7 May 2017

East Africa: Will Rwandan Rwigara Break Glass Ceiling?

Photo: Cyril Ndegeya/The East African
Diane Shima Rwigara at a Press briefing in Kigali on May 3, 2017 when she announced her plans to run for Rwandan presidency in the August 4 polls.

Dar es Salaam — In Rwanda Diane Shima Rwigara is a household name. Being a business woman and daughter of a tycoon Assinapol Rwigara, who died in Febraury 2015, she is well known in her mother country.

But on Wednesday she dominated headlines in East Africa and beyond when she declared her intentions to challenge Rwanda President Paul Kagame in August elections.

She announced her candidature as an Independent candidate on Wednesday. She would become the first female to run for the presidency in Rwandan history. The only other woman who tried to run, Alvera Mukabaramba, withdrew her candidature in 2003.

In her Manifesto, the 35-year-old said she will work to eradicate poverty, champion free speech, and provide health insurance for all Rwandans.

The accountant and businesswoman has been a critic of President Kagame as well as the ruling party RPF for a longtime.

Announcing he intentition to challenge the strongman Ms Rwigara criticised the ruling RPF party saying it was behind the 2015 referendum that led to the suspension of term limits in Rwanda.

"When time comes for leaders to leave power, they get excuses to stay and then say that it is the people who are asking them to continue to lead. This is a bad habit across the continent," she said.

"RPF has failed to tackle poverty or to provide security and justice. What RPF has failed to do in the last 23 years, they cannot do it in the coming years. As a president, I will ensure that I deliver on all these."

Ms Rwigara is the daughter of deceased Kigali tycoon Assinapol Rwigara, who died in a road accident in February 2015.

Accounts of his death became controversial after the family cited foul play and petitioned President Paul Kagame to call for investigations into the manner in which he died.

Rwigara, who once bankrolled the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front distanced herself from the RPF after the death of her father. She says his death was an assassination, but police reject her allegations and say the cause was a road accident.

An influential industrialist, her father made his fortune in real estate and played an important role financing the RPF in the 1990s.

"I am not here to talk about my father," said Rwigara in a press conference in Kigali, admitting however that his death was "one reason" that had prompted her to run.

"We all know here... people... disappeared or... killed," she said, citing reports from human rights organisations.

The only people who are given a voice are the people praising the regime," she added.

In 2014, Human Rights Watch said there was a wave of disappearances in Rwanda, in a report that was rejected by authorities.

In a February Ms Rwigara lambasted Paul Kagame's evil regime. How long are we going to be silent? She asked. Corruption isn't breaking the law, breaking the law is speaking out against corrupt leaders.

She scolded Rwanda's failing authorities. She stated that Rwandans live in dire poverty that scores of people are starving, they face injustice, their lives are constantly threatened, and above all they are muzzled and cannot express their concerns and grievances.

In her own words, Diane Rwigara said: "How long are we going to be silent? Corruption isn't breaking the law, breaking the law is speaking out against corrupt leaders. I am not a politician and I do not represent any organization.

I am standing here in front of you as a Rwandan woman wanting to make known problems Rwandans are facing. Those tasked with this duty have failed the people, they do not speak up on behalf of the people as they should. We Rwandans are living in dire poverty, food is scarce, people are starving, there is corruption and rampant injustice, constant threats to our lives by authorities and the security apparatus," she told the Press.

Ms Rwigara joins a growing list of independent candidates including former journalist Phillipe Mpayimana, and controversial Catholic priest Thomas Nahimana who have expressed interest to run against President Kagame in the August 4 polls. However, in order to be allowed to contest by the National Electoral Commission, they face a daunting challenge of gathering at least 600 signatures from 30 districts -- a minimum of 12 signatures and at least an address in each district.

At the same time, the electoral body has warned candidates vying for presidency against fundraising to raise campaign money.

The commission will receive nominations from candidates from June 12 to 23. A provisional list of qualified candidates will be announced on June 27.

The names of qualified candidates will be published on July 7, a week before campaigns kick off.

Others in the race for the presidency is Frank Habineza, the president of the Green Party as well as a candidate from the Social Democratic Party, who is yet to be named.

President Kagame is, however, largely expected to win a seven-year third term following the constitutional amendment that allowed him to seek re-election at the end of what would have been his second last term.

In 2003, Alvera Mukabaramba of the Party of Peace and Concord was the first Rwandan woman to run for the presidency but withdrew on the eve of the elections and joined forces with President Kagame who swept the polls. She tried again in 2010 but lost to President Kagame.

A constitutional amendment passed last year means Kagame is able to stand for another seven-year term. Rwanda is regularly praised for its stability and economic performance.

With agencies.

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