Rwanda allows opposition party to operate

Aug 10, 2013, 8:20 AM EDT
Rwandan President Paul Kagame signs a peace agreement at a summit in Addis Ababa on February 24, 2013.
AFP/Getty Images

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — Rwandan President Paul Kagame's government has legalized an opposition political party that spent four years trying to get registered.

The Democratic Green Party, led by Frank Habineza, said late Friday it received a certificate of registration after years of attempts, during which time one of its vice presidents was murdered in 2010. It is not clear if the party will be able to participate in Sept. 16 parliamentary elections. The deadline for submissions is Monday. The party asked the National Electoral Commission to extend the deadline.

"If not we will start preparing for the 2017 presidential polls," Habineza said. "But all in all, this is a very important step forward in the democratization process of Rwanda. The struggle to get the party registered has taken four years. The party was officially launched on 14th Aug. 2009, and the journey has been very tough."

Rwanda has several political parties, but most are loyal to Kagame's Rwanda Patriotic Front. Habineza's party is seen as a true opposition party.

Rwanda has received international praise for the economic progress it has made since its 1994 genocide. But it also receives international criticism for a lack of free political space. The country has yet to see a flourishing opposition party, and Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International warn that Kagame's government is increasingly becoming more intolerant of dissenting voices.

The recognition of the Rwandan Greens came a few days after the country's parliament passed a new law that will make it difficult for political parties in Rwanda to operate without depending on government funds. The new law, which is one of the many bills expedited by the current house as it wound up work ahead of the September polls, bars political parties from receiving external support from donors or friends outside Rwanda.

The Green Party and others like the unregistered Unified Democratic Forces, a party led by the jailed Victoire Ingabire, will no longer be allowed to take funds from outside the country.

"It's a tough law. It will be difficult for other parties to exist alongside Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) which has abundant resources," said Habineza, referring to the party of Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Habineza said the new law will make it difficult for other parties to compete with RPF, which has held a firm grip on power for the last 19 years. Kagame's party also dominates the country's private sector and government tendering processes.