She remains as determined and hopeful in her dream to become Rwanda’s next president and possibly the first ever female head of state in the volatile Great Lakes Region of Africa but if hope is her charisma, she must know by now, the road to this feat is potentially, a very rough one.
Victoire Ingabire, 42, chairperson of the yet to be registered Unified Democratic Forces (UDF), a coalition of Rwandan opposition parties with members in Rwanda and abroad returned to Rwanda only last month following some 16 years of exile in the Netherlands, to register her party and get ready for the August presidential elections.
She has since proved a constant pickle to spin doctors in Kigali who have been running a series of hate stories against her and the party she represents, in a manner, only reminiscent of the hate media days that characterised the country prior to the genocide.
The government controlled and only English daily in the country, The New Times has consistently run very critical commentaries about her with some so nasty and badly written the authors names had to be doctored according to inside source at the paper.
But while this is probably what Ingabire will have been told to expect the day she made the decision to go back to Rwanda and prepare to contest for the top seat in the land, events from the last couple of weeks after her arrival have left many wondering whether the country’s media industry may have learnt anything from its distasteful past.
One would think that having witnessed the awful manner in which publications like Kangura and radio stations like RTLM were used in pre-genocide times to spread hatred among Rwandans, media practitioners in today’s Rwanda would be the last to resort to hate campaigns and dehumanisation. Not so says one Felix Muheto.
In an editorial that appeared in January 21, publication of The New Times, Muheto, who it has to be noted is a pseudo name for a leading Kigali spin doctor, imperially questioned Ingabire’s credentials as a presidential candidate in a manner that casts doubt as to whether journalism in Rwanda has changed for the best or the worst post genocide. “Mrs. Victoire Ingabire, in her Parmehutu nostalgic mind thought it wise to start her ill-fated struggle for the country’s highest office by seeking her ideological ancestors’ blessing for another revolution. “Well ! Is she the messiah who is going to cleanse them of their confessed sins for participating in genocide while planning to involve them into another ?” he wrote.
Muheto’s stinging allegations were even considered so important that The New Times, which maintains it is an exemplary and constructive media house published his opinion as an editorial.
Patrick Bigabo, a journalist and former employee of The New Times who currently is in private business told me it is less to do with a failure to learn from the past but a concerted desire to hustle free speech. “It has nothing to do with preserving what we have achieved over the years. Truth is, Kigali has been caught pants down.
Ingabire is viewed as a threat and so to counter her resurgence, the only tool is to attack. They will go to any level to make it extremely diffcult for her,” he says.
And go for her they have. Immediately after arriving in Rwanda on January 16, Ingabire headed to the genocide memorial at Gisozi in the outskirts of the capital Kigali where she is said to have delivered a speech.
The government says her speech aimed at evoking arguments of a double genocide, Ingabire’s camp maintains her speech was honest and aimed at challenging critical thinking and looking at Rwanda’s history “objectively”. Whatever the case, Ingabire’s arrival and subsequent speeches in Rwanda appear to be making Kagame’s government run scared. Otherwise why would Felix Muheto and the lot find themselves pre-occupied with criticising and literally demonising a lady who many agree stands no chance of winning the August election ?
There is little chance her party will get registered. Her mother …as we have since come to understand has already been accused of playing a role in the 1994 genocide and was sentenced in absencia by the Gacaca court of Butamwa. Even Ingabire’s camp is aware the government is trying to use this against their presidential hopeful. A recent communiqué from a party member, Chris Nzabandora noted :
“In a healthy democracy, discussion should be focused on issues not individuals. Ms. Ingabire is in Rwanda to defend a program not her own personal interests. The New Times is trying out cheap propaganda to imply that genocide ideology is a family rooted crime, to which every family member is answerable. This is not true.” Ingabire Attacked
That a presidential hopeful was attacked by youths and his aide beaten up so severely to the extent he had to be rushed to hospital calls into question whether the government is ready and willing to provide security to aspirants.
There is rumour too that the attack was an inside job by some elements within the establishment keen at sending Ingabire a message that she either gives up or prepares to face similar or even worse incidents. This argument is supported collaborated by the inconsistencies in the reports of events as told to different media outlets by Police spokesman Supt Eric Kayiranga.
While he told Reuters that Ingabire was beaten up by mobs who were angry at her politics, he told this reporter on phone that the five men police was holding over the matter confessed they wanted to steal her bag and had nothing to do with Ingabire as a politician.
But speaking to Reuters, Gregory Mthembu Salter a research associate at the South African Institute of International Affairs, said the attack may reflect a need for Rwanda to uphold freedom of speech better.
The country has often come under heavy criticism for its continued limits on freedom of speech, press freedom and rule of law – a criticism Kigali vehemently denies. The coming presidential election will be a stern test to the establishment in Kigali.