Starving prisoners: RPF practice Victoire INGABIRE highlights in her notes

Victoire Ingabire, the Rwandan opposition leader, is incarcerated in the 1930 prison since October 14th, 2010. On Saturday March 26th, 2016, she was going to miss her lunch, not from her fault, but only because Ms Leonille Gasengayire, her helper who usually brings her food from outside the prison, was kidnapped. Rwandan security forces, in plain civilian clothes, had waited for her inside the premises. After she hands over the food provision to the prisoner, she was rushed in a small car with number plate RAA442M.

Ms Leonille Gasengayire, is not any ordinary member of Victoire Ingabire;s political party. She is among the unconditionals of the leader of the Rwandan opposition. While finding out about her, I was told that in the past, she had already spent two years in prison for only being a member of the opposition. Thus one could say rightly that she is a familiar victim of the arbitrary imprisonment by RPF for anyone not supporting Kagame’s regime.

Late afternoon on the day of the kidnapping, the whereabouts of Leonille were still unknown. Before her, other helpers of Victoire Ingabire have been harassed, threatened, beaten up and some had to flee the country. Days after the disappearance, without knowing what had become of the helper, people were asking if the prisoner had managed to get some food. This is undoubtedly psychological warfare towards Rwandan prisoners aimed at killing them softly.

I can personally relate to such government killing tactics because in 2013 I lost a relative in the central prison of Kigali, the penitentiary Rwandan system having blocked family members from bringing her food from outside. This RPF practice is part of many strategies that president Kagame has put in place during his early years of rule. He for example publicly announced in Kibuye that, “one could empty a 100 liters’ container by using a spoon.”

He was referring to the majority hutu population which, in the census of 1991, constituted 84.5%, and whose number he was planning to reduce. However, since officially there are only Rwandans in the country, – though as a paradox, since 2013, all hutus were ordered at the same time to ask for forgiveness to tutsi because of the Rwandan genocide -, nobody will ever know how many hutus RPF will have killed during its rule since 1994, when it won’t be around anymore.

Referring to Kagame’s anecdotal comparison, one can imagine today how empty is the container, after almost 26 years of using the spoon. Back to the starvation of the Rwandan prisoners, as part of the overall ethnic cleansing strategy, lets read what Victoire Ingabire writes in her notes “Entre les 4 murs du 1930,” which were published last year. The translation of the pages 129 – 131 from french to english is mine.

“…they (imprisoned mothers and their children) have difficulties feeding themselves. There is always a concern about prisoners’ food, and there are times when they can go for two days without any meal.
Once, when children hadn’t been given their daily morning porridge, I asked to speak to the prison’s director. He accepted to see me. I told him that I was aware of the fact that there were no food to feed children (one might wonder how children end up in prison). And that I was going to denounce him if he didn’t request from the government to solve that issue (quickly). He must’ve paid from his own money in order to have some bags of rice. (the question here is why would a prison’s director pay by their own money to feed inmates including children if his government policy is not to eliminate them by starvation).
At another occasion, when prisoners had been starved for three days, I ensured again the prison’s director became aware of the fact I was going to use my party network to denounce that situation. Knowing well that I could execute my threat of spreading out his government’s attitude of intentionally starving its prisoners, he called a colleague, who was responsible of the prison of Kimironko. He got from him a number of bags of maize and beans. I surely had become troublesome with such frequent menaces. One day the director told me that, after thorough consideration with his colleagues, I needed to get food from the prison canteen and not from outside. I wanted to know the exact reasons of changing where I was getting my food from. The explanation put forward was that the prison administration did not have much confidence in Alice Muhirwa (Victoire Ingabire’s first helper from the time she entered prison in October 2010) and her colleagues, since they could poison her and make the government look like responsible of the crime. I told the director that I had total confidence in my helper and her colleagues. I highlighted to him that instead I was suspicious of any food coming from his canteen.
The following day, one of the two guards keeping an eye on me all the time, told me that things were going to change. From now on, I was not allowed to greet Alice. On arrival, she would put down the pack containing my food and would get back at some distance. I would then be allowed to approach the pack and take it, without addressing a word to her at any time.
The prison’s doors open up. It is 1:30pm, the usual time for Alice to bring my food. She has been told where to put on the ground the bag with my food inside. I am told to approach the pack and take it. I walk steadily not focusing on the bag, but heading towards Alice instead, to greet her and ask her some news. The guard shouts at me asking where I was going. I don’t respond. He comes towards me with a speedy pace, irritated by my rebellious attitude, then push me. I loose a bit my equilibrium, strumble sidewise but don’t fall down. I clearly tell Alice strongly that nothing was going to change in the routine of handing me my food. I am not a dog to which one points a finger where it is meant to get its food and then eat it. Speaking as loudly as I could so everyone could hear me, I repeated to Alice that she should always wait for me to come out of my cell for her to hand me then my food. I return to my cell but the guard who has pushed me at the point of falling on the ground continues brutalising me. Once in my cell, I write quickly a note addressed to the prison’s director asking to see him. I bang loudly the door to get someone opening it or take the message to the director. The guard who comes to open is a colleague of the one who brutalised me. Both are agents of the police intelligence service. He enquires about what is going on. I tend him the written message. He reads it, afterwards he excuses himself for the behaviour of his colleague towards me, who visibly according to him had gone over the board. I look at him straight in the eyes and insist on seeing the prison’s director the same day. One hour later I am in the director’s office. A few minutes later, the guard at the origin of the incident for which I was there, enters the office in a hurry. He whispers without much of good manners: “Sir, please consider that there is no problem!” Then the director brushed him away unceremoniously. On my part, I don’t have time to say a word, that he straightaway tells me that he has been informed about the incident. Having said that, he too presents me his excuses. Touched by his almost spontaneous response and display of some humility, I let him know that I was aware that the guard who had misbehaved towards me was not under his direct control. I ask him to politely communicate to the guard’s supervisor that “respect had to be reciprocal.” On his part, he indicated that the guard in question had acted the way he did from his own initiative, that however he was going to transmit my message to the concerned authority.”

Since 2013, year during which Kagame’s interferences in DRC officially halted, and consequently he could not keep on stealing from that country, there are many public services in Rwanda which are not being met by his government budget, including for example feeding prisoners.

In the past, imprisonment has been a practice of getting rid of all undesirable categories of people. Particularly, there were periods when the majority of male and adult hutu population was to be found in prisons, surviving incarceral inhumane conditions only by miracle. This was when some imprisonment sites which were for example meant to shelter 500 prisoners, had ten times that number. The design of that hutu genocide was such that extended families were continuously harassed and conditioned to accept the disappearance including death of their relatives through the penitentiary RPF system. I am talking from personal experience.
Ms Leonille Gasengayire disappeared since Saturday 26th March, 2016. Luckily after four days of harassment and beating by the police, she was released. Many voices contribute to her release, if not she would’ve gone forever. She is one in the millions of Rwandans whose remains might one day have ended up in the memorial of tutsi victims of genocide, though she might be hutu. I should say instead, though she is Rwandan, since officially there are no hutu, or tutsi, (or twa who are rarely referred to), but only Rwandans.

Anyone who shared the news about her disappearance contributed to the fact that she was found still alive. By strongly seeking her whereabouts, and advocating widely for her unconditional release by Kagame’s services, we saved one life, in a country where millions have been lost before her, or continue to be wasted, with US, Britain and many other countries funding the elimination process of Rwandans.

Ambrose Nzeyimana