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More dramatic exchanges as political parties hold 2nd debate

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Kigali: Is the gap between the rich and poor reducing or increasing?; Are the mammoth crowds attending RPF rallies being forced against their will?; How man people have access to water?; - are just some of the issues that got much more attention than usual as the four political parties tussled it out Friday evening.

Debate time: From foreground - François Byabarumwanzi (PL), Dr. Charles Murigande (RPF), Muhayimana Bourduin (PPC) and Juvenal Nkusi (PSD)  - (Photo: Alexis Bamage)

From the last week debate which focused on social welfare, representatives of the election contenders were again back to the debate table in the second syndicated debate relayed live on all local radios and state TV. The Rwanda Media Center organized debate which aired between 19:30 and 21:30, saw two parties returning the same speakers, as the RPF brought in Education Minister Dr. Charles Murigande, a former party Secretary General as well.

With the debate focusing on the economy, Juvenal Nkusi (PSD), Muhayimana Bourduin (PPC) and François Byabarumwanzi (PL – replacing Senator Odette Nyiramirimo) found themselves having to face the seemingly hostile questioning from Justin Mugabo (TVR) and Faith Mbabazi (Radio Rwanda), the audience and the public.

Within just minutes of the debate, Muhayimana was on fire after revealing that PPC had conducted a study which showed that Rwandans must have not more than 3 children or the country is headed for disaster. Why didn’t PPC make that study public? Did government know about it? Did PPC hide the study to use it for campaigns? - Were some of the cruel questions Muhayimana got from the moderators.

As he struggled to explain, time was over. Hard-talking Nkusi (PSD) interjected explaining that the essence of the election campaigns is not to show that the outgoing government has done nothing, but rather a time for mapping out new ways to attain what did not succeed.

Clean water at 500meters from MUDUGUDU? 

Within the same first hour, PPC also found itself in the hot seat after Muhayimana suggested the number of people accessing clean water was 69%. This is actually contrary to the government’s numbers of 75%, and Murigande from the RPF was on hand to remind him that. “I actually said about 70%, so we are not far apart,” responded Muhayimana.

Murigande said the government – under the stewardship of RPF, has extended water to many, and would ensure there is a water source at least 500meters away from every MUDUGUDU (village) by 2015.

PPC again found itself contradicting another government position, which RPF has been defending. Muhayimana said GDP figures do not reflect the real situation among the poor – who are the majority, and largely farmers. Murigande spent several minutes explaining how the GDP figures are calculated, dismissing the PPC version.

“That is what is done everywhere, unless we are going to live on another Island – because that is what the World Bank and others base on,” Murigande lectured to his fellow panelists.

Perhaps the biggest debate topic was how the gap between the rich and poor can be tackled. A journalist in the audience had raised figures from the Ministry of Finance which show the gap is expanding, and fast! Each party rushed to detail how they believe that can be reversed - probably with the understanding that most people watching TV and listening to radio, would be keen on this issue.

It was then time for energy. How can the shortage of energy be solved? – is how the moderators posed the question, with Nkusi (PSD chipping in as the first person, whose party is actually promising to increase people with power from current less than 10 to 35%.

But when the moderator Mugabo interjected asking “How can that be attained when we have no water sources?”, Nkusi regained his dominating and arrogant character. “Be patient! That is what I am going to explain”, Nkusi fired, as he rumbled on for several minutes explaining the PSD plan.

Murigande came in to explain how the RPF had the best plan to solve the country’s energy problem. He revealed that in 2005, RPF top executive committee resolved at Mulindi that the methane gas which has been talked about for ages needed to be realized. Decisions were made and studies conducted - with the latest stage being extraction that is currently ongoing on Lake Kivu by several international companies, according Murigande.



