12 - 06
Rwanda will be going to the polls this August, even if the outcome is pretty much a foregone matter. However, the inevitability of the outcome isn’t enough to deter Diane Rwigara, a young lady with one persistent question: How long are we going to remain silent?
Hers has been a turbulent introduction to politics, for, a day after declaring her candidature in May, someone posted nude photos, allegedly hers. The authenticity of the photos has been questioned, with claims that they are manipulated images. She too has dismissed the photos as fakes meant to smear her.
If the photos were meant to take the winds out of her sails, they have achieved the exact opposite.
“I will not stop. I am going to continue with my preparations. The incident made me stronger, more resilient and determined to continue with this cause,” she said in a recent interview.
The cause for now is to spark public conversation on matters Rwandans see but hardly ever raise their voice.
“People disappear, others get killed in unexplained circumstances and nobody speaks about this because of fear. We must end this silence.”
This is a statement that touches a nerve, for her father died in 2015 in circumstances the family disputes; the official report claims that Assinapo Rwigara, a long-time supporter of the ruling party, died following a traffic accident. The family however claims that he was suffocated by stuffing him in a body bag before placing his body at the scene of the traffic accident.
In a nation where people are loath to publicly express opinions against the government, her public statements are the tip of the spear attempting to realize a Rwanda with greater public freedoms, for beneath all its impressive growth, Rwanda is ‘Not Free’.
“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,” is one such stinging barb, clearly aimed at President Paul Kagame, president since 2003, and foreseeable leader till 2034.
After all, Pres. Kagame won the 2003 elections with 95%, the 2010 elections with 93%, and as things stand, the upcoming elections seems about seeing by what margin he will win the presidency this time round.
Pres. Kagame was meant to leave office this year, but a constitutional amendment in 2015 (‘the people wished it’) allows him to add a third 7-year term, followed by two 5-year terms.
Diane Rwigara is running as an independent and that comes with its own set of challenges.
First, she has to get at least 600 signatures, distributed such that the minimum from each district is 12 voters, and at least one of these voters in each district must append her/his address- remember, Not Free.
Getting at least 600 signatures shouldn’t be so hard in a nation of more than 11 million, but then again, the results of the 2015 referendum suggest otherwise.
As was reported, out of millions asked to support the amendment, only about 10 people were opposed to it.
So presumably, the number of people who won’t vote for Pres. Kagame are a handful, and may not even constitute a sufficient population to endorse her candidature.
Besides getting these signatures, she is also expected to self-finance her campaign; this may not be a big problem, as the family isn’t exactly wanting for money, but, with the Kigali city council moving against the family properties- a hotel destroyed here, some other buildings repossessed there- there may be hiccups should this onslaught be ramped up.
Despite these and other challenges, the quest must be completed.
“What RPF [the ruling party] 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.”