Freedom in the World
Rwanda received a downward trend arrow due to a severe crackdown on opposition politicians, journalists, and civil society activists in the run-up to a deeply flawed August 2010 presidential election.
In the lead-up to the August 2010 presidential election, the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) tightened its control over civic and political life. The government seriously increased restrictions on press freedom and party activity, while extralegal violence had a chilling effect on dissent. Journalists were threatened and assassinated, and some 30 newspapers, journals, and radio stations were suspended. All serious challengers for the presidency were prevented from running, leading to incumbent Paul Kagame’s reelection.
Belgian colonial rule in Rwanda, which began after World War I, exacerbated and magnified tensions between the minority Tutsi ethnic group and the majority Hutu. A Hutu rebellion beginning in 1959 overthrew the Tutsi monarchy, and independence from Belgium followed in 1962. Hundreds of thousands of Tutsi were killed or fled the country in recurring violence over the subsequent decades. In 1990, the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) launched a guerrilla war from Uganda to force the Hutu regime, led by President Juvénal Habyarimana, to accept power sharing and the return of Tutsi refugees.
Rwanda is not an electoral democracy. International observers noted that the 2010 presidential and 2008 parliamentary elections, while administratively acceptable, presented Rwandans with only a limited degree of political choice. The 2003 constitution grants broad powers to the president, who can serve up to two seven-year terms and has the authority to appoint the prime minister and dissolve the bicameral Parliament. The 26-seat upper house, the Senate, consists of 12 members elected by regional councils, 8 appointed by the president, 4 chosen by a forum of political parties, and 2 representatives of universities, all serving eight-year terms. The Chamber of Deputies, or lower house, includes 53 directly elected members, 24 women chosen by local councils, 2 from the National Youth Council, and 1 from the Federation of Associations of the Disabled; all serve five-year terms.