As RPF draws crowds, the Greens and the independents face empty venues

Monday July 24 2017

Rwandan president and candidate for the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) party Paul Kagame greets supporters in his childhood Ruhango district, Southern Province, during the kick off of his campaign on July 14, 2017. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | NMG


On a sunny Thursday afternoon, Philippe Mpayimana and his “entourage” of two people and an announcer strolled into a playground at Mahoko in Rubavu district, where was supposed to hold a campaign rally. The venue was empty, save for a couple of chairs.

Since the election campaigns kicked off on July 14, Mr Mpayimana, an independent candidate competing against the incumbent and ruling party flag-bearer Paul Kagame and Democratic Green Party of Rwanda’s Frank Habineza, has endured empty campaign grounds.

“Sometimes our people don’t communicate early or there was simply no communication at all,” says Mr Mpayimana, who despite the low turnout on his campaign trail — where sometimes he is welcomed by school children or curious passersby — has vowed to continue until August 1.

Mr Habineza’s rallies have a slightly higher number of people, including youth who accompany the Greens leader to all corners of the country.

It appears that a majority of the businesspeople and opinion leaders do not care to be seen at the rallies of candidates other than the RPF’s.

In some parts of the country, Mr Habineza and Mr Mpayimana have had run-ins with local officials who block them from holding rallies in their preferred places.


READ: Traders count losses as campaigns disrupt work

In Nyagatare district last week, Mr Habineza was blocked from holding a rally in Rwimiyaga trading centre and sent to Nyarupfubire, which was next to a cemetery. The Greens were not amused.

“We had written to district authorities informing them that we will hold a rally in Rwimiyaga trading centre at a playground but they blocked us because it was a market day. Instead we were given a new venue next to a cemetery,” said Claude Ntezimana, the party secretary general.

Indeed, Mpayimana and Habineza have been ordered by the National Electoral Commission to campaign within demarcated areas to avoid disrupting daily activities of citizens.

But the RPF Inkotanyi’s rallies have all drawn mammoth crowds.

READ: Kagame kicks off campaigns, fires back at critics

On Thursday, President Kagame addressed thousands of people in Rulindo district in Northern province and Nyarugenge district in the City of Kigali, where he promised that RPF Inkotanyi will continue with its socio-economic transformation of the country and improve the lives of all Rwandans.

Buoyed by a huge resource base and all the country’s leading musicians in tow to work up the crowds, the RPF Inkotanyi rallies are worlds apart from the Habineza-Mpayimana campaigns.

Indeed, on all rallies, President Kagame has not shied away from foreseeing an outright win for his party and urges voters ‘to wake up as early as they can on August 4 and deliver the 100 per cent’.

Punctuated by dance and merry-making, the ruling party has attracted critics who allege that people are forced to attend its rallies, an allegation that has been brushed off by Kigali, with officials declaring that Rwanda has a unique way of doing things.

“It is presidential campaign season in Rwanda, a time of celebration! Those who don’t get it, don’t get it,” tweeted Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, sharing a video from one of the rallies.

Some observers point out that Rwandans naturally fear associating themselves with the opposition, even if they may privately identify with the ideas.

Many Rwandans, at least those who experienced Rwanda’s adoption of multiparty politics in the 1990s, which was followed by the genocide against the Tutsi, still find it unsafe to associate with any other party besides the RPF.

“This country passed through an ugly phase and that affected people. Some people might behave the way they do because they have experienced traumatising moments and do not want to be associated with anything,” says Dr Joseph Nkurunziza, a political commentator and member of the civil society.

“I think we need to create an environment whereby if I see you going to a candidate’s rally I would have no problem with you and if you see me going to listen to what a certain candidate is saying, you will not perceive that I am no longer your supporter,” he added

While observers say in order to have a healed society, people need to discuss the past and what should be done to heal, they also agree that this will take time.

“From a psychological point of view, the society needs three to four generations to heal; when those who are part of the past retire and we have a new generation aiming at inclusiveness and development”.