Diane Rwigara took a risk for every woman in Rwanda and Africa. She was victimised for taking a stand and now her presidential dreams are over but the activist lives on.
Diane Shima Rwigara, Rwanda’s first female independent presidential hopeful was disqualified by the country’s Electoral Commission along with two other aspirants. The National Electoral Commission said Ms Rwigara had not fulfilled requirements like collecting enough supporting signatures for her presidential bid. Gilbert Mwenedata and Fred Sekikubo Barafinda were also disqualified from the elections which incumbent President Paul Kagame is expected to win. The NEC only confirmed Paul Kagame, Frank Habineza and Philipe Mpayimana.
Ms Rwigara was the first presidential hopeful in a country that is nonetheless known for its progress in issues of gender equality. The country is ranked fifth in the world on gender parity metrics and yet Rwigara was the first female candidate in the country. According to the World Economic Forum, “At 86%, Rwanda has one of the highest rates of female labour force participation in the world. In the US, for example, that figure stands at 56%, and has been declining since the turn of the millenium.” Rwanda has also led the whole world in female representation in politics for over a decade and as of now, 61.3% of the parliamentarians are female. It is therefore unfair to claim that patriarchy and misogyny are the reasons Rwigara was not confirmed. For an Indpendent candidate to be confirmed, there was need to have at least 12 signatures from Rwanda’s 30 districts which Rwigara failed to get along with two men.
Though the disqualification may not have been a result of inequality per se, it is a fact that Rwigara was greeted by chauvinistic villification just days after announcing her candidacy. Africa News reported in May that social media was awash with nude pictures believed to be Rwigara’s. Instead of attacking her policies, opponents attacked her sexuality.She had just openly declared a political war against the ruling party arguing that, “Everybody is scared to express themselves because they are too scared of the ruling party. I will be tackling poverty, injustice and insecurity.”
It boggles the mind why the only retaliation that opponents could think of was sexually repressive. Rwigara was therefore indeed a victim of misogyny at some point but her disqualification had little to do with that. Rwigara is said to have been disqualified for submitting signatures of some people who had been long dead and others who belonged to a rival political party. However, she claimed her supporters had been intimidated by the ruling party which is known for being repressive. She has been a vocal critic of Kagame’s government which has been blamed for political assassinations and disappearances in the country. Kagame has been in power for 23 years making him one of the the ten longest serving presidents in Africa.
It would seem that Rwigara was therefore a victim of an autocratic system rather than just patriarchy. She was not simply attacked by the system because she is a woman but because she ruthlessly criticised the ruling RPF and Kagame. In her signature hard-hitting form, Rwigara at one point brazenly exposed Kagame and other African leaders saying, “When time comes for leaders to leave power, they get excuses to stay and then say that it is the people who are asking them to continue to lead. This is a bad habit across the continent. She added that the ruling party had failed to tackle poverty in the last 23 years and surely could not do it in the coming years. Here was a bold woman whose crusade has been cut short. When Quartz questioned her about what set her apart as a presidential hopeful, she said, “I understand what it’s like to be a victim, how the government reduces you to silence. The question becomes either choose to live like a robot, being told what to say and what to do, or you take risks.”
She took a risk for every woman in Rwanda and Africa. She was victimised for taking a stand and now her presidential dreams are over but the activist lives on.
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