In 2009, the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR), led by its founder and president, Frank Habineza, had the agenda to takeover power in 2010 through the power of the secret ballot. The idea was that, equipped with universal suffrage, they would topple President Kagame, take over power and run the show. They failed, miserably, and picked their pieces. “We faced a lot of resistance that lead to beatings, imprisonment, exile and loss of life,” Habineza said in an exclusive interview with Taarifa’s Chief Editor, Magnus Mazimpaka. In the interview, Habineza reveals the lessons learnt and explains how the party went back to the drawing board to prepare for 2017. Having lost both a political and a court battle to block the referendum that sought a constitutional amendment that paved the way for President Kagame to run for a third term in office, Habineza and his lieutenants decided to wipe their tears and instead plan to face Kagame off head-on.
Habineza gives us a hint on his plan for 2017 and also shares a few details on what the party has been doing on ground.
2017 elections are just around the corner. And we understand you are the official candidate to face Kagame and others. What are you up to?
We have been establishing party structures at the local level and strengthening the party on the ground so that when we go into elections we have people on the ground. This is also inline with organizing the party congress in March 2017 and the final approval of the candidate and the manifesto.
When you say strengthening the party structures on the ground, what exactly are you talking about?
We are training some of our members at the district level of whom we will put in charge of setting up more structures at the lower levels. We have finalized with nineteen districts and we hope to have finalized with twenty-five districts by March
What do you train your members about?
We train them on political ideology, democracy, the political history of Rwanda, the role of gender in politics, how politicians behave, ethics guiding politicians, and what is expected of politicians. We also go into details of the political economy of the country, and then issues of the 1994 genocide, its reputation. It is an impressive package, which we do for two weeks.
Who conducts the trainings?
We began with training a few and then they go train others.
Can you illustrate the structure of your executive committee on the grassroots level?
We have the chairman, the vice chairman, the secretary, the treasurer, the communications secretary, the women secretary and the youth secretary.
Are they paid or they volunteer?
We can’t pay them. Where can we get the money to pay all these people?
You are away in Sweden, who is running the party in your absence?
On the national level we have two vice presidents, the secretary general and the deputy, the treasurer and the deputy, and other officials. But the two vice presidents and the secretary general are mainly the ones running the party.
How strong is your party now? Can you mention some numbers?
We have about two hundred and fifty thousands members so far. But we have managed to reach at least one million people through our outreach program since 2009. We will reach more people during the elections.
Please confirm this. Are you the official candidate for your party in the 2017 presidential elections?
Why are you running for presidency yet you have expressed lack of confidence and independence in the electoral process?
We now believe that things will not change by us sitting back in our sitting rooms or in exile and complaining. We think participation will help change things. By participating, we will have more talk with the electoral commission as we raise concerns here and there. We know that rights are not given; they are fought for and it is a gradual process.
What else have you done apart from you planning to participate in the forthcoming elections? After all you boycotted parliamentary elections.
We wrote a letter to the Prime Minister and the electoral commission, but we got a negative response.
You call it negative because your demands were not met?
We highlighted what we want changed in the electoral process. We want our members in the electoral commission. It was not addressed.
You also wanted the ban on political parties from mobilizing funds abroad lifted. Was it because you were expecting financial support from abroad?
No. We wanted to have the freedom of choice. We are against a law that makes it difficult for anyone to collaborate with anyone they wish to.
If you were in power today, would you allow opposition parties to seek financial support from foreign countries?
All political parties should be free. We have good security systems to trace the money. I would trust my security and my ombudsman.
You categorically see no problem in local politics being funded by foreigners?
I would put my trust in intelligence and security services. I wouldn’t put restrictions on political association.
Why do you think the government is uncomfortable with you mobilizing funds abroad?
I heard the government is afraid of financial support coming from terrorists, divisionist and ethnic groups such as FDLR, to fund [subversive] activities in the country.
Don’t you think these fears are legitimate?
I think I have answered you. I don’t want us to spend much time on this.
You petitioned the parliament and even went to court against a referendum for a constitution amendment that allows President Kagame to run for the third time. You lost the fight. And he has accepted to run. How does that make you feel now?
We are not scared of him. But we are afraid he will use state institutions [at his advantage]. Those are the advantages of the incumbency. But we are ready to challenge him.
The RPF has a strong coalition with other political parties. Are you also teaming up with other opposition parties?
Not at the moment.
We haven’t discussed it.
Have you thought about it?
There is a possibility for us working with others. If there is a party that would wish to work with us as opposition, we could look into it.
