (Democratic Green Party of Rwanda), and Philippe Mpayimana, an independent, embarked on a countrywide campaign trail, the RPF flag bearer has pulled greater, grander and more euphoric crowds.
Everywhere Kagame goes, Rwandans show up in hundreds of thousands – estimates point to more than 100, 000 people everywhere he goes – while his opponents have struggled to attract more than 1000 at their rallies.
RPF Spokesperson Wellars Gasamagera told Sunday Times that it is obvious “we did not count as such” but estimates have it that at all sites, crowds stood at 100,000 and above.
Queried about which district has given his party’s candidate the biggest crowd, Gasamagera preferred to emphasize that “the most important for us was the mobilization level and reception of the RPF candidate's message which we could read through the enthusiastic welcome, achievements’ supporting testimonies and unwavering morale” for President Paul Kagame and RPF.
Rubavu district which he toured earlier this week had a ‘mother of all crowds’ welcome, when more than 200,000 people showed up.
Although the 2015 referendum which amended the presidential term limits proved that the RPF flag bearer was an overwhelming favourite to win next month’s presidential polls, the RPF didn’t rest on its laurels.
“Complacency is not part of RPF fashion. We continue working hard even if we perform excellently so we keep nurturing the mobilizing spirit and people feel we are really with them,” Gasamagera explained.
His party, it appears, prepared ahead of time and is also doing well as regards managing huge numbers of passionate supporters.
“We are organized. We try our best to cater for the huge numbers of Rwandans that show up – providing transport for those coming from far, medical facilities, water on site, special provisions for mothers and babies, as well as the elderly.”
“We continue with campaigns to the remaining districts, to meet as many Rwandans as possible and thank them for their support. We know that we will win based on what we have achieved together with Rwandans.”
Love for the party and its candidate is also confirmed by the hundreds of other supporters who are sacrificing their time and money to travel with their candidate, every time he sets off from Kigali.
One such supporter is Alice Kirezi, who has been at the RPF campaign trail in Nyagatare and Rwamagana districts, among other places, and is in Gakenke district today.
Every weekend, when she is free from office work, the mother of two said, she puts aside demanding family responsibilities and drives upcountry – in her own car – along with a friend, “to support my RPF candidate.”
Kirezi said: “Unfortunately, during the liberation war I was too young to contribute to the party’s effort and now that I am grown-up and able, this is just a fraction of what I am willing to offer RPF or to the best candidate I can imagine.”
The RPF campaign rallies, she said, are a celebration to reckon with.
“We had jovial moments there,” Kirezi notes, alluding to the ambiance at RPF rallies.
“We were singing and refreshing past memories of RPF, songs and their history, but also impressive is that our wellbeing was catered for. We had free drinking water, restrooms were available and clean, and there was security around us.
Kirezi was particularly heartened on seeing volunteers handing out free diapers to women with babies. “I wished I had a baby then,” she quipped, hastening to add: “I saw many mothers queuing up for the diapers.”
“Simply, it was amazing. Despite the too much heat this being a dry season, it was worth it considering our candidate's motivational speech.”
Kirezi is not the only Kigali resident motivated by Kagame and his party’s achievements that much.
Jack Hodari, also a parent and resident of Remera, is among many of those inspired enough to dig deep in their pockets for fuel to make long road trips to RPF rallies whenever they can.
Hodari said: “I am inspired by the connection the President has with the crowds. They love him and he adores them. I am inspired by the celebration of the achievements Rwandans achieved under the leadership of Kagame. Hearing the accounts of each one that is a given a chance to speak is awesome.”
During the rallies, many Rwandans speak about what they have achieved under RPF leadership and, this, Hodari says, “gives you a feeling that mere words cannot explain.”
He is now looking forward to the August 2 rally in Bumbogo, Gasabo district.
“I want to hear the success stories of ordinary citizens; about what they have achieved with the help of Kagame Paul. You just have to be there to understand the attraction I experienced.”
Members of the Diaspora Community are also partaking in the rallies and have a story to tell.
Marie-Chantal Uwitonze who resides in Belgium attended RPF rallies in Musanze, Nyabihu, Rubavu, Rutsiro, Karongi and Rusizi districts and she is still counting.
“I am very happy to have lived this campaign experience. I had never seen such crowds, but I am not surprised. Everything is bigger and better in Rwanda. I’ve participated in political campaigns in Belgium but back there you cannot even see 10% of the people I see here,” she said.
Positive energy, peaceful and joyful climate
Most fascinating, the cheerful lady who doubles as CEO of MACH Consulting, a Brussels based consulting firm working with the European Union and as president of the African Diaspora Network in Europe (ADNE) observes, is “the positive energy” Rwandans have.
“It is a joy seeing citizens of all ages, tirelessly dancing to songs that recall the achievements of President Kagame. The excellent organization, the peaceful and joyful climate.
“In some parts of Africa the electoral period is synonym of insecurity. Those who afford leave their countries during this period but in Rwanda it is a party. Rwandans are celebrating accomplishments and committing for more development goals. Everything almost got me into tears.”
People’s testimonies and the ambiance when the President arrives at a rally, Uwitonze said, all speak “for who Paul Kagame is” for Rwandans – a true leader, a hero.
Rwanda should be teaching democracy to the world, Uwitonze said.
She added: “Though I believe that in this concept, no one size fits all, the real meaning of democracy is, for me, ownership by people of their destiny. Rwandans have their future in their hands and are affirming their choice even before the election.”
“They couldn't do so if President Kagame's leadership did not have a positive impact on their lives. Impact involves getting results and spreading the passion you have for your work and inspiring people. This is exactly what Kagame does.”
Asked what inspires her to spend money and time driving upcountry to the rallies, Uwitonze said she does not need special motivation to go.
“Being a Diaspora member doesn't mean that you should be less involved in what is going on in the country. We all come here to be inspired. Paul Kagame is the most inspiring leader I have ever known. I read many books about African and international leaders but I don't think that there is any leader from the modern world who can equal him,” she said.
“He has the vision. He is consistent. He loves people and works hard to empower them and improve their conditions. That’s why we love him and want him back so that we can, together, continue the journey towards Rwanda’s sustainable development.”
History in the making
Uwitonze feels privileged to have the opportunity to be on vacation during “this special period” because, she said, what is happening in Rwanda now “is history in the making.”
She said: “You don't live this experience every year. When I get back to my host country I will have stronger arguments. Sometimes when you explain what happens in Rwanda, people don't think you are talking about reality.
“It seems like fiction to many but those who follow me, at least on social media, know that this is not a movie.”