Former Rwandan presidential hopeful flees country

Tuesday November 14 2017

Gilbert Mwenedata

Gilbert Mwenedata, one of the two independent candidates disqualified from running in the August 4 Rwanda poll. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

By The EastAfrican
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A former Rwanda presidential hopeful has fled the country fearing possible jail term over ‘falsified signatures’ during his election bid.

Gilbert Mwenedata, one of the two independent candidates disqualified from running in the August 4 poll, said he has been questioned by the police on several occasions over signatures he had submitted to the electoral commission.

In an interview with Radio Itahuka, a web-based station run by exiled Rwandan opposition groups, Mr Mwenedata said he fled the country for fear of arrest and being charged in court like the other disqualified presidential candidate Diane Shima Rwigara.

“What is becoming apparent is that whenever you try to challenge the authority of the incumbent, you end up in jail,” Mr Mwenedata is quoted saying.

He added that those who dare to take on President Paul Kagame only find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

“Other than the candidates approved by the ruling party, independent candidates like me and Diane cannot be allowed to contest. If you insist on exercising your democratic right, the consequences can be jail,” he said, citing Victoire Ingabire, who is serving a 15-year jail term, and now Ms Rwigara.

Ms Rwigara is on remand on charges of incitement and forgery related to her bid to run in the election that President Kagame won with 98 per cent of the vote.

Without revealing which country he fled to, the 42-year-old said he left Rwanda because he felt it was just a matter of time before he too is sent behind bars.

“I know for a fact that all the accusations Diane is facing are false, based on lies. We tried to challenge NEC [electoral commission] on each of the accusations but they were determined to bar us,” he said.

Mr Mwenedata was barred by the National Electoral Commission on grounds that he failed to provide any signatures from one of Rwanda’s 30 districts as required and that one of those submitted belonged to a dead person.

Efforts to get a comment from the National Public Prosecution Authority or police were futile by press time but the Rwanda National Police spokesperson Theos Badege told a local news website that he was not aware of any occasion during which Mr Mwenedata was interrogated.

He however added that “even if he was called to explain a few things, it would be part of the usual cooperation between citizens and law enforcement organs”.