It was a campaign trail that suddenly erupted into a nationwide party. True, no one doubted the significance of what President Paul Kagame had delivered to the people of Rwanda in his first term in office. From the north to the south, east to the west, thousands of excited Rwandans welcomed him with honour, pride and unprecedented levels of optimism for the future.
It all began on, May 15, 2010, when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) national congress endorsed Paul Kagame as the party’s presidential candidate.
And, on June 24, Kagame was the first to present his nomination papers to the National Electoral Commission (NEC).There was little to suggest that polls were around the corner. Some people have argued that Rwandans are naturally reserved, and will, therefore, mind their personal business even at the height of political temperatures.
But, while the calmness that prevailed ahead of the elections was largely maintained to the day the final results were released, Rwandans proved that, after all, they were not just observers in their own political process. Many got involved with different campaign activities when the right time came.
Kigali was a different city on July 20. As many as about 70,000 RPF supporters poured into and camped around Amahoro National Stadium in the party’s red, white and blue colours. The RPF candidate’s billboards and posters were everywhere and Kagama-mania was blanketing the capital.
At Amahoro, Kagame arrived late afternoon to a thunderous cheer, which increasingly grew stronger as he strode around, shaking and hugging the already fired-up fans. You could be forgiven to think that the event was actually a victory party, and not just the launch of a re-election bid. It was a befitting curtain-raiser to 19 days of campaign ‘party’ trail.
At the Amahoro stadium, it became clear that the party strategists had tactfully built Kagame’s platform around his own long list of accomplishments. They made sure their candidate’s speech at every rally was preceded by ordinary people’s testimonies about how their lives had tremendously changed under Kagame’s leadership.
Ordinary people also talked of widespread road networks built to serve them, more access to clean water and electricity, developmental cooperatives, peace and security, war on corruption, women empowerment, among others.
Yet the Amahoro stadium crowd would later be eclipsed by the numbers the RPF candidate drew at each of his countryside rallies, with some individual districts recording nearly 200,000.
Throughout the campaign, the incumbent rode on his seven years of remarkable achievements, only pledging continuity, and imploring the electorate not to change the “winning team”.
He used the campaigns to rally Rwandans to take charge of their own destiny and to prove the cynical world wrong.
Mid way through the campaigns, Kagame’s family joined him on the campaign trail.
A sight of him happily dancing on the stage with his wife and children gave him an image of a caring father and husband, who cherishes family values.
Kagame questioned why international critics were shifting goal posts on the definition of democracy – at one time, saying that democracy is about numbers, and then, advancing a different notion when Rwandans have turned up in large numbers to show their support to his party.
Kagame’s campaign attracted hundreds of thousands, with the northern district of Gicumbi recording the biggest turnout of – at least according to some estimates – about 200,000. On average, each of his rallies attracted more than 100,000 supporters, an enormous gathering by any standards. Running on a relatively sufficient budget, the RPF candidate traversed the country more than any of his rivals, sometimes addressing three rallies a day. He held five rallies in the three districts of Kigali City, and one in each of the remaining 27 districts.
And the numbers did not lie… the August 9 poll outcome reflected the campaign trend, with Kagame cruising to a staggering 93.08 percent of the vote. The RPF capped the campaign season in the same way they launched it; with the same impetus and enthusiasm – and at the same venue.
On the evening of the Election Day, thousands of Kagame’s fans gathered at the Amahoro stadium to wait for the provisional results, and when they trickled in, with the incumbent clearly headed for a landslide, the stadium erupted in a carnival mood as fireworks lit up Kigali skies.