“Let me begin by saying how surprised and honored I am to be named among Women of the Year by your publication. I both admire the work that you do and applaud your commitment to serving the Rwandan people through the dissemination of information and the encouragement of open dialogue in and around the issues – political and otherwise- that most affect us today.” : Portia Karegeya
The Rwandan: One year after the death of your father, how your life has changed? Do you think about him often?
Portia Karegeya:The question of how my life has changed after my father’s death (and by the way I prefer to refer to it as my father’s assassination or the killing of my father because simply saying he died, or referring to his ‘death’ to some extent makes it seem like he simply met the unfortunate but ordinary fate that we will all meet someday. Furthermore, it makes it more comfortable for people to hear and deal with. I always want it to be known that leaving this life was not his choice, that it was an unnecessary evil done to him, that this was not in anyway or form an ordinary death, and if that makes people uncomfortable and makes it even a little harder for them to deal with, so it should) depends on what the measure of change you are using is. In terms of my day-to-day life and my academic and professional pursuits, almost nothing has changed. I am doing all the same things I had planned to do while he was still alive. On a very personal and fundamental level though, I have been irrevocably changed. Anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one will tell you that nothing is ever really the same again. I have managed to move on to find a new ‘normal’ but I think his assassination is definitely the point that marks my ‘before’ and ‘after’. In other words, when I tell stories about my life retrospectively the major differentiation is now whether it occurred before or after my father was killed. Of course I think about him often. He is very consistently my first and last thought of day.
The Rwandan: What is the most important thing you remember about your father?
Portia Karegeya:This is an incredibly difficult question to answer; there really is no one most important thing I remember about him. I remember him as a whole person with all his humour and his intellect and charm and generous nature intersecting to create what I consider to be a spectacular human being. As I write this however, I think of how I observed that he was never intimidated by anything or anybody. All people – analogical princes and paupers – would be treated exactly the same way in his presence. I admired this greatly and it is a trait I try to emulate.
The Rwandan: Are you doing anything in relation of pursuing justice for your father?
Portia Karegeya:His murder and its legal consequences are very complex, as I’m sure you well know, and so I am hesitant to make any comments. Progress is slow, and what I can say is that currently, we are waiting to see what the South African authorities decided to do.
The Rwandan: Do you have any intention to follow your father footsteps and became an activist aiming to bring about democracy and freedom in Rwanda by becoming a Politician or a human right activist?
Portia Karegeya:For obvious reasons, the idea of getting into politics – Rwandan politics in particular – leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I am not sure I’m cut out for it and given my last name, I am pretty sure I’m not invited either. Human rights activism on the other hand is definitely my chosen path. I’m still getting training in the arena and I hope to do great work in the future but it won’t necessarily be tied to Rwanda, at least not in the foreseeable future.
The Rwandan: When you were still in Rwanda, you had many friends, such as the children of President Kagame and other current militarily officers – Are these children still your friends? Are you in touch with them?
Portia Karegeya:I definitely have friends who live and work in Rwanda, however, they are few and far between and communication with them is sporadic and difficult to maintain. Many have chosen not to communicate at all lest they be guilty by association. The experience of being socially ostracized once you fall from Kagame’s grace is nothing new but I do not begrudge anyone for this of course, it’s a necessary modus operandi for self-preservation.
The Rwandan: Have you ever considered going back to Rwanda? Do you miss to be in Rwanda?
Portia Karegeya:I miss Rwanda all the time. It is home. A significant portion of my maternal family lives there. I would love to be able to go back; I just don’t think I’m welcome.
The Rwandan:What message would give to young Rwandans for this New Year?
Portia Karegeya:My motto for the year is to live courageously. I would give young Rwandans the same advice, live courageously, if you have something to say let your voice be heard, if there is something you think needs doing, do it.