- Rwanda poll. Dr Frank Habineza is the party president of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda. He is one of the three candidates in Rwanda’s presidential elections slated for August 4. Below are excerpts from an interview he had with Asuman Bisiika.
Rwanda’s democracy has been tagged as complicated. For instance, campaigns for the presidential elections will only take two weeks
The campaign period is 19 days. It is a very short time to cover 30 districts. This requires a lot of work and resources because it means a candidate needs to cover at least two districts per day.
It is also not fair. But of course it favours the ruling party whose senior members are local leaders. We needed a campaign period of at least 45 days. With 45 days, we would have included engaging the Diaspora in our programme.
You were officially declared a presidential candidate on July 7. But campaigns began on July 14. What have been doing during that period?
We have been harnessing our manifesto which will be made public on July 14. We have also been mobilising resources and working with our district structures to prepare the ground. We are planning to conduct campaign rallies, social media and other means during the campaign period.
Some observers say the electoral programme, regulations and requirements are intended to stifle the opposition. What do you say about this observation?
The electoral laws in place don’t favour opposition parties and independent candidates. We called for political and legal reforms last year but all our demands were refused.
President Paul Kagame always chides the opposition in Rwanda as having no alternative programmes for national development. What is your political party’s national vision?
That’s not correct. We have alternative policies and programmes. What is lacking is sufficient political space to articulate our ideas and present them to the public.
Our activism has been reduced to issuing press releases and speaking to the media. This, of course, is not the best way of doing things for a political party. But we can’t hold public rallies. Then there is the problem of the local media favouring RPF.
For instance, we would like to run a government that puts emphasis on food security and safety, reduction of unemployment and promote economic growth without environmental suicide.
We would like to establish a progressive taxation system that includes reduction of VAT by 20 per cent and introducing a single combined tax regime. We would like to establish the national security council and ensure a better civil-military relations model that allows civilian supremacy over the military.
The Democratic Green Party of Rwanda promises to re-enforce the rule of law and re-instate the supremacy of the Supreme Court over other judicial organs. When we come to power, we shall make sure that decisions of the Supreme Court are not subject of an appeal to the ombudsman (inspectorate of government).
Aren’t those alternative views to Kagame’s? The point is that we have ideas but the political space to articulate them is lacking.
With Kagame’s lengthy CV, what is Dr Habineza (as an individual) bringing to the table as a national leader?
President Frank Habineza will champion the respect of all fundamental freedoms as enshrined in the constitution and promoted by international human rights instruments.
Kagame won the last two elections with more than 90 per cent of the vote. What makes you think you can win this election?
Kagame won with those percentages because there was no opposition party in the race. In 2003, he stood against independents and in 2010 he stood against allies who have now fully backed him.
This time around, it is a different ball game.
Elections in Rwanda are always sure wins for Kagame. Is it because he is popular?
No. It is because people had no alterative candidates and Kagame’s portrayal of himself as the only person who can lead Rwandan. He will be surprised on August 4 when we defeat him.
To what extent do you think Kagame’s hold on the military is a factor in this election?
It’s true he has influence on military. But we now have a professional army. The Rwanda Defence Force is a professional army which has transitioned from a rebel group to a peoples’ force. Therefore, I have no doubt that when I win I would work very well with our military.
You appealed to president Kagame to stop the amendment process yet you knew the amendment was intended to allow him to be a candidate in this election. How did you expect him to respond to your petition?
First we petitioned the parliament and it didn’t work out. Then we petitioned the supreme court and had a hearing. The supreme court did not rule in our favour. The last remedy, according to Rwandan law, is the president of the republic. That’s why we petitioned him.
It is after that last remedy that you can file a case with international courts. We also explored the procedures for petitioning the African Court of People and Human Rights in Arusha. But we dropped the idea of going to Arusha.
The announcement of Diana Rwigara’s presidential ambitions caused a stir in Rwanda. Now she has been disqualified and won’t be on the ballot. Have you asked her to join you?
I met Diane several times before she made her announcement. I think she was encouraged by our work and we also encouraged her. We are considering further collaboration.
You fled into exile after the last election in 2010. Under what circumstances did you return to Rwanda? Did you strike a deal with president Kagame?
When I was in exile, I requested support from several governments, international organisations including the Commonwealth Secretariat in London and the Global Green Movement. Most of them supported my return.
They sent several petitions to Kigali and it was made clear that I had no case to answer in Rwanda. So I returned from Sweden. It was a very hard decision.
Your party vice president Kagwa Rwisereka’s death during the 2010 elections was described by many as an assassination. How safe are you as a presidential candidate?
I have received several security threats and have reported the maters to the Rwandan police. My security is in their hands.
Rwanda police is not known for investigating murders of political leaders. Any progress on police investigations into the death of your vice president?
Investigations have not been concluded. The file is still open and is in hands of the National Public Prosecutions. We are still waiting for justice.
I was born in 1977 to Yokana Habakurama and Josephine Murorunkwere in Namutamba, Mityana District in Uganda. I am married and have three children: Godwin (10), Victor (8) and Daniella (6).
Both my parents were migrants who left Rwanda in the late 1950’s. My mother passed away when I was 11. I was later raised by Mr and Mrs Steven Nagenda and Mr John Nagenda (Senior Presidential Adviser to President Museveni of Uganda).
I went to Namutamba Demonstration School, Bakijurura Primary School and sat PLE at Buyaga Primary School in 1991. I went to Namutamba SSS for O-Level. For A-Level, I went to then Mityana SS, Namukozi for S5 and Progressive SS for S6 after which I joined the National University of Rwanda in 1999.