You have had a couple of internal wrangles and disputes. Have you fixed it?
There was no such a thing. That thing was externally created.
No, wasn’t it internal?
What makes you feel you should be the next president of Rwanda?
I have all the qualifications. I have a clear political ideology. I have good plans to make Rwanda greater, better, stronger, securer. I am better and I can do better.
So you are saying you are much better a President than President Kagame?
Kagame is running on what he has done. I am going to run on promises. I will basically promise better things. I will guarantee more security; more prosperity and I will give more plans.
Rwandans are politically mature to make informed decisions. Can you share a few things you can execute more than President Kagame?
No. Wait for our manifesto in March.
Can’t you mention a few personal qualities?
If you win the election, now that you don’t have any parliamentary representation, how would you run government without the legislative arm?
The Parliamentary elections will be next year, so I don’t think MPs remaining with less than a year in office would be rebellious to me.
What part of the country do you think or believe you have more support?
There are fewer people in the cities.
How influential is your party in the political parties forum?
We are still new in the forum but we have influenced a lot and are making a wonderful contribution.
Who are the most powerful members that are on board with you, business leaders, religious leaders or politicians?
I have no comment on that.
We have interviewed several political pundits. Many say you are not serious about politics…. they don’t see your political dogmatism. What is your take on that?
That’s what I would expect from someone opposing me. We started as radicals and what we reaped from that, we have not forgotten. I decided to do things differently and it has worked. Besides, the Rwandan political terrain is very slippery and different from our neighboring countries. So I don’t expect any lessons from the neighborhood. We are also not yet in a campaign season thus, I have to be careful with the laws on some messaging. I am a student of political science and I know what I am doing. I don’t expect any kudos from such people
What radicalism was that and what reap from it?
In 2009, we had the agenda to takeover power in 2010. We faced a lot of resistance that lead to beatings, imprisonment, exile and loss of life. The rest is history.
Is the terrain still same as then or different now?
The President recently said that, “Turacyari babandi baraye mundake ku Mulindi,”.
What does it mean?
Meaning that the terrain is the same; that the RPF is still the same revolutionary movement.
Is that a problem?
It means that we can’t take it [RPF] as a traditional political party. As a revolutionary movement, they can still use some bush war strategies.
Frank… what are you and your party bringing on table…I am not looking for a hypothetical answer. Be specific. What will the DGPR offer…. just mention a few
We will ensure food security for all the people of Rwanda by fighting hunger and famine through our modern agricultural policy. We will repeal the current land policy and replace it with a policy that gives total land ownership to the people. We will abolish the current agricultural policy that takes away rights from people to decide on what to do with their land. Am sorry, I won’t continue, because our manifesto has to be approved first in the congress.
Who is Frank Habineza?
He is the founder and chairman of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, a political party formed in August 2009. In its first year, the party made six unsuccessful attempts to register. As of mid-August 2010 the party was still not registered, and therefore was unable to submit a candidate for the August 2010 Presidential elections.
Habineza was born in Mityana in Uganda in 1977. He attended the National University of Rwanda from 1999 to 2004, graduating in Political and Administrative Sciences with a major in Public Administration. While at University he started a student association campaigning for environment protection. He later became a personal assistant to the Minister of Lands, Environment, Water, Forestry and Mines, Drocella Mugorewera. He was the official correspondent of two local tabloids, Rwanda Newsline and UMUSESO while he was a student at the University of Rwanda, Butare campus. He also worked for the former Rwanda Herald Newspaper, whose publisher Asuman Bikika was declared ‘persona non grata’ in mid-2002.
Habineza was for three years (2006–2009), the National Coordinator for the Nile Basin Discourse Forum in Rwanda (NBDF), a civil society platform that had over 50 NGOs involved in the conservation of river Nile. He resigned in May 2009. He was also President of the Rwanda NGOs Forum on Water, Sanitation and Environment-RWASEF and founder Chairman for the Rwandan Environment Conservation Organisation (RECOR). He resigned from all the NGOs when he joined active opposition politics. In June 2010 these two organizations distanced themselves from him after a report alleged that donor funds had been diverted for political purposes. The report, issued by the Ministry of Local Government, named Habineza as one of the people behind “briefcase” NGO’s that fleece donors, and named five NGOs as vehicles used by him to obtain funding for political activities.
Habineza founded the Democratic Green Party (DGP) in August 2009 as an alternative to the dominant Rwanda Patriotic Front. In April 2010 three leading members of the DGP resigned due to disagreements over Habineza’s activities. They said that the party was being manipulated by foreigners.