Foreign financing of political parties is an enemy of our budding democracy

Prof. Shyaka (R) and Green Party’s Ntezimana yesterday. Saturday Times/ John Mbanda.

Prof. Shyaka (R) and Green Party’s Ntezimana yesterday. Saturday Times/ John Mbanda.

On August 9, the RGB (Rwanda Governance Board), the body that’s mandated to register political parties, seems to have caught the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (or, as I call them, the Greens) with their pants down by actually approving their registration request.

I say that the Greens were caught unawares because as soon as they got the registration certificate, they started complaining that they didn’t have enough time to put forward a list of parliamentary candidates. They begged RGB to postpone the 12th August deadline, something that the body was unable to do. Talk about being unprepared for success. Why didn’t they already have a list of candidates? Couldn’t they prepare for the elections and finalize the registration concurrently? What did they expect would happen? That the electoral commission would change their rules?

While talking to reporters, the Greens leader Frank Habineza complained about a provision in the new law on political parties banning external financing. The law, officially known as Organic Law N° 10/20/2013/OL of 11/07/2013 Governing Political Parties and Politicians, makes it illegal to get money from foreigners. Article 24 of the said law in part reads that A political organization shall not be allowed to accept donations and bequests from foreigners, foreign business companies, industries and organisations involved in other activities or in which foreigners are shareholders”.

Mr. Habineza is quoted by the Associated Press saying that it is a “tough law”. He continues saying that the law will make it difficult for other parties, other than the RPF, to exist. RPF, he says, “has abundant resources”.

I have a lot of issues with his stance on political financing. First is his assertion that it is a tough

Frank Habineza, founder and Chairman of the Greens

Frank Habineza, founder and Chairman of the Greens

law. What is so ‘tough’ about asking our political parties, which make decisions that affect Rwandans, to get their party funds from the same Rwandans? Is he worried that without funding from Green parties around the world, he won’t be able to run his party? Is he scared that he doesn’t have enough local support to survive?

If that is the case then he should finally do what all good politicians do. Attract supporters (and potential donors) through his rhetoric and political platform. For too long, it seemed to me that many African parties were simply briefcase parties, surviving by attracting donations from unsuspecting Westerners, with more money than sense.

In my opinion, these donations caused a situation akin to that caused by foreign aid. This ‘free’ money, encouraged party leaders to spend more time heeding the wishes of their ‘sugar daddies’, instead of actually doing the grunt work needed to build a viable political party.  Instead of travelling the length and breadth of the country, going from one village to the next, some politicians would prefer to travel to Sweden or Australia and come back with a suitcase of other people’s hard earned money.  What would such a politician do when asked to choose between the concerns of a Musanze resident and their funders? As they say, “he who pays the piper picks the tunes’.

This external funding causes a situation that I find patently undemocratic. The will of the people, which is what democracy is fundamentally about, is slaughtered at the altar of easy money.

Lets examine the party that Habineza complains about. The RPF, from its very inception, survived through its member’s donations. Their monies sustained a four-year guerilla campaign, paid for the reconstruction of a damaged country after the end of war and then helped create the juggernaut that is Crystal Ventures. Even today, RPF members still sustain the party’s activities through their donations. I advise the Greens to borrow a leaf from the ruling party instead of crying foul.

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