Rwanda: political prisoners and prisoners of conscience

Rwandans know well that Kagame’s prisons hold persistently thousands, if not hundred thousands, political prisoners and prisoners of conscience who disappear and or get recycled and or replaced by others over the years when they are erased by timely death out of the carceral system.

RPF strategies of reducing the Hutu population for political and economic motives and killing any political dissent include these imprisonments that make Rwanda the seventh country in the world with the highest prison population rate: 492 Rwandan citizens out of 100,000 are in prison.

As a matter of comparison in the Great Lakes region, for the same level of carceral population in 2012, countries rank as follows: 1) Kenya (119); 2) Uganda (110); 3) Burundi (85); 4) Tanzania (73); 5) Democratic Republic of Congo (35). If the Rwandan rate of incarceration is 14 times high the one of DRC and almost 5 times the one of Kenya regionally, that explains that putting people in prison is a government policy which is not about correcting their eventual wrong doing. Rwandans as human beings are not much so different from other Africans of the region.

What the RPF has been doing since taking power in July 1994 has been to imprison anyone hutu with a potential of becoming an opinion leader in their community/ village. As a consequence, once RPF has purged the population of any real or fictive opposition, that president Kagame through its party machinery pressures people to sign petitions asking to end term limits in the constitution and collects almost 100% support from those outside prisons, even prisoners themselves, should not surprise anyone.

Among the prisoners, few names have retained the attention of the international community. The following extract is from the 2014/15 annual report of Amnesty International and talks about 2 Rwandan political prisoners and 1 prisoner of conscience:


Following the rejection of her appeal in December 2013, Victoire Ingabire, President of the United Democratic Forces party (FDU-Inkingi), remained in Kigali Central Prison serving a 15-year prison sentence for terrorism-related and freedom of expression offences. Some of the evidence used to convict her was linked to the legitimate expression of her ideas. Victoire Ingabire had returned to Rwanda in January 2010 after 16 years in exile in Europe. Bernard Ntaganda, President of the Ideal Social Party (Parti Social-Imberakuri), was released from Mpanga prison after four years in detention. He had been found guilty in 2011 of “divisionism” for making public speeches criticizing government policies ahead of the 2010 elections, breaching state security and attempting to plan an “unauthorized demonstration”.


In June (2014), Agnès Nkusi Uwimana, editor of the private Kinyarwanda-language newspaper Umurabyo, was released after completing a four-year prison sentence. She had been imprisoned for threatening state security after writing opinion pieces critical of government policies and alleged corruption in the run-up to the 2010 presidential elections.”

Among the many countries which supported and continue providing their assistance to the Rwandan government in its policy of depriving its citizens of their fundamental rights by developing the most repressive judiciary system the country has ever had feature The Netherlands.

Though other countries such as Britain and US or EU as a group of countries have pumped hundreds of millions of £, $ and Euros over the years that made Rwanda the most aided country in the region, The Netherlands have focused mainly on the judiciary system including the famous Gacaca, particularly building more prisons with the consequences we see today for the Hutu population.

More than 1.5 million adult hutus, men and women, have been sentenced, imprisoned, dispossessed, and disenfranchised by the unjust system supported by RPF sponsors. It is difficult to imagine the stigma or economic hardships that these imprisonments have put on members of the families of those who got imprisoned. Consequences might be felt for generations for those still surviving.

For only three names out of hundreds thousands, and or maybe millions since there has never been a tightly kept record of those imprisoned, who perished through the incarceral system that the West helped RPF built, should there be any reason Rwandans might have to celebrate that Amnesty International has now acknowledged their imprisoned heroes? I don’t think so.

If people need to acknowledge and celebrate their heroes only once the latter have been recognised by others than themselves, they are doomed. Their future is bleak. Communities that identify and come massively behind their leaders as soon as they emerge from the lot are those that get far into their development and affirmation as a people.

Ambrose Nzeyimana