The Rwanda National Electoral Commission (NEC) on Friday disqualified the only female challenger, Diane Rwigara, from contesting in the upcoming presidential elections slated for August 4.
Those who qualified are; President Paul Kagame, from the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF)-Inkotanyi, Frank Habineza, of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, and Philippe Mpayimana, an independent candidate.
Rwigara, daughter of a businessman and Mpayimana, a former journalist who has been living in France in recent years, were initially missing on the provisional list released by the commission.
Releasing the final list of the presidential candidates, Kalisa Mbanda, the NEC chairperson, said Rwigara, Fred Sekikubo Barafinda and Gilbert Mwenedata did not meet the requirements hence were disqualified from the race.
Of the 600 signatures required from each aspirant, Rwigara managed to present 572 signatures, while Barafinda only gathered 362 signatures from 18 districts, with Mwenedata presenting 522 signatures, with none from Burera District, according to the commission.
NEC also said that two people who ostensibly had signed for Rwigara had long died, one of them having passed on April 16, 2016 from Kibagabaga hospital in Gasabo District and laid to rest the following day in Busanza public cemetery.
Each candidate was required to present a minimum of 600 signatures, with at least 12 from each of the country’s 30 districts.
On Wednesday, Rwigara said she had presented more than 1,105 signatures, nearly twice those required, and expected to be “fairly and justly” named to the final list.
Earlier this month, she was denied access to verify the lists of disqualified voters in a process the independent candidates say was unfair.
Rwigara announced her candidacy in May and has complained of being the target of Kagame’s regime since.
She was the target of a smear campaign after nude photos of her were publicly released on social media, and said last month that at least 10 of her volunteers were threatened and harassed while canvassing for signatures.
Her experience appears to be a part of the whole when it comes to longstanding critiques of an authoritarian Kagame stance, one that crushes the political opposition and brooks no dissent while tightening his grip on a Rwanda that he has now led for nearly two decades.
Campaigns are set to start on July 14, while the elections are scheduled to take place on August 3 among Rwandans in the Diaspora and August 4 inside Rwanda.
Rwanda’s climate of fear
Also on Friday, Amnesty International issued a statement condemning the all-too-familiar intimidation that the political opposition, journalists and human rights activists continue to face.
The lack of freedom of expression, along with poverty and injustice, are issues the 35-year-old Rwigara has spoken against in her vision for a different Rwanda – one that has already known such searing struggle in the past.
The intervening decades of repression since the 1994 genocide have created “a climate of fear” in which the 2017 elections take place, Amnesty said, including fear of reprisal, death and disappearance.
“Rwanda’s history of political repression, attacks on opposition figures and dissenting voices in the context of previous elections, stifles political debate and makes those who might speak out think twice before taking the risk,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.