Why Kagame won 99% | How Rwandans reacted to the west’s war against the symbol of their nation’s success
Kigali, Rwanda | ANALYSIS | ANDREW M. MWENDA | Last week, Paul Kagame won presidential elections in Rwanda by 98.6%. Historically, such margins have only been won in countries like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which was under the tight grip of a tyrant. To many observers armed with this experience, the election in Rwanda and Kagame’s margin of victory does not have to be analyzed in its specificity. It is only explained by citing the experience of other nations. Therefore, to many commentators, Kagame’s margin of victory does not reflect anything unique and specific to his country. Instead it only confirms the prejudice that Rwanda today is the same as Sadam’s Iraq.
But this approach of analysing Rwanda through the experience of others ignores and/or denies the country’s history and its social and political context. Anywhere else, such analysis would be rejected out of hand as pedestrian. But because Rwanda is a poor African country, academics and editors in the rich nations of Western Europe and North America (supported by a section of African elites) don’t really care about the quality of the analysis.
So anything that feeds preexisting biases and prejudices about Africa (and Rwanda specifically) finds minds ready to swallow it.
Yet Rwanda is actually not the first country to have a president elected democratically by such a huge margin.
In 1961, the departing British colonial administration organised an election in which the Tanzania African National Union (TANU) led by Julius Nyerere won 70 of the 71 seats in parliament, the other seat was won by a TANU member who ran against his own party’s official candidate. In 1962, Tanganyika held a presidential election in which Nyerere won by 99.2% against Zuberi Mtemvu of the African National Congress who got only 0.8% of the vote.
Even in recent years in the Western world such unusual upsets have happened. On May 5, 2002, President Jacques Chirac of France defeated his opponent, Jean-Marie Le Pen, by 82.2% to 17.8% of the vote.
It is rare in Western democracies for a candidate to win with such a margin. Yet no analyst relied on the experience of Sadam’s Iraq to arrive at the conclusion about Chirac. Instead commentators relied on the specific circumstances in France to explain such an unprecedented majority.
— The Independent (@UGIndependent) August 5, 2017
This same happened in the U.S. election of 1984. That nation’s presidential elections are based on electoral colleges. In that election, incumbent president Ronald Reagan got 525 Electoral College votes against his Democratic rival, Walter Mondale’s, 13 votes i.e. got 97.6% against 2.4% – it was unprecedented. No one claimed Reagan had rigged the vote or the U.S. system had become Saddam’s Iraq. The specific circumstances that had made this seeming impossibility possible were dissected, analysed, and explained. In the 1820 election, James Monroe won 231 Electoral College votes (99.9%) against John Quincy Adams, who got only one vote. Should we, therefore, conclude from this that in that year America was under the tight grip of a tyrant?
Therefore, any analysis of Rwanda’s 2017 election must begin with the specific context of Rwanda. And if anyone is to arrive at the conclusion that Kagame’s margin of victory proves that Rwanda today is akin of Sadam’s Iraq, that conclusion should be drawn from the facts obtaining in Rwanda, not simply by analogies to another country. This article is an attempt to present that specific Rwandan experience, or at least a slice of it, to explain the outcome.