Tuesday, 13 June 2017

‘New Blood Needed for Rwanda to Change Things’ – Diane Rwigara Speaks Weeks After N*de Photo Controversy!!

Rwanda elections. Thirty five-year-old Diane Shima Rwigara recently made headlines when she announced plans to run against Rwandan president Paul Kagame who has been in power since 2000. 

The August 4 elections will be the third since the Rwandan Patriotic Front took over power in 1994. Sunday Monitor’s Emmanuel Ainebyoona sounded out Ms Rwigara on what motivated her to stand, her little known leadership track record and the political environment in Rwanda.

Who is Diane Rwigara?
Diane Shima Rwigara is a 35-year-old Rwandan woman seeking and hoping for a better Rwanda; a Rwanda where we don’t have to be harassed and penalised for our views and opinions.

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Finance from California State University, Sacramento, and a Master’s in Accounting. I graduated with my Master’s 10 years ago.

I attended primary and high school in Rwanda, Burundi and Belgium. I went to Camp Kigali Primary School, and later joined Ecole Belge, an international school in Kagali.

My father is the late Assinapol Rwigara and mother Adeline Mukangemanyi.

You recently announced your intentions to contest for the Rwandan presidency. What informed your decision?

There are many issues in our country that no politician is willing to address. I got tired of waiting for somebody else to do it. I want to do it myself.

What are some of these issues?
Poverty (people are dying of hunger in parts of Rwanda), high unemployment rate, exorbitant taxes, etc. Forced disappearances and assassinations, but the main issue is fear of the state.

What is the unemployment rate like in Rwanda? Can you point out some of the assassinations and disappearances?

I mean the issue at the root is fear. How are we going to find solutions to all these problems if we are not allowed to talk about them; if we are too afraid to bring them up?
Diane Rwigara
Could you highlight on the unemployment and assassinations?
The government stated the unemployment rate at 2.5 per cent which of course is not true. But they later revised the number to 13.2 per cent which is still false. The unemployment rate is much higher than that.

Much of the Rwandan youth and the population in general is unemployed. Disappearances and killings is one of the many dirty secrets in Rwanda.

One of the things your critics are saying is you haven’t proved yourself to the electorate in terms of experience in leadership. Will it be your undoing?

If anything, I consider it as an advantage. Rwanda needs new, fresh blood for things to change. Our politicians have proved themselves inefficient. Besides, there is no better experience than knowing and sharing the suffering of the masse.

What is the political environment in Rwanda like?
Lack of political space in Rwanda, lack of business space in Rwanda. If you do not think, say, or do as the ruling party expects you to, there is no place for you in Rwanda. Or if there is, they will make sure it is a very unpleasant place…

But your family has been able to do business in Rwanda. How has the state, for instance, tampered or stopped you from doing business?

It is extremely difficult for Rwandans to do business or politics in Rwanda if they are not in good favour with Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF).

On August 4, Rwandans will go to polls to elect their president. And among the people you will contest against is Paul Kagame who got 95 per cent in 2003 and 93 per cent of the votes in 2010. What are your chances?

My chances are very high in free and democratic elections. I expect victory if the elections are fair and transparent.

By the look of things, how do you gauge the election to turn out when the National Electoral Commission demands that what you post on your social media should first be vetted by them?

I am hopeful that our government will very soon realise that you cannot keep people in bondage forever.

You are a critic of president Kagame. But in some quarters Rwanda has become the “symbol of successful Africa” under his watch. Aren’t being unfair to him?
The focus of this government has been to sell a positive image of Rwanda to the outside world. And they have succeeded at that. What that image does not include is the suffering of the majority of Rwandans left behind by a system rigged for the few top members of the ruling party who control all the wealth of our country.

Rwanda’s health indicators like maternal mortality rate are the lowest. Doesn’t this indicate a great improvement? The infrastructural development is also on course, not forgetting the beauty Kigali holds as a clean and green city in the region? Don’t those mentioned above show great performance?

When we use $3.10 a day used by the World Bank, 80 per cent of Rwandans are poor. Rwanda is the poorest in East Africa except for Burundi. Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Rwanda is $697. In Uganda GDP per capita is $705. In Tanzania, it is $879. In Kenya it is $1,376. So Rwanda is not Singapore of Africa, it is one of the poorest in Africa.

You will have only three weeks to campaign countrywide after nominations. How prepared are you as an independent candidate, both financially and logistically?
I am well prepared and looking forward to campaigning and winning these elections if free and fair.

Politics can at times be a dirty game. And this can be seen from the nude pictures purported to be yours that went viral on social media just a day after you announced your intentions. How far are you willing to take your political ambitions?

The fake nudes are just one of many tactics being used to silence me. But I will not be silenced. On the contrary all these prove how much our country needs change. New blood.

As things stand now, we have politicians who do not understand the idea of a political debate and who instead resort to tawdry and tasteless tactics.

I would rather we talk about the current situation in Rwanda and the serious issues at hand but my opponents seem to be more interested in making diversion because they know they cannot win the argument. They cannot dispute facts on the current situation in Rwanda.

We live in a region where constitutions have been changed to allow leaders rule beyond their constitutionally mandated terms. How do you respond to the voices from the West that calls them threats to regional stability?

Yes. They are threats to regional stability and democracy. It also shows a certain sense of entitlement from our leaders.

Plans for Rwandans
1. Political Space: I will put in place a non-discriminative political environment that is inclusive for all Rwandans. I will ensure political space for everyone; accommodate all views and opinions, especially those of ordinary Rwandans.

2. Economy: I will strive to remove the economic gap and inequality among Rwandans. All Rwandans will have equal opportunities to compete favourably for government tenders and procurement deals, regardless of who they are or their political affiliation.

3. Development: I will ensure that Rwandans are involved and are part of the decision making process, so that each one of them can contribute and play their part and at the same time understand how they are governed and how their taxes are being used. This will enable them to hold their government accountable.

4. Basic rights: I will ensure that all Rwandans have a right to a home and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare and food.

About Rwigara
The firstborn of six, she has fond memories of her father, Assinapol Rwigara, who died on February 4, 2015. He was a prominent businessman who owned a number of companies and buildings in Rwanda.

His death was shrouded in controversy. Police said he died when a truck rammed into his car, a Mercedes Benz. The family disputed the police version and said they suspected foul play. Till today they maintain that he was assassinated.
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