Kagame critic barred from participating in Rwanda presidential race


Diane Rwigara, an outspoken critic of Rwandan President Kagame, has been barred from running in next month’s presidential elections.

Only Mr Kagame and two other politicians – Frank Habineza of the Democratic Green Party and the independent Philippe Mpayimana – were approved by the electoral body.

Ms Rwigara, who was also disqualified from the 2017 poll, took to X, formerly Twitter, to express her disappointment towards Mr Kagame.

‘Why don’t you let me run? This is the second time you have denied me my right to campaign,” she said.

The 42-year-old, leader of the People Salvation Movement (PSM), had previously told the BBC’s Newsday program that she had hoped to remain standing this time.

“I represent the vast majority of Rwandans who live in fear and are not allowed to be free in their own country,” she said.

“Rwanda is portrayed as a country where the economy is growing. But on the ground it’s different. People lack the basic necessities of life, food, water and shelter.”

But in publishing the provisional list of candidates, the electoral commission said Ms Rwigara had failed to provide appropriate documentation proving she had no criminal record.

It also said she had failed to show she had enough support nationally to hold on.

“On the requirement of 600 signatures, she has not provided at least 12 signatures from eight districts,” said Oda Gasinzigwa, head of the electoral commission.

Another reason given by the committee was that Ms Rwigara had failed to prove that she was of Rwandan descent. She once had Belgian citizenship, but gave it up in 2017 before her latest bid to become a candidate.

But Ms Rwigara has told the BBC she was born in Rwanda and dismissed all other grounds for rejecting her candidacy.

A total of nine applications to run for president have been received by the National Electoral Commission of Rwanda. Their final list will be announced next Friday as it continues to consider appeals lodged earlier in the process – although at this stage it is too late for the PSM leader to appeal.

In 2017, she was expelled following accusations of forging supporters’ signatures on her application.

Ms Rwigara was imprisoned for over a year, but was acquitted in 2018 on charges of incitement to insurrection and forgery. She said the charges were politically motivated.

In March a Rwandan court blocked prominent opposition figure Victoire Ingabire’s attempts to lift a ban about her participation in the presidential elections.

She was released in 2018 after serving eight years in prison for threatening state security and “denigrating” the 1994 genocide.

In Rwanda, people who have been in prison for more than six months are not allowed to participate in elections.

The two approved candidates – Mr Habineza and Mr Mpayimana – were also the only candidates approved to stand against Kagame in the 2017 elections.

Mr Kagame is running for a fourth term. which could extend his presidency to nearly three decades if he won.

He won the last presidential election in 2017 with almost 99% of the vote.

The 66-year-old president has been criticized by rights groups for his crackdown on the opposition.

But he has fiercely defended Rwanda’s human rights record and said his country respects political freedoms.

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