Polls open in Rwanda as Paul Kagame heads for third term

Rwandans cast their vote in Kampala on August 3, 2017 ahead of the country's General Election on August 4. PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI | NMG 

Rwandans began voting Friday in a presidential election widely expected to return strongman Paul Kagame to office for a third term.

Some 6.9 million Rwandans have registered to vote in the poll which pits Kagame, 59, against two little-known candidates seen as unlikely to pose any threat to his Rwandan Patriotic Front's tight control of the country.

At a school in the capital, Rwandans waited patiently to cast their ballots, many of them praising Kagame for his leadership since he halted the 1994 genocide.

"We don't lack anything with him (Kagame). He was sent by God," said farmer Marie-Rose Nyiraguro, 53.

She said she "doesn't even know the names" of the two other candidates, Frank Habineza of the Democratic Green Party — the only permitted critical opposition party — and independent candidate Philippe Mpayimana.

Kagame was just 36 when his rebel army stopped extremist Hutu forces who slaughtered an estimated 800,000 people — mainly minority Tutsis — and seized Kigali.

He served first as vice-president, although he was widely considered the de facto leader of the country and was appointed as president by lawmakers in 2000.

Rwanda's turnaround

He was first elected to the post in 2003 and again in 2010 with more than 90 per cent of votes.

He is credited with a remarkable turnaround in the shattered nation, which boasts an annual economic growth of about seven per cent, is safe, clean and does not tolerate corruption.

However, rights groups accuse him of ruling through fear, relying on a systematic repression of the opposition, free speech and the media. Few Rwandans would dare to openly criticise him.

Habineza and Mpayimana complained that they were only allowed one week to fundraise, and three weeks to campaign before the election.

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