Sitting outside his grocery shop in the Nyabugogo slum in Kigali, Rwanda, in June, Francis Nduwimana described his longing for a change in leadership in the presidential election on August 4. “We are tired of Kagame, but we cannot express our views openly,” said Nduwimana, an ethnic Hutu, in his vernacular language of Kinyarwanda. “If you criticize him, you will be accused by the government agencies of dividing the country, and you will either be imprisoned or killed. ”As Rwandan President Paul Kagame — an ethnic Tutsi who has been in power since 2000 — runs for another seven-year term, many Rwandans, particularly ethnic Hutus, share Nduwimana’s fear. They see a government that is crushing dissent ahead of the election. And they worry that their country is turning into a one-party state: Following a 2015 referendum to extend term limits, Kagame can now legally remain in power until 2034. Seventeen years is a long time for one leader to run a country, but not everyone in Rwanda is ready for change. Many would like to see Kagame in power as long as possible.
During a recent campaign stop, business almost came to a standstill in Kigali after thousands of Kagame’s supporters turned up, waving placards and wearing T-shirts emblazoned with his face. Party supporters cheered and danced to the tune of the newly released songs by the local artists praising Kagame for his achievements during his term in office.
“Kagame is our savior, and we love him so much. He is a man who has sacrificed himself for his nation and his people,” said Charles Bakanibona, an ethnic Tutsi, during the rally. “I need him to rule this country forever, because he is a man of peace.”
Barely a generation after the 100 days of violence during which extremist Hutus murdered more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus — often by hacking them to death with machetes — political opposition in Rwanda still breaks down largely along ethnic lines. Many Rwandans, particularly Tutsis, are grateful for the vital role they believe Kagame played in ending the massacre in 1994, when he led the Tutsi troops of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which defeated the Hutu government responsible for the killing.