Diane Rwigara: AfroAmerica Network Black Woman of Year 2017

Dianne Rwigara in court on Oct 11, 2017

Person of Year
  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

Diane Rwigara is 35-year old Rwandan woman who dared to challenge one of the most notorious African dictators, General Paul Kagame, by running in presidential elections. As predicted, she was barred from standing in the elections. That was not the end of it.

 Since then, Diane Rwigara has been accused of offenses against state security and forgery, arrested and thrown in jail along with her relatives, including her aging mother and a younger sister. Her sister Anne, a U.S. citizen, was later released on bail.

Diane Rwigara's father, Assinapol Rwigara, a wealthy business man, was killed in 2015, in a suspicious car crash. The relatives have accused Paul Kagame's operatives of assassination. Assinapol Rwigara had been trading in tabacco businesses for more than three decades. He was among the prominent Rwandan businessmen who joined and funded the rebellion under the command of Paul Kagame, that eventually led to the current regime run by the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). A few years after the rebellion took power in 1994, Assinapol Rwigara became disillusioned and started criticizing the ruling RPF elite. The RPF government then ordered the seizure of some of his properties, accusing him of operating without proper permits. He was subsequently killed in the suspicious car crash, that the family blames on the current government operatives.

Following the death of her father, Diane Rwigara, an accountant, started openly criticizing the government. She pointed to the growing poverty of the masses, the repressive regime, the oppression of the government critics, and the absolute dictatorship imposed by Rwandan Patriotic Front, with Paul Kagame at the helm.

She then launched a campaign to run for president in the August 2017 presidential elections. However, although she presented all the required documents, she was barred by the Rwandan Electoral Commission from standing in the elections. The Electoral Commission, which is a front of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, alleged that she had failed to get enough signatures from her supporters and some of the names submitted were of dead people.

Diane Rwigara denied the allegations by the Electoral Commission. Rwandan dictator Paul Kagame, without the sole credible opponent, won the elections, with 98.8 percent, in a process he had labelled "a formality".

The dismissal of Diane Rwigara's candidacy has been widely condemned by the U.S. Government, the European Union, and other independent organizations. It was also viewed by critics as another low for the regime that touts itself of promoting women, with more than 60% of the member of the parliament being women. The two women who tried to challenge Paul Kagame in elections have been imprisonned, just before or after elections. Victoire Ingabire tried for August 2010 elections but was arrested in April 2010 and formally imprisonned in October 2010.

She is now serving a 15 years sentence, accused of "forming an armed group with the aim of destabilising the country, complicity to acts of terrorism, conspiracy against the government by use of war and terrorism, inciting the masses to revolt against the government, genocide ideology and divisionism."

Accusations against Diane Rwigara have ranged from fraud and tax evasion to offenses against state security and forgery.

But, Diane Rwigara, known for her courageous stance for social justice and truth, has remained defiant. After being barred from running, she vowed to remain engaged in the struggle and created a new political party, known as People Salvation Movement to, according to her statement, continue her work of sensitising Rwandans about their rights and criticising policies and actions of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) party.

Through my new movement, I will continue to call out the divisive politics of RPF and help to sensitise Rwandans about their rights, regardless of what party they belong to,” Ms Rwigara said.