As a young student in the early 2000, Frank Habineza started an environment students association. They planted trees and often cleaned around the University and Butare town, currently Huye.
Today, most of the trees in Huye have been cut down in a questionable beautification project by the city’s authorities. But for Habineza, now with a honorary doctorate, little did he know then that more than 15 years later, he would be the only person in Parliament standing on one end, and everyone else weighing heavily on him.
Dr Habineza’s appearance on local radio and television, and online platforms has emerged as the comforting voice for the disgruntled ordinary Rwandans. For every government policy, it has become normalcy to expect only Habineza and his party’s partner in Parliament, to speak up.
The need for Habineza’s presence, is ever more relevant since last week as people grumble on social media over transport rates set by the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA). Despite the economy being on its knees, thousands unemployed following the eruption of COVID-19, transport rates have nearly doubled.
In a House of 80 MPs and 26 Senators, ordinarily the population would expect deafening noise from the lawmakers coming to the rescue of ordinary voters. That is not the case. All, except Frank Habineza, are quiet, as always. It is Habineza soldiering alone like an orphan determined to succeed because it is the only option available to them.
For starters, Dr Habineza was born in Uganda in 1977. Like many thousands, relocated back to Rwanda following the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
From completing the then National University of Rwanda (NUR), today part of the University of Rwanda, he worked briefly at a regional Nile river project. Perhaps feeling half-full, Habineza embarked on what he had been eager to be; a career in politics.
In 2008, Habineza began ground work to form a political party, hoping to tap into the general elections scheduled two years later. It is a journey Habineza may probably have abandoned if he knew of what the state had in stock for him.
Government refused to register his Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR). His meetings were violently dispersed, sometimes by goons in civilian attire. As per the law, a group intending to form a party has to ferry delegates into a single venue in the presence of a government official to verify their signatures.
Also, the law requires that to hold that delegates conference, the district must grant you permission for a venue in it’s administrative locality. For countless times, Habineza convinced delegates to spend their meagre resources on transport to Kigali, only to be told the venue permission had not been granted.
The rude awakening came in July 2010. The group’s vice president Andre Kagwa Rwisereka disappeared. Days later, his almost decapitated body was found, incidentally, in Huye district. Photos that still remain online show a the head was nearly removed, and body had many stab wounds.
A police spokesman at the time, in many interviews, said the murder may have been a robbery gone wrong. To date, no conclusive probe has solved the puzzle, despite years of Habineza repeating the call for independent investigation.
When the elections took place in August 2010, with the Green Party still unregistered, it couldn’t field any candidate. Incumbent President Paul Kagame had two struggling challengers, winning 92.9% of the vote.
Habineza targeted the parliamentary polls in September 2013. However, even though the Green Party had been officially registered in August, it was too late to organized a parliamentary list.
Up until today, Habineza has unsuccessfully attempted several times to push for an amendment to the political parties and election laws, to have independent parliamentary candidates voted differently. A person seeking a seat in Parliament as an independent, needs to get 5% of the national vote like a political party.
In 2017, Habineza again sought the presidency, garnering 0.48 percent of the vote. Despite conceding defeat on live television, away from the media microphones, Habineza questioned the results.
With the top office gone, Habineza set his sights on the Parliamentary polls the following year. When the election commission announced partial results late evening, the Green Party had not even raised the needed 5% in the official tally. It meant they couldn’t enter the House.
Rwanda’s Chamber of Deputies has 80 seats. Political parties compete for 53 seats and another 24 are reserved for women, two for youth and one for people with disabilities. Habineza’s Green Party got a paltry two seats after the final tally was released.
In parliament, Dr Habineza, who obtained the Honorary Doctorate of Humanities, from Bethel College, U.S, back in 2013, sits with the Party Secretary General Jean Claude Ntezimana.
