Rwandans vote today as Kagame poised for third win

A voter shows off voter ink on his thumb after voting in 2013 parliamentary elections. File

"I don't think any of them will do better than Paul Kagame because we have seen for the last few years that he has been on the changes", she said. Incumbent Paul Kagame has been in power for nearly two decades.

"It's a taboo to criticize or oppose Kagame", said Faith Nyiramiza, a political science student at the University of Kigali. It can do no harm to have your citizens witness the world lauding you as a visionary leader.

UNIDENTIFIED KAGAME SUPPORTERS: (Chanting in foreign language). Those who might have been able to challenge him have been removed or frightened away.

She told CNN that when she announced her campaign to run, she was immediately targeted by the country's ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led by Kagame, who has been the country's leader since 2000.

A former military strongman praised for turning around the country's fortune, Kagame enjoys huge popularity in the country, which has seen strong economic growth in recent years and improved standards of living. He was pardoned in 2007. She ran again in 2010 alongside another woman, Victoire Ingabire, a Netherlands-based Hutu lawyer who returned to Rwanda to stand in the elections.

Kagame soon became the darling of an worldwide community deeply ashamed at having stood by during the genocide, even as his RPF was accused of killing tens of thousands of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo while pursuing genocide perpetrators.

The other candidate running against Kagame, Habineza, called his campaign an act of "hope" despite the obvious risks.

Kagame's critics have ended up jailed, forced into exile or assassinated.

Is this the price to pay for the development miracle?

It's also not just political repression.

Kagame is running again after millions of Rwandans voted in favour of constitutional changes to extend his mandate in a December 2015 referendum the opposition and the global community deemed as "non-democratic". He says in Rwanda, ethnic tensions are still fresh after the genocide. "This is not where Africa is and certainly not Rwanda". Rwanda's trade deficit is growing and annual per capita income is also lower than Kenya and Tanzania, he says.

Police officers were deployed at all polling centers to ensure security and safety before, during and after the polls, said Inspector General of Police of Rwanda Emmanuel Gasana on Thursday, adding that all were set for smooth and safe elections.

Even when it comes to political freedoms in Rwanda, some organisations prefer to buy in to the official line. "Democratic culture" pertains to "the necessary legislative, social and policy frameworks to support and protect multi-party democracy, open debate and peace". Council workers hose them down with detergent every night.

Donors and global organisations could argue that good statistics are hard to come by in many parts of Africa. They trekked from the hills surrounding this village in northern Rwanda.

PERALTA: Kagame is much more than a head of state.

A constitutional amendment in 2015 allows Kagame to stay in power until 2034 if he pursues it.

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