Parliamentary elections this week saw Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front cruise to victory, but calm was disrupted by a pre-poll grenade attack in central Kigali.
Kigali - Two explosions rocked Kigali this weekend, days before Monday's parliamentary elections. Both incidents occurred at Kicukiro Centre, a popular market in Rwanda's capital. Last Friday, as voters hurried home for the weekend, the first blast killed one and injured fourteen others.
The next day, there was a second explosion at the Kicukiro Centre. As a heavy shower early on Saturday afternoon drove shoppers and Boda Boda drivers for cover underneath an overhang in front of the market, a muffled explosion cut through the din of the rain. At first locals and Boda Boda drivers joked that the sound was merely fireworks, but through the rain's patter shrieks confirmed the worst.
As the deluge slowed to a drizzle, a burnt smell wafted through the air and traders carried the wounded out of the market. After one youth was carried from the centre, a woman emerged, struggling to run in the muddy street, screaming "My son, my son". Think Africa Press saw one killed and at least three injured being carried from the scene following the blast. It was later confirmed that one person was killed and eight others were injured by the explosion.
Within minutes of the blast, Rwandan security officers and soldiers dressed in camouflage sealed the approaches to the market. An army officer in small sunglasses and a neat green beret took charge of the scene. At one point he appeared to kick a handcuffed man in a lavender jacket to the ground in front of the market's main gate. Witnesses to the blast were not allowed to leave the area for over an hour.
Later in the day, as the situation calmed, police on hand explained to reporters that the second explosion was likely caused by an unexploded grenade used in the first attack. Saturday's high winds and rain somehow triggered the detonation of this grenade. Indeed, eyewitnesses to Friday's attack had told the local media that the attacker had thrown "something" onto the roof.
"It's a bit embarrassing for the police if they claim they didn't check the roof on Friday night for evidence," stated Richard Julius, a worker in the market. The blast tore a small hole in the roof of the market; a visible reminder of the carnage as stalls meekly reopened later that day. Rwandan Police announced the arrest of one suspect, in addition to the three arrested following Friday's blast.
It wasn't me
No political group has claimed immediate responsibility for either of the attacks. These latest bombings came after other grenade attacks struck Rwanda in March and July. Three people were killed and 40 injured in those assaults. This year, Rwandan authorities sentenced 19 people to prison, for terms between five years to a life sentence, for their involvement in those incidents.
Although the Rwandan government has linked these attacks and a series of provocative border incidents in recent weeks with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel group based in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), it remains unclear who actually orchestrated them.
Elsewhere, a festive mood
The explosion on Saturday came on the final day of campaigning ahead of the parliamentary poll. Indeed, many on hand at the scene of the explosion wore shirts declaring support for the RPF, as well as the systemic opposition groups, the Social Democratic Party and the smaller Liberal and PS-Imberakuri parties. Whilst these opposition parties staged rallies in major Rwandan cities, including Kigali and Buye, in many rural areas the RPF was the only party campaigning.
The explosions failed to disrupt the tame but festive mood in Kigali, which saw political parties holding rallies, passing out t-shirts and chartering buses to circle the city with microphones blaring out political slogans.
Typical of the mood was a campaign closing dinner, held on Sunday night in the modest Eminence Hotel, for the supporters of RPF's campaign in Kigali's Nyarugenge district. The singing of political anthems gave way to a round of traditional songs and a small barbeque dinner. The district's mayor and parliamentary candidates gave support for the RPF, in which the district leading parliamentary candidate Berkana Eujin stressed the importance of elections for strengthening of democracy. While other speakers at the event also spoke on the importance of maintaining security within the country, Musafiri Ley, who also campaigned for the RPF in Kigali, declined to speculate on whether he would seek constitutional changes that would allow him to seek another term, as did other party leaders at the event.
Although the opposition parties' tallies were slightly higher in these polls than in the last set of parliamentary elections, to many the elections were already a foregone conclusion when scores flocked to cast their vote on Monday. Many who are unhappy with the rule of the RPF and President Kagame choose to voice their concerns in ways other than the ballot box.
Nicholas Kato, a resident of Kigali who has returned to Rwanda from Uganda, where his parents fled in 1960, says he was displeased with the direction with which the country is headed. He says that, "Sure, Kagame has brought us security, but at what cost? His rule has been direct and overbearing. I don't like his style or policies." Rather than vote for an opposition party however, Kato has decided to abstain parliamentary elections.
Indeed, voters who spoke to Think Africa Press prior to the blast and on election day itself listed the maintenance of security as their most pressing concern. Bera Uwamaria explained that, "the success of this country is based on our stability." "That is the reason the economy here is better than our neighbours in the DRC," she says, lifting her chin in the vague direction of Rwanda's border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Although many are concerned with Kagame's record on human rights, some are content with the perception that the regime is efficient and that there is a lack of corruption. "Just a few years ago these streets were filthy; the government is really trying to improve the lives of the people," explains Fred Ngiruwonsanga. These claims are also, to some extent, backed up international statistics. Rwanda was ranked 52nd out of 185 countries in the World Bank's ease of doing business index for 2013. The country was placed third-most competitive economy in Africa and the economy expanded by 8% last year.
Indeed, the response to Saturday's bombing demonstrated the efficiency of the Rwandan state. As witnesses reported Saturday's blast on twitter, government agencies tweeted back that help was on the way. Moments later, as if on cue, ambulances arrived at the scene.