In the audience of mainly journalists, there was also top academic and Senator, Prof José Kagabo – in red cap and T-shirt – both of which are RPF symbols (Photo: Alexis Bamage)

In what looked an off-guard question, moderator Faith Mbabazi asked Byabarumwanzi whether PL had a plan to provide water for all just like the RPF had a program to solve the power crisis with methane gas? How much can it cost to have every MUDUGUDU with water?, asked Mbabazi to PL.

Sounding unprepared, he said all the details are found in the EDPRS (Economic Development and Poverty Redaction Strategy). I do not have the numbers here, but we have a plan to avail clean water for more people, said Byabarumwanzi, as he fumbled to explain more details.

More interesting encounters were yet to come as Nkusi was asked what guarantee he was giving the voters that PSD will deliver all the economic programmes promised. As usual, the combative Nkusi was on hand with an answer, and at some point demanding the moderator listens. He said the voters have the 2013 parliamentary elections where they can judge PSD performance. Nkusi dodged to answer the question of which estimates he thinks the GDP will grow under PSD. 

Diaspora takes part

From the small break, came the time for questions from the diaspora. A message from South Africa asked RPF was sure it will win. To RPF’s Murigande, that was like a God-sent opportunity. The large crowds on campaign rallies show RPF is headed for victory on Monday, said Murigande. “Anybody with eyes can see that”, he said. “No Rwandan is ready for change of leadership now”. 

Another person from outside asked what the “mammoth crowds” mean for RPF. These people coming in numbers that have even surprised the RPF, according to Murigande, mean the voters have nobody else on their mind. He, however, conceded that probably some people could also chose to vote for other candidates.

A person in Germany had written demanding to know why the four election contenders did not resign before they went into the race. Byabarumwanzi from PL took up the question as it was not directed at anybody, saying that the law does only require those vying for office to ask for leave of absence.

Murigande refuses to keep quiet

Journalist Ntamuhanga Ninge Emmanuel (IZUBA RIRASHE) also raised a challenging question when he said - with figures, that inequality was rocketing. He asked how each party would solve it?

PSD answered first – saying that as social democrats, they have the best plan;  PPC – said it had simple solutions including increasing salaries, guarantee fund for loans for the poor, and unemployment insurance scheme; and PL – said it would tackle the inequality by focusing on the farmers.

Interestingly, RPF had been forgotten by the moderators. Murigande could not let go, as he forcefully demanded that he had not been given an opportunity to speak on that issue, like it had been with the others. Surely, it was Murigande speaking, and the moderators complied.

He spent the next several minutes – much more than others on the panel, speaking about the social welfare programmes that have been introduced such as VOP and GIRA INKA, and many others, which Murigande said are only targeted at the poorest members of society.

The testimonies we have been hearing from the campaign rallies is that these programmes have changed so many lives and families, said Murigande. He said RPF has brought many new initiatives and wants the mandate to continue expanding them.

SMS of anger

Towards the end of the two-hour debate, it was time for SMS messages from the audience listening and watching.

PL was asked how it would handle the issue of compensation for the survivors of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis, as it is the party that has been raising it during the campaigns. He said compensation was not about money, instead that the issue would be brought to national debate.

PPC was required to give more details on how it will manage to build the many schools it is proposing, and why it did not bring the same idea to government. “We have only been making proposals to government like every other common Rwandan because we have not been in government,” he said, amid mummers from the audience. “We have no minister in government.”

Then the SMS of pain came! A person said people who have been attending RPF rallies are being forced to be there against their will by officials. Murigande was at this point faced with the heat he never expected, and responded with force.

Describing the message as abusive, Murigande said if at all, everybody whom RPF convoys passed on their way to rallies wanted to be there – even when it was too far from their place.

“See what happened at the Amahoro stadium when we were launching our campaign. Everybody wanted to enter and those who didn’t left very disappointed,” explained Murigande.

As if to keep the fire away from him when asked to comment on the issue, Muhayimana caused lengthy laughter when he said the person who sent that message could not have been a PPC member.

The other panelists also condemned the message as in bad taste; others said it was in bad taste.

All the party representatives say they will win come Monday.


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