If one is to believe the reports of a ‘climate of fear’, this article would be written in a dark basement for an underground publication that has been banned by the authorities and now has to be passed hand to hand to other dissents like myself who do not have the luxury of freedom of speech.
At this very moment agents of the government would be running amok intimidating the population and killing people they believe to be enemies of the state.
The reality of course is that you are probably reading this while you wait to take your turn to participate in the Presidential poll. Some in the international media, human rights organisations and individuals with an axe to grind would like everyone to believe that the next apocalypse is happening right now.
It is human nature to grasp at the spectacular especially when its bad news. Indulge me for a moment while I review a few things that many have not considered. This is the first presidential election that involves the Liberal Party (PL) and the Social Democrats (PSD).
While PL and PSD have existed since 1991, they have never participated in a presidential election due to the rise of the politics of ethnic extremism during President Habyarimana’s regime.
They then chose to tie their fortunes with the RPF in the last election, no doubt judging that they were not yet prepared to field their own candidates.
This is only the third time in Rwanda’s history that there has been a Presidential election and the second following the enactment of the 2003 Rwanda constitution. Both times, President Kagame and Senator Mukabaramba have been candidates although the senator pulled out at the last moment in 2003.
This is also the first election that I have seen posters and t-shirts of candidates other than the incumbent. The state media organs have managed to stick to the letter of the law by providing equal broadcast and print space to all candidates and the rallies have been exceptionally good natured with non of the negative politics that characterise a lot of campaigns.
I may be wrong but I did not hear any candidate attack the credibility, character or record of another candidate.
Naturally, for many observers this is all unacceptable. Where are the ad hominem attacks? Where are the scandals revealed? Why are there no reports of squabbles from within the campaign teams? How is it that there is no whiff of shady campaign financing?
It is not that Rwandans are more virtuous than everyone else but it is rather a product of our history and circumstances. The nation appreciates that divisive politicking is the highway to hell and Rwanda would know all about that place having spent a hundred days in it.
Additionally, plural politics in practice is something that is relatively new in Rwanda’s experience, all parties are playing this by ear.
It may also explain the excitement of the voters who still find the experience of voting for their leader quite novel.
The campaign season has been fascinating to watch from this particular armchair. Today is the day you decide who was most persuasive. Never mind the seasonal scaremongers out there.
Oscar Kabbatende is a lawyer