By Dr. Innocent Ndagijimana Justice
This series is based on Mr. Kizito Mihigo’s own recorded audios, which he started recording from October 6, 2016.
In his own voice, Mr. Mihigo narrates his ordeal in French. He entrusted his recordings and writings to an activist based in Europe. Mr. Mihigo felt that death was immanent, and he wanted to tell his own story. He asked the activist to keep the recordings and writings in a safe place and release them if something like death happened to him and he could not tell his own story.
I am grateful to Rwanda’s human rights activist who helped Mr. Mihigo to tell his own story.
I HOPED IT WAS A BAD DREAM
Monday morning on February 17, 2020, I received awful news about the passing of the Rwanda’s beloved Gospel singer who also happened to be a renowned Activist for reconciliation. As I received this news, I wanted to believe that it was a dream or fake news, but it was real. The news came from the press release made by the Rwandan police. The statement from police reported that Mr. Mihigo committed suicide while he was at Remera police station. This report was dubious because it jumped to a conclusion before an investigation took place. The press release raised three questions for me. First, how could Mihigo, who was 38 years old, a devoted Christian and a popular Gospel singer, end his own life? Second, he was kidnapped and later arrested in 2014, why didn’t he commit suicide while he was in the notorious central prison known as 1930? Third, it is unusual to get bed sheets in Rwanda’s police custody. If he did get them, how could he manage to hang himself on the metal of a vertical window and die of strangulation while leaning against the wall that could support his body?
At age 12, Mr. Mihigo, a child prodigy learned how to sing and play piano from his father who was a choir conductor in the Catholic church! Mihigo, a Tutsi Genocide survivor, lost his father during the Genocide in 1994. Through his gospel and reconciliation songs, Mihigo made reconciliation his own cause. He performed at almost every Catholic parish and in every prison in Rwanda. Little did he know that one day he would be thrown in prison to serve time with those who were accused of committing genocide against his family. On March 5, 2014, Mihigo released a song called “Igisobanuro Cy’Urupfu” or “The Meaning of Death”. In this song, he empathized with Hutus, and Twas who lost their loved ones during the widespread revenge attacks committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Army that was led by the current Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
The song “The Meaning of Death” sealed Mr. Mihigo’s fate. It was the genesis of his painful journey to the cross and eventually it led to his mysterious death in police custody. The singer who received awards from the First Lady Jeannette Kagame and who was liked by the president became an enemy of the state when he released the song that challenged the regime’s narrative and their facade reconciliation. Right after the song was loaded on his YouTube Channel, he received death threats. He was summoned by the Criminal Investigation Department, Center for Preventing and Fighting against Genocide ideology known as CNLG and other security organs. On April 1, 2014, Mr. Mihigo was invited by the President’s chief of staff Ms. Agnes Mpambara. He met Ms. Mpambara at the office of the vice-President of the Senate. Ms. Mpambara and Mr. Bernard Makuza who was the vice-president of the senate at the time, told Mr. Mihigo that the President did not like his song “The Meaning of Death.” Therefore, he should give the President an apology in writing and he should apologize to the whole nation via media afterward. The two key officials told Mr. Mihigo, “If you don’t comply, you’re dead!” Ms. Mpambara and Senator Makuza told him that no harm would happen to him if he complied. Mr. Mihigo explained that his song didn’t mean any harm to anybody, but it was a Christian reconciliatory song. In trying to save his life, Mr. Mihigo did everything they asked him to do, but that never changed the regime’s evil plans against him.
On April 6, 2014 while his vehicle stopped at traffic lights nearby the House of Parliament, he was abducted by two senior police officers who removed him from his vehicle. They confiscated his cellphone and told him that their superior wanted to interrogate him. After driving him around the city in Kigali, they took him to the most feared interrogation house in Gikondo known as Kwa Gacinya and left him in the conference room for 30 minutes. He asked his captors what was going on, but they gave no answer. After 30 minutes, Mihigo was again taken to a vehicle where two men in civilian clothes joined them and he sat between those police in civilian clothes. The police officers who abducted him along with two in civilian outfits transported Mr. Mihigo to a rural area toward Bugesera. When they arrived in a village called Nyanza, they took him in an isolated forest. From 12PM to 8PM, Mr. Mihigo was deep in the forest with the policemen who abducted him and no one was talking to him. When it was dark, around 8PM, Mr. Mihigo started to think that he was going to be assassinated and be buried in that jungle.
Stay tuned, I will tell you what happened in my next piece in this series…