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Opinion: Rwanda needs stronger democracy

Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan also require more freedoms.

Rwandan supporters of President Paul Kagame
Supporters of Rwandan President Paul Kagame celebrate his election victory at the Amahoro stadium on Aug. 10, 2010 in Kigali. (Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — President Paul Kagame’s victory last week was the latest in a series of elections in this part of the world that have little to do with democracy.

National elections in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Sudan were all foregone conclusions where ordinary voters had very little choice over who would rule them.

In Rwanda, two opposition parties were blocked from running their candidates while the three opponents that Kagame faced were part of his ruling coalition. Not much choice there: Kagame took 93 percent of the vote.

Earlier this year, in Ethiopia, the various opposition parties had been so bludgeoned into submission (and riven with internal divisions) that they stood no chance at all against Meles Zanawi’s monolithic party machinery. Meles’ party took more than 99 percent of the seats.

And in Sudan, the northern and southern ruling parties swept the boards in their respective regions through a combination of rigging, intimidation, opposition boycotts and financial muscle. Once again, little choice.

Under the cover of elections, Africans are experiencing a covert rolling back of their hard-won democracy. What is also being revealed is the duplicity of Western governments that talk the talk of
democracy but offer no resistance to creeping autocracy.

When Kagame, Yoweri Museveni and Zenawi led guerrilla armies to overthrow brutal regimes in Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia respectively, Western governments eagerly courted this “new generation” of African leaders who would recreate their battered countries as modern democracies.

Yet each leader has since failed to live up to that promise, instead holding power firmly in their grip with the generous support of foreign donors including the United States. None has yet handed over power or shown any signs they intend to.

Kagame has been Rwanda’s de facto ruler since 1994, Museveni has held power since 1986 and Meles has ruled since 1991.