Rwanda's President Paul Kagame is almost certain to win a second seven-year term in elections Monday. He's credited with turning the country around after the devastation of the 1994 genocide. But critics say there's a dark side to Kagame's rule that prevents many Rwandans from showing anything but support for his government. Correspondent Nick Wadhams reports.
DAVID BARON: Rwanda's President Paul Kagame is running for a second term in next week's election. He's almost certain to win. Rwanda was almost a failed state after the genocide in 1994. And many at home and abroad credit Kagame for turning the East African nation into an economic success story. But critics say there's another side to Kagame and his government. They point to some troubling signs. There's been a crackdown on the press and a few of Kagame's political opponents have turned up dead. Nick Wadhams reports from the capital Kigali.
NICK WADHAMS: The symbolism seems almost too good to be true. Under a billboard featuring Paul Kagame and the slogan ?actions speak louder than words,? workers lay down asphalt to widen a main road leading into Kigali. Its projects like this that have made Kagame's government so popular. Unlike in most other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the roads here are good and the streets are clean. The government has stamped out most corruption and doubled economic output over the last six years. Now, Kagame's Rwanda is touted as an African success story. I meet Sam Dusengiyumva at a downtown coffee shop. He lost his parents and all four of his siblings in the genocide. A survivor's fund paid for his education. Now Dusengiyumva is the country director for the US-based One Laptop Per Child program.
SAM DUSENGIYUMVA: You know what I feel proud of is that we went through hell and the inbox way of thinking was that Rwanda is not going to make it. Rwanda? No way, this is a failed country. But now at least, now Rwanda has proven the contrary. People think you know, these people can never live together. After killing one million? Actually we are living together.
WADHAMS: At a rally, a crowd cheered wildly when Kagame takes the podium. Kagame is undoubtedly popular, but his critics ask just how much of that is genuine. They suggest people think that if they don't show support for the ruling party, they might be punished. Critics point to a worrying pattern. Several newspapers and radio stations banned in recent months. No true opposition party allowed to register ahead of the vote. And a string of killings and attempted killings of independent journalists, former Kagame allies, and exiled politicians.
FRANK HABINEZA: The ruling party is so powerful it will still win the elections. So I really don't understand why they are so threatened.
WADHAMS: Frank Habineza is the leader of Rwanda's Green Party, which wasn't allowed to register. The party's vice president, Andre Rwisikera was brutally murdered last month.
HABINEZA: We have a parliament here that cannot question the executive. So we have institutions that are not working very well. We have one institution which is a function of [INDISCERNABLE] institution of the presidency.
WADHAMS: Kagame and his party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, vehemently deny any role in the recent killings. Kagame says outside forces are trying to stir chaos. And RPF spokesman Senator Wellars Gasamagera says there was good reason to ban some parties and newspapers. They didn't obey the law.
WELLARS GASAMAGERA: If we become lenient with the people who want to do just whatever they want, most of the time even going beyond or transgressing existing laws, laws must be respected.
WADHAMS: Two hours south of Kigali, students at the National University of Rwanda play basketball in the afternoon heat. The students tell me their country's progress masks a fear of speaking out. One student, who asks not to be identified, says the ruling party has established a network of spies.
MALE SPEAKER: There are students who are members of RPF and who can hear some bad things and report it to their representative.
WADHAMS: To help me understand that fear, the student takes me down the road, to the New Sombrero bar. He refuses to go inside. When I go in, the place is mostly empty. So why the fear? The student tells me the bar was owned by the assassinated Green Party official. He tells me people are afraid to be seen there because it might look like they support the opposition.
MALE SPEAKER: They can say that the other party has got followers. So it's up to you to compare why this bar, which is near the road, which is very busy, is somehow quiet. You can visit other bars and you compare to yourself.
WADHAMS: That seems to exemplify the situation in Rwanda. While the government points to massive rallies and economic success, opponents and rights advocates say the pervasive fear shows that Kagame is a more ambiguous figure than the forward-thinking modernizer he is seen as in the West. For The World, this is Nick Wadhams, Butare, Rwanda.