KIGALI (Reuters) - A tough disciplinarian, Paul Kagame, 52, has been the main power in Rwandan politics since his rebel army ended the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people in 1994. The August 9 election is the second time he has sought a popular mandate.
Here are a few key facts on the Rwandan president:
— Kagame, born in October 1957 in the western Rwanda region of Gitarama, left the country as a young child when around half a million fellow Tutsis fled following a bloody Hutu-led revolution that sparked ethnic violence.
— Kagame’s family settled in Uganda. Kagame later helped Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni come to power, served in the Ugandan army, and underwent further military training in the United States.
— From 1990 he lead the military arm of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPF) in its war against Rwanda’s Hutu-controlled government. The death in October 1990 of the RPF’s charismatic leader Fred Rwigyema, a close friend of Kagame’s, had threatened to tear the rebel movement apart. Kagame is credited with single-handedly rebuilding the army into a 14,000-strong force.
— Colleagues told of tough days hiding out in the Virunga mountains, and said Kagame’s soft public manner belied his strength as a military commander.
— The genocide in 1994 started when President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, and neighboring Burundi’s President Cyprien Ntaryamira were killed in an attack on their plane. In the 100 days of violence that followed, Hutu death squads killed Tutsis and moderate Hutus. About 800,000 people were killed.
— The RPF seized control of Rwanda after driving the 40,000-strong Hutu army and more than 2 million civilian Hutus into exile in Burundi, Tanzania and Zaire, which was later renamed Democratic Republic of Congo.
— In July 1994, a new government was sworn in with Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, as president and Kagame as vice-president and defense minister.
— Kagame was widely seen as the real power in Rwanda. In 2000, the national assembly unanimously elected him president, the first to come from the minority Tutsis since independence from Belgium in 1962.
— In 2003, having never faced a public vote, Kagame won a presidential poll with 95 percent of the vote.
— Kagame has faced foreign criticism for his involvement in the war in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. In 1996 and 1997, Rwanda backed a rebellion that overthrew President Mobutu Seso Seko’s regime. Two years later, it become embroiled in a new war that involved at least six countries.
— As president, Kagame has focused on military and economic co-operation with Rwanda’s neighbors to the north and east, in part to secure access to the coast and regional markets. Under his leadership, the East African Community signed a common market protocol to boost trade.
— Citing the world’s failure to stop the 1994 slaughter, Kagame has often batted away criticism. Rwanda was named the world’s top reformer in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2010.
— In March 2010 Rwanda said it planned to repay France a 3-million-euro debt, marking the resumption of economic cooperation between the two countries after four years. French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Rwanda in February 2010. The two countries had broken off ties in 2006 after a Paris judge accused Kagame and nine aides of shooting down Habyarimana’s plane in 1994, the event that triggered the genocide.
— At home Kagame has been criticized for trampling on freedoms. He has enjoyed a free hand in Rwanda, building up the army to assert his authority and using anti-genocide legislation to clamp down on opponents.
— A gruesome murder this month of a senior member of an opposition party, an attack on his former army chief and the slaying of a critical journalist have all alarmed diplomats.