6 February 2017

Rwanda: Ex-Journalist to Face President Kagame in August Poll

Photo: Cyril Ndegeya/The East African
Phillipe Mpayimana addresses journalists in Kigali.

For many, Phillipe Mpayimana is unheard of in the Rwandan political sphere and he is often laughed off as someone looking to build his CV, but the former journalist -- now an author -- is counting his chances in the August presidential polls.

The 46-year old is not deterred by comments mocking him or writing him off on news sites following his expression of interest to vie for the country's highest office. He says those laughing at him exemplify the very reason he came out to contest lack of political maturity in the country.

Mr Mpayimana, who has lived in exile since 1994, mainly in France and Belgium, arrived in Rwanda last week, to begin the process of fulfilling the requirements to submit his bid ahead of the August 4 polls.

Political maturity

"I want to contest as an independent candidate. I have no political party," Mr Mpayimana told The EastAfrican in an interview, adding that he is confident he will get the 600 signatures from across the country that are a requirement for all candidates.

Mr Mpayimana says his candidature is driven by the need to cement political maturity in Rwanda and push for political and intellectual debate. He believes that the current government has done its part hence it should hand over the mantle to new blood.

"The current government has done a lot but Rwandans should know that political power should move from one person -- to another, which is a sign of political maturity.

"It is also a right of any Rwandan to vie for a political office as provided for by the Constitution. I want to prove that this is possible. It is a healthy practice, which Rwandans should get used to," said Mr Mpayimana.

Even though he is an amateur in Rwandan politics and has no known political track record, Mr Mpayimana says that he is the "alternative face" of Rwandan politics because people are used to only limited number of names and faces.

Though his work is largely unknown in Rwanda, Mr Mpayimana claims that he has earned the credentials to vie for office.

"I have done a lot of work, including several books about Rwanda's social cohesion and political dynamics, which means that I understand the country's political landscape," he added.

Mr Mpayimana has worked as a journalist previously and currently writes books-- including and does research. He holds two Masters degrees and has authored four books; one on democracy in Rwanda and another one about the life of Rwanda refugees.

Despite fleeing Rwanda in 1994, Mr Mpayimana doesn't seem to have cases to answer back home. However, a vernacular tabloid site Rushyashya, claims the presidential contender trivialised and denied the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in some of his books.

Mr Mpayimana worked with Radio Agatashya, which was operated by humanitarian groups helping Hutu refugees in DR Congo refugee camps after the 1994 genocide.

He becomes the third person to express interest to run against President Kagame in the August polls, following similar declarations by Frank Habineza, the president of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, and controversial catholic priest Thomas Nahimana.

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