It’s an uphill battle for Rwanda’s opposition
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 the August 4 presidential polls 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 is expected to win a third term in office with ease.
“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 governing Rwandan Patriotic Front 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,” said Habineza, 40.
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 decapitated shortly before the last election in 2010.
Habineza finally managed to register his party in 2013 after returning to the country, and was the lone voice against a 2015 constitutional reform that cleared the way for Kagame to run again.
His dissent is not without consequence: in the run-up to this election he was evicted from his former office, and he and his deputy were evicted without warning from their homes.
In a Kigali garden, the other opposition candidate, Mpayimana, appears somewhat dazed to be in the race at all as he sits around a table strategising and sipping beer with a small team of advisers.
He was the only one of four independent hopefuls to be allowed to run and is worried there hasn’t even been time to print or put up campaign posters. -AFP