Victoire Ingabire: Symbol and Sacrifice

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, imprisoned woman leader of the Rwandan political party of the opposition FDU-Inkingi. On December 13th, 2013 she was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment. Her crime: having in 2010 attempted to challenge democratically through elections the Rwandan dictator Paul Kagame.

Five years have just passed. It was on October 14th, 2010 when she was first sentenced. Her flame of real peace and reconciliation among Rwandans demands being kept alive.

On January 09th, 2010 I was in Brussels at the farewell event that gathered more than 300 people to see Victoire Ingabire going back to Rwanda. A week later she landed in Kigali.

What she encountered in the hands of the Rwandan Patriotic Front once there has been widely reported and documented by different news outlets and human rights organisations.

On October 14th, 2010 the Rwandan president Paul Kagame ordered her imprisonment. The initial sentence of 8 years was increased to 15 years on December 13th, 2013. This was surely for the RPF ruling party to ensure whenever she might get out, she won’t be in a capacity to compete politically.

There might be naive or unscrupulous voices that could claim that she was accused then sentenced by the Rwandan judiciary for something substantial against her. But informed people and even anyone aware of how the country is run will concede that nothing happens in Rwanda without the president authorising it or being aligned with his desiderata.

In this note, I deliberately ignore to refer to Kagame’s justification of Ingabire’s imprisonment. To highlight it would be to give it any credibility it does not deserve, because it was totally fabricated to get her in jail. Surprisingly, even the witnesses that the prosecution brought to court confessed later on to having been coerced to accuse her. Having said that, the main reason of her being silenced is that she constitutes a threat to his power and political authority.

As I write about Victoire Ingabire, I cannot however help thinking of Leoncie Nyiransekerabanzi, Stephanie Ndayambaje and Jean Nepomuscene Nayinzira, because these were close to home. They were family. There have been people like Emmanuel Gapyisi, Felicien Gatabazi, Martin Bucyana, Landouald Ndasingwa, Dr Theoneste Niyitegeka, Deogratias Mushayidi, Me Bernard Ntaganda, and a multitude of others whose names will never appear on platforms like these.

This is not because of their less important humanity or status, but only because they hadn’t risen to social preminence or close enough to the writer to be namely remembered. They didn’t all (named or not) have a chance in the face of the tragic end or fate brought to them by the present rulers of Rwanda.

The majority of us Rwandans, if not all, have examples of people who sacrificed their lives for us, and/ or continue doing so, in order for future generations to live better. It has taken some time to see the outcome of their sacrifice. It is neither possible to predict with certainty when it might come. Despite everything, it will come undoubtedly. Those martyrs stood up for something valuable but at the same time priceless: freedom.

Whether inside or outside Rwanda, there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousnds, – particularly in the Congolese forests -, who died, or those who everyday somehow are dying by accepting the sacrifice of dying a little bit or totally so that some human dignity could be preserved today and in the future.

While on October 14th, 2015, we commemorate five years of unjust imprisonment of Victoire Ingabire, this is equally an opportunity for all justice-seekers to associate with and honour all those who are not with us anymore, because of the sacrifice of their lives for a common, just and fairly shared humanity.

When Victoire Ingabire arrived in Rwanda in January 2010, she stressed her vision for Rwandans in these terms:

“…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 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.”

Her sacrifice and struggle hasn’t gone unnoticed by other Africans and beyond. This is what Patrick Mbeko, Canadian Congolese-born writer and geopolitical analyst, says about her:

“There are those African politicians that arouse respect and admiration. This is the case of the Rwandan opposition leader, now imprisoned by the criminal power of Kagame, Madame Victoire Ingabire. A courageous woman who faces alone and unarmed, one of the ferocious, if not the greatest criminal against humanity in office. Look at the entire spectrum of the Congolese political class, and you will not find any of her calibre. I commit myself to advocate that a street in my country DRC be named after that great lady.”

On January 31st, 2015, as chairperson of Friends of Victoire, a campaigning organisation for her release, Marie Lyse Numuhoza stressed about the imprisoned woman politician what everyone who claims to be supportive of Ingabire should be doing:

“…Well, for us at Friends of Victoire, and for all the people who love Victoire Ingabire, and who have followed her courageous actions to go back to Rwanda, 2015 is a special year. She’s been in that country for five years advancing peace. That’s what Friends of Victoire has started for. We call for all Rwandans, friends of Rwanda, all peace loving individuals across the world, to come and join the campaign towards the freedom of Ingabire as well as other prisoners of conscience.”

Remembering actively five years she have just spent in president Kagame’s prison is another occasion for Rwandans, friends of Rwanda, Africans and all world citizens, who are peace-loving to keep high in their minds and actions the symbol she represents and the weight of the sacrifice she made

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