On 4 August 2017, Rwandans head to the polls to elect a president. They will choose between Frank Habineza, Philippe Mpayimana and the incumbent Paul Kagame. Most observers expect a landslide victory for Kagame. But there’s controversy around the election because of a 2015 constitutional amendment that allowed him to seek a third seven-year term followed by two further five-year terms. The Rwandan election is being watched closely by observers concerned about an erosion of democracy in the country. While some of these concerns are valid, they must be qualified against Rwanda’s historical and developmental realities. At best, Rwanda can be characterised as an illiberal democracy, but this should not detract from the current regime’s successes. Nor is it a suggestion that Kagame shouldn’t lead. Under his tenure the country has enjoyed year-on-year socio-economic progress. In most situations, this would secure electoral victory.
… For a country to be considered a democracy its politics must be competitive, participatory, and fair. Simply holding elections is not enough. While elections in Rwanda are fair, with a low likelihood of pre-electoral violence or flagrant electoral malpractice, the Rwandan political system is neither participatory nor competitive.
Kagame is the certain victor because the relevant institutions are stacked in his favour. For one, the other candidates lack sufficient exposure and funding to conduct a successful campaign. They were only confirmed as candidates and thus allowed to begin fund raising on July 7th.
Meanwhile, the RPF is extremely well-resourced thanks to its private business armCrystal Ventures Ltd, which is one of Rwanda’s largest investment companies. In effect, Kagame is the only candidate with the funds to campaign nationwide.