On the eve of Rwanda’s presidential election, Diane Shima Rwigara – the disqualified independent candidate who had hoped to challenge President Paul Kagame – warned that he will be “crowned as an undisputed king of Rwanda” and continue to rule a country in fear and without freedoms.
Rwigara sat for a Washington Post video interview that was released Wednesday, and described her experience running as an opposition candidate to Post editor Karen Attiah. In addition to the widely publicized nude photos meant to discourage her, and the disqualification that followed a disputed National Election Commission claim that she had not collected enough signatures, Rwigara said her bank accounts were frozen and her family business was closed when authorities “suddenly remembered” an outstanding tax debt of USD$6.7 million.
“My experience in this process has reminded me how Rwanda has become increasingly a country where most institutions are not independent and put all their resources, plans and actions into supporting and maintaining the president,” Rwigara said. “Furthermore, the well-documented human rights record of Rwanda under the current regime has been one of the worst on the African continent.”
That record includes lack of freedom of expression, and the lack of democratic participation and media freedom that caused Rwigara to describe Rwanda as “the definition of a dictatorship state.”
The human rights activist added that while Rwanda’s building boom may impress outsiders, many Rwandans remain poor and lack basic necessities; a recent article in The Nation also raised questions about the country’s so-called economic miracle, with multiple reports of data manipulation on poverty. Rwigara has since launched the People Salvation Movement to address human rights and humanitarian issues.
Rwandan voters in the diaspora will vote on Thursday, with elections in the country held on Friday.
Image: Diane Shima Rwigara file