We are in the thick of a revolution in Africa. The power paradigm is shifting before our very eyes. After many years of having men in political leadership, the era of revolution has finally arrived. Diana Shima Rwigira is in search of historical glory. And with just three months to August polls, this young woman has sent an incumbent Kagame into panic mode. 72 hours after she announced her bid for the county’s top seat as the first female Independent Presidential Candidate, her nude photos were leaked allegedly by the government to scare her off. But that has not deterred her.
How Diane Shima Rwigara First Came to the Limelight
Diane Shima Rwigira is a pre-genocide Rwanda born and bred Tutsi, a women's rights activist, accountant and businesswoman. The 35 year old's father once bankrolled the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in the 90s.
In early May this year, she declared her presidential aspirations, announcing to run against Kagame in the August elections, as the first female independent candidate, two years after the death of her prominent father in a controversial accident.
“Everybody is scared to express themselves because they are too scared of the ruling party,” said Diana Rwagira as she vowed to fight injustices, encourage freedom of speech, eradicate poverty and implement a number of reforms, including opening up the political space, and revisiting the issue of term limits for elected office holders.
The presidential candidate is said to have been a member of Intore (RPF militant activists or cadres) before she distanced herself after the death of her father in 2015.
Alhough the police said Mr. Assinapoi Rwigara’s car rammed into a truck, Diane Rwigara and her family believe he was assassinated and his murder was stage-managed.
In a petition to President Kagame requesting him to launch an independent investigation to his death, Assinapo Rwigara’s family claimed it was impossible for him to die of deep cuts and injuries in his head because he was the driver of the Mercedes Benz that was slightly hit on the passenger’s seat. They accused the police of having put Mr. Rwigara into a body plastic bag while he was still breathing.
Mr. Rwigara, the influential industrialist, real estate magnate was a known Kagame’s former strongest ally and played a big role financing FPR.
Is her Father’s Controversial Death her Motivation to run or She’s Just Tired of Kagame’s Regime?
In a recent press conference in Kigali, Diane Rwigara admitted to journalists that the mysterious and politically motivated murder of her father was one of the reasons that prompted her to run for the presidency.
In a country where no one speaks ill or against the government, she seems to gather strength from her father’s murder, growing braver by reflection. She’s not an inch afraid to face a government that has on many occasions been accused of human rights abuses such as mysterious disappearances and murder and arrests of opponents, despite its reputation for spurring economic growth and stability.
Rwanda might just be the classical case of the unusual combination of flashing lights and rattling chains.
While other activists shrink, run away or are too afraid to fight for their rights, Miss Diane Rwigara is not afraid to take a rare public stand against injustices of the current regime.
In her interview with DW, she said she is fighting against injustices, “because the people who are supposed to be addressing them – those higher positions – are not doing so.”
Freedom of expression is first on her radar, “because as things stand now, it’s even hard to address the problems. You can’t event talk about it. In other countries they are still able to talk about what is wrong. In our country, what needs to be done first before we even start addressing the problems is being able to be open about them and to talk about them.”
With all these challenges, she still hopes all the candidates will be given equal chance to campaign and expose their ideas and that the elections will be credible. She says she hopes the government realizes people are tired of being kept in bondage.
On Her Young Age
Miss Diane Rwigara insists age is nothing but a number. She argues her young age should not be used to disqualify her. As for the greedy politicians who overstay in power, the young woman says, they are the characters unfit to lead people as they have already run out of steam and have lost touch with real issues people are going through.
Robert Mugabe, the nonagenarian Zimbabwean president, is the poster boy for Africa’s ageing leaders.
The Task ahead
Rwanda has made outstanding progress in development but still has significant challenges in democracy, human rights and governance. Kagame has been in power for 23 years, 17 of which he has been president. He has been credited for the country's remarkable recovery, but critics also say he is a dictatorial ruler who does not tolerate opposition.
In January, Kagame declared he would run for a third seven-year term in office. The announcement followed a constitutional referendum in 2015 where 98 percent of Rwandans voted to approve a revised constitution to allow Kagame to extend his rule.
Even if he loses, he is immune to any persecution. And to challenge the legacy of Africa’s latest long-serving leader is no easy task and especially when you are a woman.
But Diane Rwigana might be the unusual stimulus the system really needs. Courageous, stubborn and passionate – these are the characteristics that best define her. The woman cut from a new level of leadership has refused to be defined, not by her gender or her tribe. Even when private photos of her were leaked by opposition, she wasn’t moved. Though made of roughness, Diane Rwigara is aware she is dealing with a life-threatening political system where women are systematically disadvantaged and oppressed.
And as an independent candidate, Diane Rwigara has a tough journey ahead. The National Electoral Commission requires at least 600 signatures from 30 districts, a minimum of 12 signatures and at least one address in each district. She’s forbidden to fund-raise to raise money for her campaign and she must wait till June 27 for her qualification confirmation.
Fadumo Dayib is no ordinary woman, but then again, no African woman is ordinary.
Others in the race for the presidential race is Frank Habineza, the President of the Green Party as well as a candidate from the Social Development Party, who is yet to be confirmed.
If she wins, Diane Rwigira will make history as the first female independent candidate and first woman president of the country. In 2003, Alvera Mukabaramba of the Party of Peace and Concord was the first woman to run for presidency but withdrew in the eve of elections to support Kagame.