Little known but committed Victoire Ingabire is a woman of all seasons. She has since her arrival back in Rwanda been trying to familiarise herself with the developments so far in a country she left 16 years ago. A career accountant-turned politician, she hopes, subject to the registration of her political party, to contest the forthcoming presidential election this August. Many agree she stands no chance but her introduction into the Rwandan political fold has already created a few surprises. Government propagandists under different pseudo names are already engaged in a tarnishing campaign to ensure all she says is never believed. Already, her political aide has been arrested and jailed over a Gacaca court conviction that Ingabire’s supporters and sympathisers believe is faked.
But as Kagame prepares to assume yet another seven year term, the world has been introduced to a politically charged mercenary type of society where opposition politics is only present on paper. It appears Kagame and his men are more at ease with the already established and very disorganised nine political parties who they know and have always controlled so easily. They are not ready for a party whose leader has been brave enough to raise critical issues. As part of a more detailed story to follow in one of the leading newspapers in the UK, I asked Ingabire about her thoughts on recent events:
You have been a subject of constant criticism from several government spin doctors and there is every indication you may not get to register your party, do you still believe it is possible?
I have indeed been subjected to all sorts of harassments from government sponsored media and services. But I have so far managed to keep on with my agenda of registering my party. Given the kind of hurdles that I have gone through, I can not rule out any scenario. The government may reject the registration application of my party on flimsy reasons, in order to hang on power. It is clear that the ruling party is not ready for competition of ideas, in a genuine multiparty system.
The fact that one of your aides has been charged with a genocide crime and imprisoned as a result must surely make you doubt and fear for your life. How have the events of the past weeks affected your overall desire to bring to Rwandans what you think they deserve?
The rough beating and subsequent arrest and detention of Joseph Ntawangundi brought to limelight the true colour of our government. In a rule of law, we expected the assailants to answer for their deeds, more so when the government claimed that they had been arrested. Instead, the victim was arrested and jailed, as if to cover up the assailants. We were both targeted by the mob and I narrowly escaped. I would have been equally beaten if I had been caught. Yes I fear for my life, as any human being, but this will not derail my desire and determination to bring changes in Rwanda.
You are a strong lady, aren’t you? Who is Victoire Ingabire?
I can not gauge my strength, I leave it to others. As for my background, I am 42 years old, married and mother of three children. I hold a degree in Commercial and business administration which I got in Holland, where I worked in private sector. I majored in Enterprises management. My political career started in late nineteen. I was also involved in many NGO’s activities. I believe in no violence as a way of bringing political changes.
Elections will be here in 6 months time but yet one would think Uganda will be voting earlier than Rwanda. What do you think is the reason for no morale about the coming elections in Rwanda?
Previous elections held in Rwanda in 2003 and 2008 were marred by massive rigging. This was confirmed among others, by EU observers in their report. Since the composition of the electoral commission has not fundamentally changed, there is no guarantee of a more transparent election. This is the reason why we are calling for a broad based electoral commission and an electoral code that has the blessing of all political parties involved in the election. The ruling party can not be a judge and jury. The recent resignation from the ruling party of the chairman of the electoral commission is a mere smoke screen move, to hoodwink donors and it is our prayer that some of these things get sorted out. He still is member of the party which does not change much.
Reports from both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International seem to hint on the excessive lack of political space in Rwanda viewing dissent as anti-progress. Is that a view you share especially after spending a few weeks in the country now?
I totally share the assessments of HRW, as far as political space is concerned in Rwanda. Freedom of expression and equal access to public and private media is paramount for democratic elections. No issue should be a taboo. People should be free to challenge the government on its achievements and generally the way it conducts its affairs. Government critics should not be treated as enemies of the nation, but as watch dogs. Democracy is a universal commodity. It should not be twisted merely to suit interest of a group or political organisation. This is what I am struggling for.
There is this allegation that FDU-Inkingi is connected to FDLR which has been labelled a terrorist organisation by the US, tell us this is true?
These are fabrications aimed at tarnishing my image and delaying the registration of my party. Of late, government lobbies have been going around, brandishing a UN experts report as evidence. This UN report which by the way was heavily criticised by Tanzania and Burundi, is so biased that it went to the extent of saying that the commander in chief of FDLR is my brother! This is rubbish? The report further alleges that I am connected with FDLR because I attended a meeting with FDLR members in Barcelona. The so called Barcelona meeting took place under the auspices of a Spanish NGO and was attended by Rwandan of all ethnic groups, including RPF well known individuals from Rwanda. This can be cross-checked from the minutes of the meeting. The agenda of the meeting was to see ways and means of organising an inter Rwanda dialogue. How came these RPF members who attended the meeting are not labelled FDLR supporters? The truth of the story is that the government does not want a true dialogue and want to demonise any dialogue initiative that is not under it iron fist. Had the Barcelona meeting been a conspiracy meeting, the organisers would have not invited delegates from Rwanda including staunch supporters of the ruling party.
What do you want and wish for Rwanda?
Peace, stability and reconciliation. I don’t want to see any more Rwandan being killed as a result of his ethnic, religious, region or political origin. I don’t want to see any more Rwandan seeking asylum abroad, or living in makeshift camps around Africa or being hunted like animals in neighbouring countries.
I want an independent judiciary and state machinery that pays allegiance to a cause, a nation, and no more to an individual or political organisation. I want a Rwanda where there is a rule of laws and equal economic opportunities. This is my dream.
After the attack on you a few weeks ago, do you now feel safe? We read in the papers that you have written to the president for security, what is the latest on this?
It is the duty of any government to ensure security for its entire citizen. This is what I expect from my government. I am not begging for favours.
If winning had to be about you (FDU) merging with the Green Party of Rwanda, and that is of course assuming that you both get registered, would you welcome a coalition?
Let’s not cross the bridge before reaching it. For the time being the issue does not arise. But I can assure you that I will support any move that can bring changes in Rwanda. I am not struggling for my own ego, but for the good of my countrymen. I share the Green party thirst for freedom and democracy.