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Exclussive: New political party born “to counter RPF”

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ImageKigali: At the University, he single-handedly started a student association campaigning for environment protection. Barely six years out of school, Mr. Frank Habineza has formed a new political party apparently to ‘introduce consultative politics’, RNA reports.  

Bringing to a total of eleven parties in the country, newly born Democratic Green Party wants among its policies to reduce defense spending to put more money into agriculture. The party also plans to put more of the country’s resources into protecting the environment, which it says is at the core of its founding.

“Our policies will be people-centered”, Mr. Habineza explains. “In Rwanda today, decisions are taken by a few people and often made without broad consultations with the population. That is why decisions are taken today and reversed tomorrow.”  

Mr. Habineza and his delegation met diplomats on Friday in what sources within the party say is to give the envoys a better understanding of its operations. Critics accuse the long existing parties of having no political ideologies and rubber-stamping ruling party policy.

People familiar with Mr. Habineza’s days at the National University of Rwanda say it is not surprising that he has come to launch a political party. Around 2003, he mobilized students to start the Rwanda Wildlife Club (RWC) that went around university and Huye town planting trees. It is not clear if the association remained at the University after he left or whether he did extend it to other parts of the country.

When Huye administrators started chopping branches from trees along the small streets of Huye town – then called Butare, Mr. Habineza’s - commonly known as ‘Frank’, was up in arms. He lobbied unsuccessfully with whoever accepted to listen.

Available information suggests that he recently left the Nile Basin Initiative – a regional platform on the Nile River bringing together countries which share the river. It has a secretariat in Kigali. Previously, he had been Principal Secretary to the former State Minister for Lands and Environment, Ms. Patricia Hajabakiga.

Mr. Habineza also worked for the defunct Rwanda Herald newspaper whose publisher Asuman Bikika was declared ‘persona non grata’ in mid-2002. The expulsion was after the unusually critical paper at the time had published an editorial calling for the release of former President Pasteur Bizimungu. With Mr. Bisiika ousted, the newspaper went off the market completely.

At the time, the British Department for International Development (DFID), Rwanda's largest bilateral donor, was funding the newspaper as part of its efforts to promote civil society. The Police’s action and DFID's muted public response sent a powerful message to journalists: international donors would not defend Rwanda's independent media, critics say.  

Mr. Habineza is also not new with trouble. Brigadier General Richard Rutatina at some point around the year 2000 told Mr. Habineza that he could be incarcerated after he posed a controversial question during the General’s visit to the university. The situation occurred amidst hundreds of students in the University auditorium.

The new party is reported to have already been registered, joining the dominant Rwanda Patriotic Front and its small six coalition partners – which are in the Lower Chamber of Parliament. Others are the Liberal Party (PL) aligned to Youth Minister Mr. Protais Mitali, and Social Democratic Party (PSD) of Senate Speaker Dr. Vincent Biruta.

Another party which struggled to even get registered is controversial PS-Imberakuri of hard talking lawyer Mr. Bernard Ntaganda who initially named it PSI. He was denied registration by government until he changed the name because it sounded similar to the NGO Population Service International (PSI).

People that have had closer relations with Mr. Habineza say he speaks Kinyarwanda which sounds more like it has been influenced by the fact the he originated from Uganda. He also speaks fluent Luganda language – commonly used in central Uganda. It is this Luganda that is said to influence how he pronounces Kinyarwanda words.

He however maintains that he has been a ‘prominent member’ of the RPF which he accuses of ‘derailing from the party’s original ideology’, ‘forgetting to implement some necessary policies’, or ‘just ignoring to listen to other voices in the country’.  

He claims his party is just coming to introduce an alternative to the RPF.

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