Right from day one when the duo entered Parliament, they have been an irritating presence, according recollections The Chronicles has been compiling. First, Habineza sought to be the House’s Vice President for administration and finance – a key position. The bid failed, as the ruling establishment jostled to keep the top offices for its political allies.
Habineza only managed to get vice chairmanship of the social affairs committee. From the sessions of this highly influential committee, and the plenary, Habineza and his party colleague are an unwelcome party in the House.
The Chronicles can exclusively report that months after entering Parliament, colleagues were so irritated with Habineza’s constant dismissal of government policy that he was deemed unpatriotic. Habineza was reported to the House leadership for being ‘indisciplined’.
Habineza also appeared by before a parliamentary disciplinary committee, which demanded he tones down his “urusaku” (noise). We also established that some lawmakers reported Habineza to the Secretariat of the ruling RPF party of President Kagame.
According to sources, the Secretariat furiously dismissed the team which had reported Habineza, telling them instead, that they should see his efforts as a challenge to them, and that he was actually helping to keep government on its toes. It seems, somehow, Habineza got wind of the development. He is becoming ever more emboldened.
In the latest RURA transport fare scandal, which has even attracted a Twitter hashtag, Habineza is demanding the agency’s officials revise the fares downwards or he will begin calling for their resignation.
Verifiable evidence shows the ruling establishment is taking note of Habineza’s “noise”. And he is clearly enjoying the scene. Early last year, Habineza began publicly agitating for pay rise for teachers, which was actually in his presidential election manifesto.
Government responded with a 10% pay increase for teachers. It was a drop in the ocean, but it indicated that the government felt the teachers’ pain.
Early this year, Habineza again put forward a proposal for government to establish a Mwalimu Shop for teachers, designed along the lines of the Army Shop, where security forces buy everything the need at heavily subsidised rates.
The education minister announced recently that government was seriously considering the idea of Mwalimu Shop.
Right from the time the Gree Party was registered in 2013, Habineza is never shy from demanding for amendment to political party laws to allow for political actors to get funding from international partners. He has been dismissed as working for foreign interests. The law was amended in mid 2018, and the super majority in parliament threw out articles on international funding.
Late last year, Habineza was up in arms accusing President Kagame of not fully implementing the provisions of the Constitution on power sharing.
The Green Party like all registered parties are members of the National Consultative Forum of Political Organisations. It is a constitutionally instituted platform. It’s literature says it is a “framework for conflict mediation between political parties”.
In theory, political parties are expected to use the closed door meetings of this forum to shout at each other if they want, and then give government a blank cheque to do whatever it wants. Parties are expected to share their plans from this forum, and the government can choose what to implement.
In Habineza, local and international media runs to him. When reporters need politicians to speak about the ‘good’, they will have a flood of them. Habineza is clearly loving being a lone voice in Parliament as all colleagues stay silent despite government overreach.
One issue rather still gives Habineza sleepless nights. For years, he has vowed to repeal a 2013 law that give the Ombudsman powers to overrule the decisions of the Supreme Court.
In 2015, Habineza attempted to block the amendment of Article 101 of the Constitution, giving President Kagame space continue ruling. The Supreme Court dismissed Habineza’s petition.
He said after: “We are not happy about the ruling, since we had given the Supreme Court tangible reason for it to rule in our favor, but we have not been beaten. We are still going to continue with the democratic struggle.”
At the moment, there are nearly 50 political groups operating from outside Rwanda. Two are inside the country. Five of the exiles’ groups have armed wings operating from DR Congo. While all have preferred a virulent fight with the RPF, which has also responded with brute force, Habineza has stayed away from them.
At various Green Party forums, Habineza tells his followers that “75 percent” of what is contained in the Green Party’s manifesto, has been implemented by government.
“We are not in government physically, but we are there is full spirit. We came at the right time,” repeatedly says the father of three young children.
EDITOR: This text has been slightly modified. Dr Frank Habineza did not stand as an independent in the 2013 parliamentary polls as had been reported in previous version.