The campaign season in Rwanda is off to a roaring start. Massive crowds have turned up to support their candidates.
The PSD, PL, PPC, and RPF seem to have pulled out all the stops to have their messages heard. Interestingly, the mood is celebratory, the messages serious, and campaign security invisible but totally impeccable.
It is an exciting time to be in Rwanda. In the past, political campaign seasons were synonymous with massive social disruption, rampant insecurity, xenophobia, murders, mass arrests of sections of our population, school closures and generalized mayhem.
No wonder where President Kagame has hit the campaign trail, massive crowds - and I mean massive – have turned up to see him. Bedecked in party colors they may be, but I have the sneaking suspicion Kagame would receive thunderous acclaim even by his opponents in the current campaign not least for providing an environment in which political competition can occur in peace. To any serious student of Rwandan history, what is happening is nothing short of a miracle.
True, a journalist was murdered recently. A member of the Green fraternity was killed. Amazingly, the police swiftly investigated, and the murderers have been arrested. Some have confessed to their deeds.
These criminal activities have been roundly condemned by the entire political class in Rwanda. Those who had hoped to make political capital of the murders to the detriment of the RPF and the Government of Rwanda must now rethink their strategy. However, for some, denigration of the RPF is like a religion, impervious to objectivity, facts and rationality. Otherwise how can one condemn a Government that has brought to book the perpetrators of heinous crimes in record time?
And so, Rwandans campaign and celebrate their newfound freedom. The FDU Inkingi, PS Imberakuri, Green Party have missed the celebrations, and they only have themselves to blame.
They misjudged Rwandan determination to protect their stability and contempt for divisive sectarian politics. They gravely misjudged the post genocide political landscape.
FDU chose to field a candidate who is an unabashed genocide revisionist, with continued contacts with the FDLR. Her second in command is in prison for genocide. Ms Ingabire at first defended him with her usual vitriolic language, until the facts forced her to eat her words. Any other self respecting politician would have simply resigned for such lack of judgment. That she did not is an indictment of her politics and outlook.
I don’t understand PS Imberakuri. I don’t know who the leader of this outfit is anymore. The group’s internecine warfare is endless and vicious. Now its leaders have resorted to keeping sharp knives and other assorted war paraphernalia in their offices. Maybe by the next election, they will have put their house together. I would not put my money on it though.
And then there is the so called Green Party. I have not heard them advocate for any green issues. They have an opinion on everything except on the issues they claim to espouse. They are absent in the greening of Bugesera.
They are silent in the fight to reclaim the marshlands from illegal encroachers. They were AWOL during the recent environment day celebrations, when the preservation of the rare mountain gorilla took center stage.
They are literally green in everything of importance including what it actually means to be green. They seem to believe a green party can act like the red brigades. They have been and will continue to be sorely disappointed.
The Political landscape in Rwanda is slowly but surely decanting itself. The political space is occupied by those with serious ideas and visions for the country. They will compete for the mainstream.
Then we have the margins and the parties that are struggling to lead the lunatic fringe. I suspect these will lose steam with time, either as people desert them for the mainstream, or as they further radicalize themselves and go beyond the pale.
What is happening in Rwanda is a normal political rebirth after unimaginable trauma. I remember that in the immediate post Communist period, Poland had a myriad of political parties, one of which, the Beer Drinkers Party, even managed to garner some votes. Don’t laugh. It’s true. Now of course, as Polish politics has matured, the party is no more.
I am enjoying this campaign period. It is a reflection of a maturing polity. Ethnicity and regionalism, the evil twins of Rwandan politics of yesteryear are no more and I do not mourn their demise.
I like the sight of a female Presidential candidate touring the country fishing for votes. Amazingly, this phenomenon is now so normal in Rwanda that it does not even invite commentary. The glass ceiling for women has truly been shattered. I look forward to interesting debate and the to and fro of political competition.
For bringing all this to pass and for giving Rwandans like me reason to hope and celebrate mature political competition, you have my vote, President Kagame.