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“Am not fronted by RPF, I respect President Kagame” (Interview)

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Kigali: Critics accuse him and the other presidential aspirants of being stooges of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) and say they undermine the country’s democratic credentials. But as Dr. Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo explains in this RNA exclusive interview, what his Social Democratic Party (PSD) has achieved should be clear to everybody that the party has an electorate which keeps voting its members at every election.

As the most formidable candidate, how do you feel running against the incumbent Paul Kagame?

I have nothing more to feel than being a candidate of my [Social Democratic] Party, which is 19 years old now. It has been contributing in government, parliament and at all levels of the administration in this country. Our contribution has been remarkable. We contested the elections in 2003 and also in 2008 where we won our own seats in parliament. So what I will add as a candidate and [someone] who has been contributing to various elements of the life of this country will only be based on our manifesto as a party. [We will] also show some areas where we shall put our finger as a Social Democratic Party.

Until the 2008 parliamentary elections, political party activities were restricted to national level. To what extent is your party established at the grassroots level and how will this help your campaign and presidential aspirations?

We have representation at all levels. Our members are active as it has been shown previously. When you contest a post like this one you don’t count only on your members. It will also be my duty to convince other voters belonging to other political parties or not by my programme, manifesto. It is only a matter of conviction about what you’re saying and showing that you’re going to do for them.

What does your manifesto contain? What do you plan to do if you win the presidency?

We will continue to reinforce the sovereignty and security of this country, and the unity and reconciliation of our people. We will promote their wellbeing focusing specifically on the quality of education and also the technical and professional training, which is going to allow them to compete within the country and the region. [We will] promote the use of ICTs [information communication technologies] in whatever we’re doing because people talk about but which is not so promoted in our daily living. Politically, we shall continue to share with equity all the positions from the top level to the grassroots level by involving all the political parties which are in Rwanda. In matters of justice, our duty in the seven years coming should be to continue to build the capacity of our judicial system and our procedures of arresting people. [Economically], we will continue to promote and develop the agriculture, bringing in technical aspects [like] irrigation, harvesting water because sometimes we have shortages when it doesn’t rain. In health, the focus should be put on prevention and more prevention in all its aspects. In terms of treatment, we will improve the capacity of our health professionals and also bringing in modern equipment to help our people improve their health.

As deputy speaker of parliament and candidate, what do you see as the most pressing challenges Rwanda faces?

Population growth which is not coherent to the economic growth of the country. Other things are fixable and should be fixed. But if, as Rwandans together, we don’t pay attention to tackle the issue of population growth in the country I think we shall not meet our goals.

What is your party specifically doing about this?

We have advocacy programmes to let everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, understand that problem. When people understand, we should be helping them to access reproductive health services, apply modern family planning methods and help [expectant] mothers to have safe births at all levels of our health system. We should also be asking our people to work hard to have revenue or what they want in their lives, which is part of our philosophy as a party.

Address the accusations that your party, and essentially your candidature, is simply a front of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) to portray a semblance of multipartism in Rwanda, which some people have alleged is non-existent.

I have always said no. People have to consider where Rwanda is coming from. We had Genocide and we have been rebuilding our country and reconciling our people.  People have to follow the steps we have gone through. Before 2003, we were in transition and all political parties had an agreement on how we were going to conduct the business of this country because we had suffered a lot. We agreed as a party in 2003 to support President Kagame because he was competent to lead the country. In the meantime we decided that when it comes to the legislative elections, PSD should show its particularity by going alone and not backed by the RPF or President Kagame. We did this and repeated it in the 2008 parliamentary elections and showed what we were capable of doing. This is to show to any who is questioning what we are doing. Rwanda, by passing through those steps, has matured enough at all levels. In 2010, after 19 years of our party’s [existence], because for us we follow the evolution of the life of our country, our party decided that we have a manifesto we should be showing to Rwandans and we have to contest this position positively not in a classic opposition like people call it. For people who are insulting us, what would they say about what happened recently in the UK where the Conservatives and the Liberals are government together? They might not even be sharing the same vision but they agreed that for the unity and prosperity of the country they should govern on the same programme. What would they say about President [Barack] Obama, for example, who has kept in his administration some key people from the Republican Party starting with the Minister of Defence? France is the same; the minister of foreign affairs comes from the Socialist Party. Rwanda is showing an example that different parties can agree on a vision, the only difference would be on how to implement it. As PSD, we shall show how we can accelerate some items to reach faster our [national] vision. I can’t come here and say that is not our vision because we agreed as Rwandans [about it]. Each party will have to show in this campaign how faster or strongly [it proposes] to reach the vision. I respect President Kagame meaning that if I was voted by Rwandans I should also be respected by any Rwandan because people don’t have to look at the president as president, they have to look at him as an institution. If people elect me because of the manifesto of our party I will lead the country.

You, and other candidates, have only 20 days to campaigns. Do you share the same concerns that were raised to the Electoral Commission that it is such a short time to cover the whole country?

No, because that is what we agreed upon even in the 2003 elections. Indeed it is hard for the candidates and for the parties; they have to work hard, they have to make marathons to go around the whole country but the reason was we don’t have to keep our people who have to work hard so long in a political process like this one. The other reason was; are we capable as Rwandans to financially keep the campaign for longer than three weeks? We’ve been doing it since 2003 and we shall see if it’s really tight. We should not abuse our people because they have to work. We shouldn’t forget that by August they should be preparing their grounds for the new [farming] season.


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