Victoire Ingabire: A symbol of African humanity upheld in a prison called Rwanda

We should celebrate our African heroes while they are still alive.” BK Kumbi

Victoire Ingabire has redefined the concept of courage in African psyche. It will anymore be an exclusively manly characteristic.

On January 17th, 2015 five years will have passed. It was effectively on a similar day of 2010 that she landed at the International Airport of Kigali (previously called Aeroport International Gregoire Kayibanda in honor of the first Hutu president of Rwanda).

To remind the reader not familiar with the personality in question, Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza is a Rwandan woman politician who after living in The Netherlands for 16 years out of her country decided to return and present her candidacy to compete in the presidential elections of August 9th, 2010.

I remember that prior to these elections the Rwandan president Paul Kagame was highly regarded by western mainstream media as the postcard African leader at the time. According to his supporters he had managed to tremendously turnaround a country which had experienced a horrible genocide in 1994 and almost miraculous managed to put it on a path of incredible economic recovery.

Such image of the Rwandan president was however being painted expensively. Several UK and US PR companies like BTP Advisers or Racepoint were receiving enormous amounts of money from the country’s coffers to portray Paul Kagame and Rwanda more than they were worth. Bell Pottinger, Portland PR, Hill and Knowlton, and other public relations firms operate in this sector.

Understandably, the first concerned was the president who was behind that image-laundering. But in parallel western countries and their multinationals found most comfortable working with a president with clean record and representing a success story that would be a convenient cover for their plundering of Congolese mineral resources. Vctoire Ingabire might even have been victim of opposing such DRC exploitation by foreigners.

In the process of Kagame’s image pampering, critical issues of internal interest to Rwanda including oppression of populations, imprisonment, injustice, dispossession of property, misery in rural areas, lack of democracy, corruption at the highest level of the administration, significant unemployment of the youth, and discrimination against Hutus in the education system, have been brushed out to show instead a false image of the Rwandan president and the country.

Time and time again, UN experts, human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, just to name a few, have reported on his indescribable human abuse record over the years and this has almost ended in deaf ears. The most other recent testimony of his crimes was the BBC documentary: Rwanda Untold Story. And Victoire Ingabire has been representative of Kagame’s millions other victims whose experiences are not told.

Imprisoned African women politicians

In 2011 I did some research to find out other important African women who had been imprisoned across the continent in similar circumstances, meaning for example seeking to become president of their respective countries and had ended up instead in prison.

At the time I had found Ms Birtukan Mideska, Ethiopian woman lawyer who was also imprisoned then released on October 6th, 2010, after two years of imprisonment. Her Rwandan peer Victoire Ingabire would be imprisoned in the same month on October 14th, 2010.

Across Africa where society is very patriarchal and girls have generally less rights than boys traditionally, cases of women aspiring to become presidents and actually attempting to be by presenting officially their intentions are rare. The contradiction about Rwanda where the regime boosts of being the only country in the world with a majority of women in parliament is that it is also the unique African place where a woman has been imprisoned for trying to become president.

What does she represents for Africans?

For Friends of Victoire, a campaign organisation set up for her release from prison and that of other Rwandan political prisoners, she is considered as a “woman Mandela.” And for the majority of her compatriots, she embodies real reconciliation among all Rwandans inclusively.

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.
Patrick Mbeko, Canadian Congolese-born writer and geopolitical analyst

We need woman like her to become role models of courage to all African and Arab women.
Naïma Rajhi, Tunis

When I look at this woman , I am almost like reading in her eyes the suffering of the Congolese women martyred , too, by the same tyrant…She fights for the entire Great Lakes region for the six million Congolese victims of crimes and rapes … her name will join those of other illustrious [AFRICANS] that …   we learn with pride …Respects to this woman  whose struggle  and horrible imprisonment mainstream media is silent about media! With Dr. Mukwege , she is one of those people  most deserving the Nobel Prize , if such prize still makes ​​sense.
Damien Mavambu, France

The day Victoire set foot back in Rwanda, she became a heroine . If we do not understand that this woman is the hope for Africa, if we do not understand that we as a people , as  Congolese, Rwandans, Ugandans , we must support this woman and ask this criminal  [Paul Kagame] to release her, it is because we do not understand the essence of the heart of Africa  that beats in the body of this woman. We should celebrate our African heroes when they are still alive .
BK Kumbi,  Congolese historian and activist

I admire that tranquil strength that lies in her. It is true that it is sometimes very harsh along that path that leads us from darkness to light. Keep up the good spirit. Victory of the light is yours soon, Victoire.
Kin Alkdv

Across the world

Ann Garrison, an American journalist who won an international Award for advocating for Victoire Ingabire has this to say about her:

“I first became aware of Victoire when I saw demonstrations amongst the Rwandan Diaspora in Europe. She was then under house arrest in Rwanda and they were lined up in Brussels, holding her picture and chanting “Victoire! Victoire! Victoire!”

“As a journalist, I maintained my distance for some time, making my way through all the available information and asking myself, “Who is Victoire?” I knew American radicals who were suspicious of her. They imagined that she was the Pentagon and State Department’s chosen successor to Paul Kagame.”

“I still don’t know just why they imagined that, though it seemed perhaps because she hadn’t been arrested, or rather, had only been placed under house arrest, forbidden to leave Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, to speak to the majority Rwandan population, rural peasant farmers, whom she hoped to represent. Her political party was not allowed to register and she was not allowed to run in Rwanda’s 2010 presidential election.”

Five years in the life of a newborn is a period of great development and transformation. From learning to speak, walk then to being able to express clearly some issues the child might have and others that they understand somehow well. From the time Victoire Ingabire landed in Rwanda, RPF and the country’s political landscape have completed changed, pushing the president Paul Kagame towards his final exit from office soon.

Someone claimed that to become a hero/leader for your people one does not have to pass through prison. True in a sense, but leadership that gets you imprisoned makes you a true and better leader, because your sense and understanding of humanity is thoroughly tested in the process.

That Victoire Ingabire will be soon released and enjoy with Rwandans her freedom before Paul Kagame leaves office in 2017 (end of his only allowed second term), this is a wish shared by many in her country and across the world. To our African hero, keep up inspiring present and future generations by your example of courage and humanity.

Ambrose Nzeyimana

Ambrose Nzeyimana

Political Analyst/ Activist
Organising for Africa, Coordinator
The Rising Continent, Blog editor

London, UK
Email: [email protected]