Rwanda oppn in uphill battle against Kagame
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