President Paul Kagame affirmed last week that the “honeymoon” of hard-talking opposition politician Ms. Ingabire Victoire will come to an end at some point with the law taking its course. Just day after the Monday 8th press conference, Ms. Ingabire was summoned by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), a meeting whose details remain sketchy. The Human Rights Watch slammed the Rwandan government for what it calls harassment of political opposition figures, urging the authorities to “loosen up control of the political space.” But the government stands its ground saying no one will be allowed to break the law and make mince meat of the country’s progress. Since her arrival on January 16th this year, Ms. Igabire has continued to draw sharp criticism from various quarters with regard to her position on the country’s law on genocide as well as being accused of inciting the public with inflammatory remarks. She sat down with Newstime Africa where the presidential hopeful reiterated no amount of intimidation will make her back-track on her ambitions, of one day becoming president of the land of mountain gorillas.
Excerpts of the interview follow.
Igabire Victoire: The first day I came I visited the Gisozi Genocide Memorial (Kigali) where I talked about what happened back in 1994, the Genocide against the Tutsi. Our position as the United Democratic Forces (FDU) is that, we call for everybody who was involved in the genocide one way or another be made to face justice. But on the other hand we know that from 1990 to 1994 there were crimes against humanity committed against both Hutus and Tutsis and today the international justice and even justice here in Rwanda is only concentrated on the genocide crime. We cannot forget crimes against humanity committed in our country. If we want to achieve reconciliation for our country we need to understand and accept the pain of everybody in the country, which is the only way we will achieve total reconciliation.
The big problem we have in Rwanda; and that the difference between us and the regime of general (President) Paul Kagame, we think if we are to really achieve reconciliation of the Rwandese people, we need to fully talk about what happened, why genocide was committed in the country, why the crimes against humanity were committed, whose responsibility was it and what we have to do together as Rwandese people to avoid the same problem in the future.
Talking about it, we trust it is the only way to achieve total reconciliation. I don’t believe forbidding people to talk about what happened is the way to resolve the problem. You know the government denies the existence of ethnicity in Rwanda. We say ethnicity is not the problem here, the problem is the politicians. We have to find out a way to deal with this. We need an institution that provides security for all. We reiterate, there is no shame in saying I am Hutu or am Tutsi, there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem comes in when politicians exploit that difference to stay in power or acquire that power. We need to find a common ground, to work together. It should not be on the basis our ethnicity but on the basis of what we believe in. Now my talking about a taboo is what has caused all this criticism about me.
People must learn to accept the differences of the other person, if we have different visions or opinions; that doesn’t mean we are enemies; we can go ahead and see what common ground is there to work together. There is nothing wrong with having different ideas!
Newstime Africa: Your comments come out as you wanting to see the Hutus killed in that period also receive justice, elaborate?
Igabire Victoire: I never singled out any particular group as the ones to face justice. I said everybody who was involved in one way or another in the killing of the Rwandese people has to face justice. We don’t need to know which ethnic group he/she belongs to. That’s the only way to have equal justice for all and with it total reconciliation.
I am not a law practitioner, I am a politician and I see what is wrong; the situation that the law needs to deal with. As a politician, I maintain we need equal justice for all.
Newstime Africa: The president last week said you are just campaigning as an individual as the law hasn’t yet allowed you to be called an opposition politician, what is taking so long to register your party, I mean what is their course of action?
Igabire Victoire: I am the leader of the Rwandese opposition, the media calls me so. I am the leader of the United Democratic Forces, and in September last year we decided to come back to the country. I was the chairperson back then and am here now to ask for the registration of my political party that’s first.
Secondly before I left the Netherlands, the party chose me as their flag bearer, now this means if my party is registered I will be their presidential candidate. It is not yet official because we have to first register our political party subsequently, as a presidential candidate. It was decision of the party, to have me represent them at the polls.
It is taking long to register my party because I had to start from scratch; I lived outside the country as a refugee. So when I came back the first thing I needed was an identity card, when I got the ID on the second day as you are aware, I was attacked and they stole my bag which had the ID card. Well now I have it back and today (15th Feb) I will send the letter to ask for authorization to meet the party members so as to collect signatures. With the signatures we can start the process of registration for our party. It takes two months to register a party and if we don’t have any more problems, we hope to make it for the June deadline.
Newstime Africa: Do you think the government is attacking you as a politician?
Igabire Victoire: Yes. What I saw when I came back to the country is that the government is not ready to accept opposition. We insist it is time to have a democratic process in our country. It is time people have freedom to say what they want, to freely organize meetings they need to discuss issues important to them, freedom of expression and freedom of association.
We need political space, which is the only way to hear everyone’s point of view.
Newstime Africa: What is your response to accusations that you are deliberately provoking the government to arrest you and in turn raise your profile?
Igabire Victoire: Nothing could be further from the truth. I wouldn’t like to be arrested because if I am imprisoned I cannot do anything. I am here to be an active politician. Nobody would like to be arrested and that includes me. That is a very wrong opinion they have of me.
