Diane Rwigara, far left, is seen in a family portrait at the Rwigara home in Kigali.
After Rwigara’s August arrest, Eric was detained overnight with around 10 other supporters. Speaking to the press in a Kigali safe house, he molds his hand into the shape of a gun and places two fingers inside his mouth. This, he says, is how he was told by police to stop supporting her.
Another Rwigara supporter who was with Eric at the time says he watched an officer threaten him with a gun, adding that he was beaten by another group of police also on the scene.
Rwanda is often described as the best place in the world for women in politics, with more female lawmakers in parliament than any other country, but it’s not the case if you challenge President Kagame, Eric says.
Last year, Kagame won the presidential election Rwigara had hoped to contest with almost 99% of the vote.
The 60-year-old — who in 2015 cleared the way to potentially stay in power until 2034 — has been president since 2000, but has long been an instrumental leader in the country’s modern history.
In 1994, Kagame led the armed wing of the Rwandan Patriotic Front or RPF (what is now the ruling party) into Kigali. That act helped to bring an end to a genocide that saw an estimated 800,000 people killed — mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group — in just 100 days. Two million people also fled the country.
Part of that success has been measured by his commitment to gender parity. A post-genocide population skewed Rwanda’s female population to 70%. Kagame placed value on women’s roles and spearheaded many reforms to help build women’s capacity in civil society.
The most notable is a constitutional law that requires at least 30% of all parliamentary seats to be occupied by women. Today, Rwanda far surpasses that quota, with 61.3% of its parliament made up of female lawmakers (compared with the global average at 23.8%). Four out of seven Supreme Court justices are women, and the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion ensures gender representation and equality in local politics across the country.
Arioste and Anne Rwigara, at home in Kigali.