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Social media stays on as Rwanda goes to the polls

Social media stays on as Rwanda goes to the polls

Rwanda's National Electoral Commission (NEC) says more than seven million voters will have the opportunity to utilise 2 340 polling sites in today's election, which has so far remained without incident despite fears of an internet shutdown.

Many of those voting today and the 44,362 Rwandans living abroad that voted yesterday, according to NEC figures, have shared their experience of the voting process through social media using hashtags that include #RwandaDecides and #RwandaElection2017.

Concerns about a looming internet shutdown during Rwanda's election were addressed by the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) eight weeks ahead of the event after the NEC sent out alerts indicating that it may regulate social media leading up to-and during the election.

Anthony Kulamba, spokesperson for RURA, issued a statement on behalf of the communications regulator at the time rejecting the NEC's warning that it would "adjust social media regulations based on public feedback" as part of a "mission is to ensure free, fair and safe elections".

"Following the recent statement by NEC regarding handling of social media during elections in Rwanda, RURA would like to inform the public that in accordance with the ICT law and media law, the National Electoral Commission has no mandate to regulate or interrupt the use of social media by citizens," said Kulamba, who added that Rwandans have a right express themselves on social media and other ICT platforms, while respecting existing laws.

Election results

The government of Rwanda has announced that the preliminary results of the election will be issued by the end of the day on voting day.

Current President Paul Kagame from RPF Party is facing a challenge from Frank Habineza of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, and independent candidate Philippe Mpayimana for the position of president.

John Mukum Mbaku, non-resident Senior Fellow at the Africa Growth Initiative says Rwanda's 2017 election is a significant one to observe.

"Rwanda is a key player in political stability and economic growth and development in the African Great Lakes Region. President Paul Kagame has improved stability and economic growth in post-genocide Rwanda and many believe that another term in office will allow him to move the country, and perhaps the region, to middle-income status and stable democracy. Then again, many international organisations, including Human Rights Watch, believe that Rwanda under Kagame has evolved into a one-party state. There is a growing fear that Kagame, despite his economic achievements, has become increasingly intolerant of political opposition and has used 'genocide prevention' as a strategy to limit competitive politics in the country."

In the meantime Rwanda's regional counterpart Kenya will mark the end of election campaigns tomorrow, 48 hours ahead of the start of voting according to an announcement from the country's Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

Concerns have also been expressed about that integrity of that election after IEBC ICT manager Chris Musando was found dead this week in what has been described by officials as murder.

Musando led the implementation of new technology called Kenya Integrated Elections Management System (KIEMS) that will be used in next week's election.

Investigations into his death are ongoing.

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