August 5, 2010 / 9:45 AM / 9 years ago

SPECIAL REPORT-In Rwanda Inc., an election exposes repression

* Pre-election violence threatens economic gains

* Investors split on significance and extent of repression

* Kagame expected to win election easily

* Split in ruling elite portends future problems

By Hereward Holland

KIGALI, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Just before noon on Saturday June 19, a black BMW carrying Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa and his wife Rosette turned into the driveway of their home in Melrose, a smart suburb in a wealthy northern suburb of Johannesburg.

Football fans across South Africa were looking forward to three big World Cup matches later that day. In Johannesburg, the sky was pale blue, cloudless.

As the Nyamwasas’ driver slowed the car, Rosette says a stranger approached and tapped on the passenger window. The man then drew a pistol and shot Nyamwasa in the stomach.

Despite his injury, Nyamwasa leapt from his car and wrestled with the gunman. The driver joined the struggle and a second shot was fired. When the weapon jammed, the attacker ran to a getaway car which sped off.

Carjackings are common in South Africa, but Nyamwasa was no ordinary victim. A former Rwandan army chief and liberation hero, he fell out with President Paul Kagame a dozen years ago.

The animosity between the two men has grown and in February Nyamwasa fled his homeland for South Africa. From the safety of exile he accused Kagame of corruption and using violence to silence opponents — allegations that Kagame has denied. Still, the speculation began almost as soon as news of the shooting broke: had the Rwandan regime’s wrath extended all the way to South Africa?

Sixteen years on from Rwanda’s genocide in which up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, the country has become a darling of western donors and investors alike. Kagame, a bush war veteran turned civilian autocrat, has helped rebuild the central African nation, propelling its economy to more than 6 percent growth. He’s clamped down on corruption and attracted companies such as Starbucks, South African telecoms giant MTN and Gulf investment firm Dubai World, to invest.

As Rwandans prepare to go to the polls on August 9, though, rights groups say political repression is on the rise. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and some western diplomats believe Kagame’s strong-handed leadership style and refusal to permit the birth of a critical opposition now threaten the very stability and growth he has nurtured.

The president is widely expected to win re-election. But Rwandans, and the foreign investors who have applauded his leadership over the past few years, have begun to ask whether he’ll deliver on his promise to democratise the country. Can he emulate his idols in Asia and stage-manage Rwanda’s growth into an IT and logistics hub by 2020? Or is he just a strongman with good PR skills?

In the hours after the attack on her husband, Rosette Nyamwasa had few doubts about which way her country was headed, or who was responsible for the attack. “He (Kagame) must have been behind this,” she told reporters. “I don’t have proof -… but we’ve been harassed for such a long time.”

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Rwanda in graphics:

GDP growth vs. Sub-Saharan Africa:

here

Corruption perceptions index:

here

Analysis:

Should rights concerns worry investors? [ID:nLDE66R14A]

Interview:

Who’s behind Rwandan killings? [ID:nLDE67321Z]

Rwanda risk box: [ID:nRISKRW]

Brief profile of President Paul Kagame: [ID:nLDE66Q1CD]

Timeline of Rwanda since the genocide: [ID:nLDE65M1AQ]

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KIGALI CRACKDOWN

Rwanda says the idea it might be behind the shooting is “preposterous”. It blames Nyamwasa for a string of deadly grenade attacks in Kigali, the capital, earlier this year, and wants South Africa to extradite him to face charges of backing a plot to topple the president.

Whoever’s responsible, violence in the run up to the presidential poll has Rwandans worried. Clashes between Hutus and Tutsis have marked every election in Rwanda since independence in 1962. The birth of multi-party democracy in the early 1990s brought a new surge of radical ethnic politics that, in part at least, helped spawn the genocide.

This time around, racial divisions are echoed by a growing rift within the ruling Tutsi elite. Kagame, say western diplomats in Kigali, is trying to sideline possible threats to his power.

Two newspapers — closely linked with Nyamwasa — were suspended in April for insulting the head of state, sowing discontent in the army and causing panic. That same month, a human rights researcher was asked to leave the country over irregularities with her visa. Kagame also ordered several senior military officials sacked and reshuffled the army.

Police have arrested two aspiring presidential candidates and detained opposition supporters for holding an illegal rally. Victoire Ingabire, a forthright Hutu politician, was arrested in April for denying the genocide, propagating genocidal ideology and collaborating with a terrorist group.

Then there are the killings. The body of the vice president of the Democratic Green Party was found partially beheaded and dumped near a river on July 14. In late June, a journalist was shot dead hours after publishing a story linking Rwandan intelligence to the attack on Nyamwasa.

The government says the killings are unrelated and it is unfair to link them. But, observes one Western diplomat in Kigali, “the sudden outburst of murders makes that increasingly implausible.”

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