Earlier this year a young, single, attractive, and progressive businesswoman shocked the political status quo of the Rwandan Republic by throwing her hat in the ring of the presidential election. Rwanda is no stranger to women participating in politics; in fact, this democratic nation has the highest level of legislative female representation in the world, and yet the candidacy of Diane Shima Rwigara has shaken the political sphere of this African nation.
Rwigara is the daughter of a powerful businessman and the second woman to launch a presidential candidacy in Rwanda. An accountant by trade, her independent political platform seeks to tackle three issues she believes are currently plaguing the country: poverty, a deficient public health system and an oppressive system that limits free speech and stifles opposition.
The 35-year-old candidate believes that the death of her father, which has been forensically ruled as accidental, may have been the product of foul play. Even though Rwanda has flourished in the two decades since the end of its ghastly civil war, the ruling party led by President Kagame has been accused of running dark operations such as framing individuals who present a strong opposition. Rwigara’s campaign has not been shy to point this out, and she has paid the price.
Shortly after Rwigara formally announced her intention to challenge Kagame, nude photographs of this attractive woman magically appeared online and quickly turned viral under suspicion that they were leaked by intelligence operatives loyal to Kagame. Salacious commentary about her personal life followed the leak of the photos, which caused her popularity to wane among conservative female voters. As a result, the National Electoral Commission of Rwanda informed Rwigara that she had failed to turn over the minimum amount of signatures required to make it into the ballots for August. Rwigara has not completely retired from politics, but she may have to wait for another opportunity.
The political landscape in Rwanda, a country trying to recover from horrible armed conflict and ethnic tensions, has not changed much over the last 17 years. President Paul Kagame, a national hero credited with stopping the genocide that paralyzed Rwanda in the mid-1990s, has been in power since the turn of the century. On July 7th, the Rwandan National Electoral Commission posted on Twitter the names of the candidates who are officially going to be running in this year’s election: President Kagame; Frank Habineza, the opposition candidate representing the Democratic Green Party, and independent candidate, Phillipe Mpayimana.
Recent history has shown that African women still have many uphill battles to fight before they can aspire to the highest political offices in their countries. Rwanda, Kenya and Ethiopia are examples of nations where female politicians have managed to earn quite a few seats in their legislations, more than many countries in Europe and the Americas; unfortunately, for the most part, African presidential offices remain a masculine domain.
Photo Credits: Diane Rwigara, Twitter @ShimaRwigara