It’s an uphill bat­tle for Rwanda’s op­po­si­tion

African Independent - - NEWS - FRAN BLANDY

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

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