A woman who tried to run for the Rwandan presidency still faces 20 years in jail

Diane Rwigara (left) and Victoire Ingabure (right)
Diane Rwigara (left) and Victoire Ingabure (right)

Last year, Diane Shima Rwigara, a businesswoman, women's rights activist and leading critic of the present government, was arrested and charged with "offenses against state security and forgery," according to The Washington Post

Recently, the hashtag #FreeDianeRwigara has again placed the spotlight on her plight.

So far, 8 000 people have signed a petition on Change.org to release her and her family

Her mother, as well as her sister were also detained on similar charges. And according to the BBC, her assets were auctioned off in June this year.

All Africa recently reported that Diane, her mother and sister were all arrested for "alleged tax evasion and forgery as well as for inciting insurrection."

Diane may face 20 years in prison if she is found guilty. It's widely believed the charges are politically motivated.

Diane decided to run for the presidency in 2017 at the age of 35; but the electoral commission would not admit her to the official candidate list. According to Reuters, the electoral commission stated the reason being that Diane had not met the requirements necessary to run for president.

"The commission said she only submitted 572 valid signatures, below the required 600. She says she submitted 985 signatures, and an additional 120 after many were disqualified."

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In 2010, there was a similar case. Opposition's party leader, Victoire Ingabire was arrested and charged with "threatening state security and 'belittling' the 1994 genocide," according to BBC. She was found guilty of the offence and was sentenced to eight years in prison. In 2013 the Rwandan Supreme Court heard Victoire's appeal and ruled that she was to serve an additional seven years.

The judge said Victoire should be "serving a 27-year sentence for crimes, but decided to show leniency, giving her 15 years, because her family was based in the Netherlands and this was her first conviction," reports the BBC. 

Victoire had publicly questioned why Rwanda's official memorial to the 1994 genocide that saw an estimated 800 000 people killed in the span of 100 days, did not include any Hutus. The majority of people killed were Tutsis, however, there were many Hutu people that killed by Hutu extremists.  

READ MORE: WATCH: Who was the first woman to run for president? Not Hillary Clinton

People have taken to Twitter to raise awareness and get justice for both Rwandan women: 

Whether women are challenging current regimes or occupying positions of some power in government, we're reminded of Lindiwe Mazibuko's powerful talk at a recent women's power summit.

The co-founder and executive director of Apolitical Academy, which according to an article in the Daily Maverick, "will focus on young, aspiring politicians in Southern Africa" highlighted the need for young players especially women to rise up in politics.

Only a small number of African countries have had women presidents in the past:

  • Slyvie Kinigi: 1993-1994 (Acting Head of State, Burundi)
  • Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri: 2005 and 2008 (Acting President, South Africa)
  • Ellen Johnson Sirleaf:  2006 – 2018 (President, Liberia)
  • Rose Francine Rogombé: 2009 (Interim President, Gabon)
  • Agnès Monique Ohsan Bellepeau: 2012 and 2015 (Acting President, Mauritius)
  • Joyce Hilda Banda: 2012 – 2014 (President, Malawi)
  • Catherine Samba-Panza: 2014 (Acting head of state, Central African Republic)
  • Ameenah Firdaus Gurib-Fakim: 2015 – 2018 (President, Mauritius)

Currently, there isn't one. The only high office in Africa that is held by a woman is Namibia's prime minister, Saara Kuugongelwa Amadhhila. She was appointed by Namibia's president, Hage Geingob, but he is head of both state and government.

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