Paul Kagame was re-elected on Friday with 98% of the vote as president of Rwanda. There was no suspense in who won and no credible challengers to the presidency. Kagame’s long reign in Rwanda has been marked by greater stability and strong economic growth at the expense of civil liberties within the country. But, there is no denying that Rwanda has made remarkable progress as a country since one hundred days of genocide in 1994 in which the major world powers declined to intervene despite a general awareness of the situation.
Kagame is seen as a liberator by many in the country, both for his leadership as president as well as the fact that soldiers under his command helped end the 1994 violence. He has also been praised and formed friendships with world leaders like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.
Kagame visited the Vatican this past spring to have an audience with Pope Francis, where we outlined elements of his next term – with zero doubt at the time that he would, in fact, be reelected. One of those elements is an improved relationship with international organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch who oppose restrictions on political freedom in the country. The International Observer previously discussed the dual-nature of the regime – in which peace and prosperity is accompanied by a lack of freedoms many in the west take for granted. So long as the 1994 genocide is in the memory of those living, some lack of freedom may be necessary to prevent speech and actions reigniting sectarian discord.
Kagame has accomplished much while president. If he is able to leave behind a transitioned country with greater freedoms in addition to its stability, he will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the great African leaders of history.