12 November 2009

Rwanda: No New Ideas From Chairman of New Party in Rwanda

The man who a couple of weeks back held a political party conference that was marred by violence says he wants to be president come the 2010 general elections.

Frank Habineza, chairman of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda. (photo Timothy Kisambira)

This young man, Frank Habineza who has begun a party called the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda says his party has come to do what the RPF has "failed to do".

Most of what he says however does not indicate he has many new ideas. Most of what he has to offer are what he parrots from "green" movements overseas; specifically he talks of "ecological wisdom" where we are supposed to use our natural resources properly and to safeguard our environment. Yet that is ground that already is well-covered in Rwanda. He talks of respect for diversity, social justice, sustainable development and so on.

Those are things that as far as we are concerned are being taken care of around here, we inform the man during our interview with him in our offices. "Please tell us something new; something different; what you have to offer that isn't already on the table," I ask him.

Habineza says Rwanda has a long way to go to achieve press freedoms and other basic freedoms like freedom of worship, freedom of speech and of movement.

One begins to suspect this fellow's originality. "How about Umuseso and Umuvugizi," one of us asks. "Are they not free to publish whatever they want?" Indeed they are, he agrees. So where is the lack of press freedom? Habineza says because those two newspapers Umuseso and Umuvugizi and a few others like them publish the most extreme criticisms of government they have to be brought in line."

Our mouths are open. So how would he bring newspapers "in line" then without being himself accused of curbing media freedoms? No satisfactory answer.

The man states that all media organs in the country have to find "some middle position" so that those that appear too pro government no longer are to be and those that are too critical are no longer so.

This is becoming funny. Has the Chairman of the Rwanda Democratic Green Party ever heard of something called an editorial line? Would he begin micro-managing the day to day running of the media in the country? How about the dozens of reckless journalists in this country who will publish anything and who no one will touch because media watchdogs in the West will raise a ruckus if a single one of them is dragged to court for the most legitimate reason? Habineza, it is apparent, is out of his depths when he discusses media issues

And how can he say there is no freedom of worship in the country? He says Jehovah's Witnesses have been beaten up because they do not salute the national flag or sing the national anthem.

This is getting bizarre. We had no idea Jehovah's witnesses are in such problems in the country. Just the other day groups of them came to our office looking very peaceful and handing out pamphlets to every passerby. They do not look in any kind of fear.

Frank Habineza was born 32 years ago in the small town of Mityana in Uganda. We ask him what experiences he has that make him feel qualified to run for national office.

The Butare University Graduate says he has been involved in different projects from his days at the university which he joined in 1999 and graduated from four years later.

As his resume indicates, his has worked for the government as a personal assistant to the minister of lands and environment, been on several boards of environment bodies and has basically run around trying one thing after the other.

As he puts it, after attending a Global Greens conference in Brazil this year where he together with other two people were elected to represent Africa he thought it was time a "green" political party was formed in Rwanda.

However being an environmentalist does not turn one into a political guru.

In his interview with The Rwanda Focus, Habineza's criticisms of the RPF strike one as those of a man who really is only motivated by a chance to get into some position of power other than any concrete proposals to address national problems. At one point time he criticizes the government for not properly handling the re-distribution of land in the Eastern Province.

What then is to be done? We ask. "Everyone should get land because it cannot be for only a few rich people," he says. But there are very many poor people with land and many of them have it after it was re-distributed from the rich and the powerful, Shyaka Kanuma, chief editor of this newspaper points out.

Habineza again cannot explain his objections.

The DGPR chairman goes on to claim that human right record in Rwanda is poor. To support this assertion he says that people are being jailed without trial or court. We agree with him but up to a point. We then ask questions: "Mr. Habineza as someone who, unlike Human Rights Watch, lives in Rwanda can you pretend you do not know the challenges our judicial system faces, challenges mainly to do with lack of enough trained judges and other personnel? Can you honestly claim that you or anyone else would solve problems like that overnight, or in a few years?" No convincing answer.

The Chairman of the greens in Rwanda indeed has no convincing answers why he is in politics.

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