Current president of Rwanda Paul Kagame is running his third presidential election since the genocide was arrested in 1994. He has won international praise and much donor support not only for leading the country back from the brink but also for promoting public health and gender equality.
Rwanda under Kagame regime has the world’s highest percentage of women in Parliament; girls and boys are equally likely to be enrolled in primary school, and rates of maternal and child mortality are among the lowest in Africa.
An opinion in The Nation however, describes how some women suffer politicaly, while opposition aspirants face threats up to jail, exile and death. The opinion is made by Claude Gatebuke, a Rwandan genocide survivor and executive director of the African Great Lakes Action Network (AGLAN); with Helen C. Epstein, American writer and teacher at Bard College. He is the author of Another Fine Mess: America, Uganda and the War on Terror, forthcoming in September 2017.
According to writers, Amnesty International reports on Rwanda shows, this rosy picture masks a terrifyingly repressive program of which many courageous Rwandan women have been victims. For over two decades, attacks on opposition supporters, journalists, and human-rights activists have created a climate of fear that renders the election a travesty.
During the 2010 campaigns, an opposition-party vice president, Andre Kagwa Rwisereka was killed, a journalist Jean Leonard Rugambage was shot dead, Bernard Ntaganda, with opponent ideas was jailed, while Victoire Ingabire, is still serving a 15 year prison sentence for “divisionism.” Her crime was daring to mention that there were Hutu and Twa victims of the Rwandan civil war, as well as Tutsis, and calling for reconciliation and recognition of all victims of Rwanda’s past, regardless of ethnic background. Dr Theoneste Niyitegeka who was presidential candidate in 2003 is also in jail, but due to genocide related matters.
In these elections 2017, five candidates declared their intention to run against Kagame. A sixth, Thomas Nahimana, remains in France, having tried entering into Rwanda twice but in vain.
Diane Rwigara, main threat
The biggest threat, until she was recently disqualified, was Diane Shima Rwigara, daughter of the late Assinapol Rwigara, a business mogul and one of the top financiers of RPF.
The Rwigara family parted ways with the regime after Assinapol’s death two years ago. The government claims he died in a car accident. However, the Rwigaras say that he was assassinated after winning a series of court cases against the government, frustrating the government’s efforts to seize their assets.
The family says that on the day he died, his wife and their other daughter, Anne, arrived on the scene to find him still alive with a fresh, bleeding wound on the back of his head. As the family continued to cry foul, Kigali City Council destroyed the Rwigara hotel as a dangerous building.
When Diane Rwigara announced her candidacy, she caught the government off guard. She fearlessly condemned the large number of disappearances and mysterious deaths, particularly of dissidents and opposition supporters.
Rwigara became an instant sensation; crowds of journalists followed her everywhere. Nude pictures of hers, were soon spread throughout social media—later said by Rwigara and various Rwandan media outlets to have been fabricated.
In order to qualify for the election, each candidate must gather 600 signatures of support and the National Electoral Commission disqualified three of Kagame’s five opponents, as they failed to gather the required 600 signatures.
As Rwigara toured the country gathering signatures, she finally submitted more than 1,000 signatures in addition to all of the other requirements, but her candidacy was still rejected: only 572 signatures were qualified.
A week after her candidacy was rejected, Rwigara launched the People Salvation Movement—Itabaza (itabaza means “a call for rescue” in Kinyarwanda), a campaign to bring basic needs including water, electricity, hospitals, and schools to all Rwandans and to promote freedom of speech and open debate about government performance.
Diane Rwigara isn’t the only woman victim under repression. Victoire Ingabire languishes under her 15-year prison sentence, Agnes Uwimana Nkusi and Saidati Mukakibibi, two journalists who wrote articles criticizing the regime, served four years and three years in prison respectively. “It’s widely expected that Rwigara will also end up behind bars”.
Writers conclude that Kagame will beat his hand-picked opponents on August 4, but “this does not mean the country is stable or that its women are safe”. If Rwanda’s international donors really want to help women, they must do more to support democracy and human rights for Rwandans of all genders. https://www.thenation.com/article/rwandas-elections-and-the-myth-of-womens-empowerment/
All from The Nation, by Claude Gatebuke and Helen C. Epstein. However, Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwandan minister of foreign affairs twitted on Friday, that she is sooo tired of the ignorant bazungu, so called white people and some non white who write backwards and rubbish about Africa, asking whether they’are mandated to do so, “but by who”.
She was reacting to another opinion from Brian Klaas, published in Washington Post some hours earlier. The same opinion was critising African leaders who overlast on power, calling the West to contribute on democratic life in Africa.
The reaction of Mushikiwabo was supported by some people on one hand, and rejected by others on the other hand.
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Jean Baptiste Karegeya
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