Sometimes it is hard to say anything. Even harder when you cant think of anything to say. Judith Kanakuze (RIP) whose passing i have just learnt will forever live in my memory not as the longest serving female parliamentarian in Rwanda but as the lady from who i got to understand the importance of females in any political setting.
Selfless in the pursuit of what she considered best for the Rwandan woman and determined as a gallant soldier, i met this gem of a lady in 2007 as Kigali readied itself to host an International Women Summit. Neither of us knew each other. I was a reporter with the local daily The New Times, she was president for the Forum for Rwanda Women Parliamentarians (FFP). I was trying to find out what FFP was all about, she was willing to tell me everything.
For over an hour, she willingly sat in her office at the Parliamentary building answering my questions about the Forum, the upcoming conference and was able to brief me about the history of the women movement in Rwanda, which has seen the country’s parliament rank highest in the world when it comes to women representation in parliament.
Soft spoken and kind, her attitude towards the reporter throwing the questions (myself) was as candid as her generosity. I remember her asking me politely if i wanted anything to drink. She then asked her secretary, to get me a bottle of mineral water (Inyange) as she readied her self for more questions. We talked about so many things, the forum, the number of female MPs in both chambers, the conference and what it meant for the local Rwandan woman.
She was not extremely fluent in English but very articulate enough.
“From just 15 members, we have managed to create a formidable platform through which women views throughout the country are heard. I’m sure you are aware of how the Forum has helped review existing laws, introduce amendments to change discriminatory statutes, and examined proposed laws, all with the aim at promoting gender sensitivity in the country.” she told me.
She was as welcoming as a mother. I could see her determination. As if wanting me to understand everything in detail, she talked to me with so much interest that i was compelled to do nothing but sit, listen and admire the genius on the other side of the desk – who unlike in my university lectures- happened to be my interviewee.
I paused, smiled and quipped, ‘People will be looking at you as a proper role model and am sure many young Rwandese look at what this Forum has achieved and say, that is something to look up and aspire to, if this is about legacies, what is it you wish to leave behind?’
“It is not about legacies,” she replied. “It is about equality. Equality between men and women, equality in gender. As a Forum, we are always looking at how the woman will benefit and it does not matter whether it is the budget, a bill or a law being passed in parliament. We will keep doing what is possible and as long as we do our job properly, what happens after we have long gone is for those still alive to decide.”
If i had been playing counsel for the prosecution, that would have prompted me to admit i had no further questions. But i wasn’t. So i asked my last question. ‘This is a huge summit and it is going to mean you will spend hugely, do you have any idea how much this will cost you, i believe it is a huge bill?’
Normally politicians have a tendency to avoid questions like these, reason i insisted on asking it last. She was never bothered by the question even though i genuinely expected her to flinch.
“We will have the details of the cost availed to all including you journalists during our next press conference. So be there.”
Anyway, at the press conference everything happened as she had promised. The Summit came to Kigali on February 22, 2007 bringing to the city over 400 women from all over the world who included among others Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. It was a success.
As i write this, Rwanda still has the highest number of female MPs in the world but they will be gutted that one of them, someone who championed their current success has departed. It is sad, but the passing of Hon Kanakuze should serve as a reminder to peace loving Rwandans and females around the world that service is not about boasting, not about feeling good over one’s achievement but about humility and dedication. She fought for the rights of our sisters, mothers, daughters and wives, let us give her the final respect she deserves. Lets grant her a grand and well deserved state funeral as she departs, for, she in my opinion deserves it. And as we all look forward to meeting her one day, let us not forget to pray and forgive her for any failings she might have had while on earth.
Good bye Rwanda’s rose. We will love and remember you always Hon Kanakuze. Rest in peace knowing that Rwandans everywhere and women all over the world are so proud of you.