Rwanda oppn in up­hill bat­tle against Kagame

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

On the im­pec­ca­bly clean streets of Rwanda’s cap­i­tal, where a sky­line of gleam­ing new build­ings pokes through un­du­lat­ing hills, few have heard of op­po­si­tion pres­i­den­tial as­pi­rants Frank Habineza and Philippe Mpay­i­mana. They were only con­firmed as can­di­dates and al­lowed to be­gin fundrais­ing a week be­fore Fri­day’s cam­paign start for Augst 4 elec­tions in the east African na­tion. With lit­tle money, and only three weeks to drum up sup­port, the two men face a seem­ingly in­sur­mount­able task in chal­leng­ing the all-pow­er­ful Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame, who him­self says the re­sult is a fore­gone con­clu­sion.

“The elec­tion is over,” Kagame told thou­sands of sup­port­ers at a rally as the cam­paign kicked off, ex­plain­ing the de­ci­sion had been made when around 98 per­cent of vot­ers chose to let him seek a third term in of­fice in a 2015 ref­er­en­dum. Posters and dec­o­ra­tions in the col­ors of the rul­ing Rwanda Pa­tri­otic Front (RPF) went up overnight in time for the start of the cam­paign, while many Rwan­dans said they did not even know who the other can­di­dates were.

“We as the pop­u­la­tion have lived a long time with our pres­i­dent (Kagame). We only know what he has done, we don’t care about the other can­di­dates,” says One Love Nkundi­mana, 28, who works as a street porter. Kagame and his RPF have held an iron grip on power since over­throw­ing the ex­trem­ist Hutu regime, which per­pe­trated the 1994 geno­cide of 800,000 mainly Tut­sis.

While cred­ited with bring­ing or­der, in­fra­struc­ture and sta­bil­ity to the shat­tered na­tion, rights groups say Kagame’s regime rules through fear with sys­tem­atic re­pres­sion of the op­po­si­tion, free speech and the me­dia. “We know many peo­ple are tired of the same gov­ern­ment for 23 years but they don’t say it be­cause there has been a cli­mate of fear,” Habineza, 40, told AFP.

A dan­ger­ous jour­ney

In his starkly dec­o­rated of­fice in the cap­i­tal, Habineza is still ab­sorb­ing the fact that he is fi­nally on the bal­lot pa­per eight years since he be­gan the strug­gle to reg­is­ter his Demo­cratic Green Party. “It has been a very dif­fi­cult jour­ney and also a very dan­ger­ous jour­ney,” he said. He de­scribes po­lit­i­cal meet­ings vi­o­lently bro­ken up, sup­port­ers im­pris­oned or forced to flee into ex­ile, and his own de­par­ture to Swe­den af­ter his deputy was found al­most de­cap­i­tated shortly be­fore the last elec­tion in 2010.

Habineza fi­nally man­aged to reg­is­ter his party in 2013 af­ter re­turn­ing to the coun­try, and was a lone voice against the con­sti­tu­tional re­form al­low­ing Kagame a third term. His dis­sent is not with­out con­se­quence: In the run-up to this elec­tion he was evicted from his for­mer of­fice, and both he and his deputy were thrown out of their homes with­out warn­ing.

Op­po­si­tion a fa­cade

In a Kigali gar­den, the other op­po­si­tion can­di­date, Mpay­i­mana, ap­pears some­what dazed to be in the race at all as he sits at a ta­ble strate­giz­ing and sip­ping beer with a small team of ad­vi­sors. He was the only one of four in­de­pen­dent hope­fuls to be al­lowed to run. “I have only one week to raise aware­ness among peo­ple to sup­port me fi­nan­cially,” said the 47-year-old for­mer jour­nal­ist who spent 18 years in ex­ile be­fore re­turn­ing to Rwanda in Fe­bru­ary to run as an in­de­pen­dent. He is care­ful not to crit­i­cize Kagame but says he would like to “change the men­tal­ity of my coun­try to go with the no­tion of democ­racy”. —AFP

KIGALI: This file photo taken on Feb 4, 2017 shows Rwan­dan Philippe Mpay­i­mana speak­ing to the me­dia dur­ing his first press con­fer­ence. —AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.