|IN A NUTSHELL: MUST READ|
Paul Kagame Wins Third Term As President of Rwanda: The Rwandan presidential election is being held today, August 4. When you receive the Pnut in your inbox at 7 am Eastern Time this morning, it will be 1 pm in Rwanda, and polls will still be open for several more hours. But, as you can see in our headline, we are announcing his victory as we go to press. Kagame has been president for 17 years now, and he could rule for 17 years more, until 2034. In 2015, a controversial constitutional reform was passed that gave him the right to run for a third seven-year term this year and two more terms after that of five years each.
Kagame himself admitted that today’s vote was a ‘foregone conclusion,’ stating at a campaign rally in July: “Some people have said that the result of the election is a foregone conclusion. They are not wrong.” Whether that is just confidence that he is the best candidate with the most support, or something much more sinister, is up for debate. His two opponents in the race are independent candidate Philippe Mpayimana and Democratic Green Party candidate Frank Habineza.
Kagame is one of Africa’s most polarizing leaders. To some he is an “incorruptible and visionary leader” who brought security and development to a nation shattered by civil war and genocide, while others see a ruthless authoritarian propped up by a “gullible and guilty international community.” After becoming president, Kagame built up Rwanda’s infrastructure and a new national identity. The capital city of Kigali is filled with clean roads, traffic lights, fast internet, and shiny new hotels. However, human rights organizations allege that the pristine urban order is partly the result of brutal police operations, and opposition activists claim Kagame runs a “police state,” jailing journalists and assassinating opponents, even overseas. While economic growth has been consistently high, others question the credibility of the statistics provided as evidence.
Observers do note that Kagame’s popularity among Rwandans is undeniable and that he would probably win any poll that was free and fair. Diane Shima Rwigara, whose plans to run against Kagame in the election were thwarted, says that while Kagame has been good for the country in the past, Rwanda needs a new president to lead the nation into the future: “After the genocide, the country needed a strong man as a leader to pull the country together. But that way of leading us is no longer serving us–on the contrary, it is suffocating us.” Like Rwigara, opposition candidate Habineza concedes that Kagame’s rule has yielded benefits, but says those are now outweighed by the challenges the country faces: “One thing we know is that he brought peace and stability to Rwanda, but not democracy. He was a former rebel leader, so he has been ruling the country like a soldier.“
|NUTS AND BOLTS: SHOULD READ|
Mr. President, Is This Really Making America Great Again?: Okay. Can we just set aside the leaking issue itself (important), and any national security arguments related thereto (also important) … and just focus on the content of what was leaked, and what it suggests about the wisdom and emotional state of the current American president? Because, you know, Holy Moly.
What was obtained and published Thursday morning by The Washington Post were full transcripts of the January phone calls between Trump and President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia just one week after Trump’s inauguration. In January, reports said there was tension in the conversations with both men; maybe Trump was just eager to fulfill campaign promises such as immigration reform. After all, Trump promised to ‘build that wall’ on the southern US border and make Mexico pay for it, plus he intended to undo all the bad deals Obama had made, like the one to consider accepting up to 1250 migrants currently being detained by, and prevented from entering, Australia.
But until yesterday, we really had no idea just how bad the conversations–with our allies, no less–were. The full accounts arguably show the president (after boasting about the size of his rallies and election victory) first using flattery, which turned into badgering, then ramped up into threatening, and finally dissolved into whining. In other words, for President Trump, building relationships with foreign leaders apparently paled in comparison to how the policies being discussed connected to his campaign promises, and how they would affect his domestic political standing and make him look back home. Trump actually ended his conversation with Turnbull by snapping: “I have had it…I have been making these calls all day, and this is the most unpleasant call all day. Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous.”
|KEEPING OUR EYE ON|
Mueller’s Not Messing Around: Special Counsel Robert Mueller empaneled a second grand jury several weeks ago, this one in Washington DC where his office is located. Undoubtedly the DC courthouse is more familiar and convenient for him than the one in Alexandria, VA that federal prosecutors had been using. It also suggests investigators continue to aggressively gather evidence in Mueller’s investigation, which covers not only possible collusion between Russia and Trump campaign and transition associates, but also whether Trump himself obstructed justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey. Mueller also hired another top lawyer (number 16), making his team a formidable collection of legal talent with expertise in prosecuting national security, foreign bribery, fraud, public corruption cases, arguing matters before the Supreme Court, and assessing complicated legal questions.
Canadian Crossing Conundrum: Canada is facing more asylum seekers this year than it is accustomed to handling, thanks to a less hospitable southern neighbor in the US and a massive loophole in the pact that helps govern the situation. The Safe Third Country Agreement states those seeking asylum and declare such at official border crossings will be denied entry and sent to declare in the country in which they first arrived. Conveniently, however, if they cross at unofficial border sites, this rule does not apply. While Canada is normally fairly discerning with regard to refugee entries into the country (education and society-benefiting skills go a long way), it has been forced to accept 4,300 asylum seekers so far in 2017 due to the porous border. 3,300 of these have gone to Quebec, 90% of which are from Haiti.
Many refugees don’t know if they will be able to stay in the US, given the political state of affairs surrounding undocumented individuals in the lower 48. And who can blame them? Even the Obama administration, much more welcoming than the current regime, started deporting undocumented Haitians as recently as September 2016. Montreal is the preferred destination of Haitians seeking asylum, and the city’s Olympic Stadium is being used to house many as they await their immigration hearings. Canada is loath to upset its big trading partner to the south, or to imply that the US is not a safe haven for refugees. While the land of the maple leaf muses on what to do, the longest international border in the world beckons the “poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
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