Of course the government has an agenda of mudslinging me to the population. What is puzzling me though is why they are afraid, why are they doing this? I cannot understand. I have been away for 16 years, time in which they have ruled the country, now why are they afraid of me? I don’t understand why they take such measures, you see tomorrow (today) I have to go back to the CID office.
Newstime Africa: When you first went to the CID office what did you talk about?
Igabire Victoire: They accused me of genocide ideology, that I am a divisionist and that I work together with the FDLR (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda remnants of the Hutu militia highly blamed for the 1994 Rwanda genocide and still operating in eastern DRC). Of course I asked them what they mean by genocide ideology because it is vague, some word I cannot understand. They said I criticize Gacaca (locally organized courts that try category 2 genocide suspects, relying heavily on eye witness accounts and sentencing is mostly communal service) which amounts to genocide ideology, surely I don’t understand.
Regarding my criticism of Gacaca, as a politician I have to speak out when something is wrong. Now there are some innocent people tried by Gacaca and sentenced and they know of these cases. My criticism stems from the fact that genocide is a huge crime, one you cannot task people who know nothing about law to deal with. We say it is a heavy crime that has to be tried in normal courts not with people who know nothing about law.
On the other hand when something is good I appreciate it first. For example the Gacaca itself, I say it has allowed victims and perpetrators to meet. When someone meets the person who killed his whole family or a loved one, sit together, talk and find forgiveness; that is the reconciliation we need. That people can move on, is one tremendous achievement by the Gacaca courts that I laud and say is great.
Newstime Africa: When you talk to the people what do they tell you? And what is their response to your points of view?
Igabire Victoire: As we have not yet officially began the campaign period, I am limited to what I can say and do. But what I am currently doing, seeing I spent 16 years of my life outside the country, is going to market places and other public arenas to sit with the people and listen to them. Understand their problems, their queries and get to know what they need to see changed. I also need to understand really; what is problem in the country. I saw it fit to do things this way first because you know; when you’ve lived far and for so long, it is best to first listen to them and see things their way.
Now when the campaigns begin, I will talk to them about our party manifesto, our vision for the country as a party, for say education or development.
Newstime Africa: What is your cause exactly? What are you offering the Rwandese people?
Igabire Victoire My number one agenda is reconciliation, if the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) doesn’t want to talk about it, I will. We have to protect future generations. If we want to end the cycle of violence we know in Rwanda we have to achieve of reconciliation. We need to look at what is wrong with the politics of our country and of course how to deal with it. If RPF doesn’t accept it and start to talk about it, in 20 or 30 years we run the risk of future generations having the very same problem.
Secondly, I want development of the whole country. Poverty can be a source of conflict. Only 2% of Rwanda’s population has all the riches. The wealth of this country is with a few. The rest live in extreme poverty and for us this is a problem that needs to be addressed before it escalates into something bigger in the future. There must be an equal distribution of resources. People talk about how Rwanda is developing which to some extent is true, I mean look at the city of Kigali it is beautiful, but we need to do more.
Newstime Africa: As a woman politician in a country that has broken world record in empowering women in all areas, politics, business you name it, do you feel any support from your fellow women, and is this status of affairs making it any easier for you?
Igabire Victoire: To say Rwanda is a champion of women’s rights because we have many women in parliament and government, I don’t think that is the reality. In real sense I don’t think they have power to change anything, because when I see the pain of the Rwandese people and knowing as women we are sensitive beings, we relate easily to the other person’s pain; if really these women had power in government and in parliament, something ought to have changed.
And this is why I maintain if I win this election, something will definitely change, to reduce the pain the misery of our people.
Newstime Africa: Now do you see anything good done by the Kagame regime at all?
Igabire Victoire: Of course, Today Rwanda is a country recognized internationally for many great things. That is something they’ve really worked on. Look at Kigali; it is one beautiful city, the cleanliness. But behind the beauty many people live in extreme poverty.
In education, every child now has a chance to go to school. Due to poverty many parents weren’t able to pay the school fees but now the free nine year basic education is taking care of that.
Newstime Africa: What do you see as the future of Rwanda?
Igabire Victoire: My dream is to see a Rwanda where all differences are put together for the benefit of our nation. To work together despite our diversity, that nobody has to live in fear of being killed for who he is. I sincerely hope no more killings will happen here, I cannot understand why you would kill your neighbor because he is Tutsi or he is Hutu.
I also hope to see a situation where we have dialogue between ourselves, the political actors and the civil society. That we can sit down together and chart our way forward. That is the only heritage we can give the future generation.
When I came back, what was written in the media is that I only talk out is the ethnic problem, of course reconciliation is top on my agenda but we have many other problems to pay attention to, like poverty as I mentioned earlier, making healthcare affordable for all not a commercial sector for a few, agriculture and ensuring food security and what each and every one of us can do for the benefit of our great nation.
Apologies for the wrong spelling of the presidential candidates name. This has been rectified.