Sunday, September 14, 2008



Sunday, September 14, 2008
Story by: Agencies
Sunday Times

When Rwandans go to the polls tomorrow to elect members of its lower house of Parliament, there is little doubt that the outcome will be favourable to President Paul Kagame’s ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). In the last elections in 2003, the RPF and its coalition partners took 78.3 per cent of the vote and 40 of 53 elected seats.

But as well as victory Kagame wants legitimacy, and political credit – both of which, he believes, can be earned by promoting women in politics. Under the constitution, a further 24 seats are set aside for women, two for youth, and one for the disabled — Rwanda’s outgoing Parliament had the highest percentage of female members in the world (48 per cent).

Kagame, the driving force of Rwandan politcs, will try to build on the international credibility this liberal political environment gives him, with 35 out of 80 candidates on the RPF coalition list this year being women. He has good reasons for earning the credibility. In spite of his government’s economic competence (GDP is expected to grow by 8.5 per cent this year, and Rwanda its developing itself as an ICT hub and tourist centre. Kagame faces criticism on a number of fronts.

He is attacked at home and abroad over political openness — the RPF and its partners dominate Parliament, the largest opposition party is in exile and dissent is fiercely cracked down upon. He faces popular opposition to controversial land reforms, in a country where subsistence farming is widespread. Lastly, he faces legal pressure over the RPF’s alleged role in the shooting down of the former President’s plane in April 1994 — the event which triggered the genocide.

Moreover, the civil war, genocide and the effects of HIV/Aids have taken a disproportionate toll on males, meaning that there are simply more women voters today. Fielding more female candidates should garner more women’s votes. All signs are that the RPF strategy will pay off, keeping Kagame on track to pursue his economic and political reforms through to his own re-election campaign in 2010.