by Ambrose Nzeyimana
The U.S. Congress called Rosa Parks “the first lady of civil rights” and ”the mother of the freedom movement.” What made her an icon for the American Civil Rights Movement was not mainly her act of defiance of white authority, but the impact it had by prompting the Montgomery Bus Boycott and its transformation of the racial scenery in America. In fact, before her there had been many acts of disobedience against unjust and racist laws of the U.S. government.
On Dec. 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks refused to obey bus driver James F. Blake’s order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. Her defiance was thereafter an important symbol of the movement. Parks became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation.
Victoire Ingabire, as leader of opposition political party FDU-Inkingi, went back to Rwanda two years ago, on Jan. 16, 2010. Upon her arrival, she paid a visit to the Genocide Memorial in Kigali at Gisozi. At the memorial she made the following statement to journalists and the general public:
“I would like to say that today I came back to my country after 16 years, and there was a tragedy that took place in this country. We know very well that there was a genocide, extermination. Therefore, I could not have returned after 16 years to the same country after such actions took place. They took place when I was not in the country. I could not have fallen asleep without first passing by the place where those actions took place. I had to see the place. I had to visit the place.
“The flowers I brought with me are a sign of remembrance from the members of my party, FDU, and its executive committee. They gave me a message to pass by here and tell Rwandans that what we wish for is for us to work together, to make sure that such a tragedy will never take place again. That is one of the reasons why the FDU Party made a decision to return to the country peacefully, without resorting to violence. Some think that the solution to Rwanda’s problems is to resort to armed struggle. We do not believe that shedding blood resolves problems. When you shed blood, the blood comes back to haunt you.
“Therefore, we in FDU wish that all we Rwandans can work together, join our different ideas so that the tragedy that befell our nation will never happen again. It is clear that the path of reconciliation has a long way to go. It has a long way to go because if you look at the number of people who died in this country, it is not something that you can get over quickly. But then again, if you look around you realize that there is no real political policy to help Rwandans achieve reconciliation. For example, if we look at this memorial, it only stops at people who died during the Tutsi genocide. It does not look at the other side – at the Hutus who died during the genocide. Hutus who lost their people are also sad and they think about their lost ones and wonder, ‘When will our dead ones be remembered?’
“For us to reach reconciliation, we need to empathize with everyone’s sadness. It is necessary that for the Tutsis who were killed, those Hutus who killed them understand that they need to be punished for it. It is also necessary that for the Hutus who were killed, those people who killed them understand that they need to be punished for it too. Furthermore, it is important that all of us, Rwandans from different ethnic groups, understand that we need to unite, respect each other and build our country in peace.
“What brought us back to the country is for us to start that path of reconciliation together and find a way to stop injustices so that all of us Rwandans can live together with basic freedoms in our country.”
“It is important that all of us, Rwandans from different ethnic groups, understand that we need to unite, respect each other and build our country in peace.” – Victoire Ingabire
Immediately after making this public statement, Ingabire was subjected to intimidation and her movements were restricted. She was finally put in prison on Oct. 14, 2010. Despite her imprisonment, her stand and determination have irrevocably shaken the foundations of Paul Kagame’s autocratic military regime.
Just as the American Civil Rights Movement wanted to end segregation and discrimination, Ingabire and her coalition of Rwandan opposition parties want to end discrimination against Rwandan Hutus and against Rwandan Tutsis who were not in Uganda prior to 1994. For the sake of all Rwandan people, she has faced Paul Kagame and his government of core Tutsi extremists, calling for freedom and democracy, and for almost a year and a half now, she has been in prison. Her courage and unrelenting will have immensely inspired many of her compatriots to seek peaceful political change in their country, more than at any other time of its recent history.
As with the path that the U.S. Civil Rights Movement took after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, nothing in Rwanda will ever be the same after Victoire Ingabire’s defiance of the Rwandan government’s unjust laws. She sparked a spirit of resistance.
Nothing in Rwanda will ever be the same after Victoire Ingabire’s defiance of the Rwandan government’s unjust laws. She sparked a spirit of resistance.
On Jan. 16, Rwandans will from now on remember Ingabire’s homecoming. They, in Rwanda and in the Rwandan Diaspora, must now help her carry out the peaceful revolution she started on that day, Jan. 16, 2010, until all Rwandan citizens share the same rights, including freedom of association and speech and the right to elect their leaders and until political prisoners are released.
Ambrose Nzeyimana, coordinator of Organizing for Africa, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is The Rising Continent: Lions on the Move, where this story first appeared.
Victoire Ingabire engages Rwandan Senate on the plight of political prisoners
by Boniface Twagirimana
On Friday, Jan. 6, 2012, some members of Rwanda’s Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Security accepted a few live questions from prisoners inside the Kigali Central Prison. Political prisoner Victoire Ingabire, chair of the FDU-Inkingi coalition of parties, engaged the senators on the plight of political prisoners in Rwanda and urged them to promote laws granting more freedoms and democracy in the country before they finish their term in the Senate.
“What do you think about the issue of political prisoners here? My visitation right has been restricted. I don’t have rights to attend church service or pray with others and was told that no change is to be seen until Easter. You have been appointed for eight years. Rwandans expect your mandate to abolish vague laws that generate political prisoners. People need more freedoms and democracy in this country. Otherwise, there will be no real reconciliation, no sustainable development and no political stability,” she stated, inspiring a wave of applause through the crowd of prisoners.
“People need more freedoms and democracy in this country. Otherwise, there will be no real reconciliation, no sustainable development and no political stability,” Ingabire told the senators.
“She is a bad influence here,” murmured a security officer to a member of the delegation, who whispered, “They are just prisoners.” The visiting members of the Senate promised to discuss the issue.
The delegation was chaired by Sen. Jean Damascene Bizimana, head of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Security. This is no special event, as the committee has been touring various prisons. On Nov. 29, 2011, they visited Nyagatare Prison and the Gabiro community service program for prisoners (TIG).
Before his appointment to the Senate, Dr. Bizimana, a former minister of infrastructure, held other positions in the government, including executive secretary of the so-called Travaux d’Interêts Générales (TIG), a controversial post-genocide institution that acknowledged that the whereabouts of 27,000 prisoners remain a mystery (Igihe.com, Jan. 4, 2012).
In 2010, a study commissioned by the Rwandan Senate on political pluralism and power sharing in Rwanda revealed that 69 percent of those surveyed believe the fear of authority is the major obstacle to freedom of speech and political space, followed closely by nepotism and the legacy of genocide.
FDU-Inkingi, the coalition of Rwandan political parties led by Victoire Ingabire, welcomes the liberation of an executive member of the party, Gratien Nsabiyaremye, who was abducted and beaten by Capt. Rutaburingoga of the marine unit in Gisenyi on Jan. 2, 2012. Prosecutor Chantal Uwamahoro issued a release order, but Nsabiyaremye is required to report to the local police station every Tuesday.
The impunity granted to Capt. Rutaburingoga, even after he has raided the homes of innocent civilians in the night and beaten people in public, contributes to a climate of terror and uncertainty among the population. This is one of the faces of the current judiciary in Rwanda.
Boniface Twagirimana, interim vice president of the FDU-Inkingi coalition of Rwandan political parties, can be reached at email@example.com. He concludes this dispatch with a quotation by Victoire Ingabire: “Don’t give up; he will never jail a whole nation.”