At Issue: Ethnicity, Violence, and the Narrative of Genocide: The Dangers of a Third-Term in Rwanda

by Ryan Goehrung


Rwanda’s upcoming August 2017 presidential election provides a unique opportunity for the international community to reflect upon the past and contemplate the future of a nation that has struggled with intense ethnic factionalism for much of its history. In particular, incumbent President Paul Kagame’s bid for a third-term is cause to consider the merits and dangers of his continued rule. While Kagame is often hailed for his role in ending the 1994 civil war and ushering in an era of stability and economic growth, in recent years his regime has faced widespread criticism for rampant human rights abuses, repression of civil liberties, growing income inequality, clandestine involvement in regional conflicts, and suppression of political opposition. Despite strong evidence for many of these allegations, to date Kagame and his ideologues have escaped any major international censure by virtue of his brash indignation toward any indictments and his willingness to utilize the memory of genocide to deflect criticism. However, closer analysis of the Kagame government reveals that in many ways it is recreating the economic, social, and political conditions that have in the past led to the proliferation of ethnic tensions and heralded outbreaks of violence. Therefore, it is a critical juncture for the international community to consider intervention prior to the 2017 elections to compel more substantive democratization characterized by ethnic power-sharing in order to forestall any potential resurgences of violence and ensure that Rwanda continues on its path towards reconciliation and stability.

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Ryan Goehrung is an adjunct professor at Naropa University and an independent researcher currently on contract with One Earth Future Foundation. His primary research interests involve efforts to increase political representation of women and other marginalized groups in democratic systems as a means of improving governance outcomes.

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