Paul Kagame Appears Set for Victory in Rwanda Vote

Mr. Kagame, sometimes described by his admirers as the African version of Lee Kuan Yew, the architect of modern Singapore, received more than 90 percent of the vote in Rwanda’s past two elections, and he had virtually unanimous support in the referendum two years ago that allowed him to run a third time.

His almost certain re-election has raised concerns that Africa’s “forever presidents” club will gain a new member, and that other leaders in the region will feel reassured that they, too, can cling to power.

In the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, President Joseph Kabila is delaying constitutionally mandated elections so that he can prolong his 16-year tenure. In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni is still in charge more than 30 years after he came to power promising to replace his predecessor’s brutal dictatorship with democracy.

Supporters of Mr. Kagame say his extended mandate cannot be compared to that of other rulers in the region, given the great trauma of his country’s recent history: a state-organized attempt to exterminate one of the two main ethnic groups when Hutus slaughtered Tutsis in 1994.

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Voting in Kigali on Friday. Mr. Kagame appears to be hugely popular at home and has been widely praised abroad, but there is no viable opposition and opposing views are frequently silenced.

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Marco Longari/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Still, the election in Rwanda stands in stark contrast with what is happening in nearby Kenya, where citizens are set to vote next week after vibrant campaigning by candidates.

In Rwanda, a history of political repression and attacks on dissidents “stifles political debate and makes those who might speak out think twice before taking the risk,” Amnesty International wrote recently in a report.

David Himbara, who was Mr. Kagame’s economic adviser until 2010, when the two men had a falling out, has accused the authorities of manipulating statistics to make Rwanda appear wealthier and more advanced than it really is.

Rwanda has one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, expanding by 8 percent annually, according to the World Bank. But it is still very poor: More than half of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. “He says he has built an economic lion, when Rwanda is a midget in the region,” Mr. Himbara said.

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