Madame Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, the first female presidential candidate in Rwanda, and front runner political opponent to current President Kagame’s recent violent attack should not be taken lightly nor should it be taken as an isolated random act of violence. In a political context, she was merely a political candidate being intimidated with the hopes that her political ambitions would be quailed. Across the globe, many political aspirants have been suppressed by various means including battery, jail time, even death. Madame Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza is therefore joining the long tradition of political struggle especially in hostile political environments.
But more than your average political activist whose political ideals are forcefully suppressed, Madame Victoire Umuhoza is a woman attempting to break even further barriers. She seeking a spot into a political atmosphere that has often been if not hostile to women, completely exclusionary to their participation. And as she gains more momentum, she is being marginalized and the traditional tools used to oppress women is employed in her honor, namely, violence against women.
As a country touted to have made the most political, economic, and social progress of all Africa, it should come as a surprise that Rwanda would employ violence as a means to suppress the lone woman political opposition leader but it does not. Is it a sign of political progress that Rwanda does not “discriminate” when it comes to the mistreatement of opposition? Or is it a sign of cowardice that haunts the RPF in that, as soon as a woman rises to challenge the leadership, she must “be put into her place” with battery? Rwanda was once celebrated as having the most number of women participants in governmental positions. However, as evidenced by Madame Victoire’s recent attack, the glass ceiling will be enforced with an iron fist, or in her case a sharp knife which was used to attack her assistant.
Women in the Great Lakes Region have been victimized by some of the most horrific violence that have taken place. And Madame Victoire’s potential election represents hope for all these women, and liberation from constant physical and sexual violence encountered by women not only in war time but in “peaceful” times as well. And this ideal of social and political liberation for the women of the Great Lakes Region is not only a threat to Kagame and the RPF, but to all those perpetrators of violence, and enforcers of inequality, and aggression.
So I say it again, the recent attack against her should not be taken lightly. It is not merely an attack on a political opponent, but an attack on a bigger ideal, and a bigger potential for peace, equality, and liberation, not just for women, but everyone who stands against violence and terror. It is a message sent by Kagame and the RPF to reinforce the notion that no political challenge will be tolerated, and more than that, that they have no room in their consciousness to stop violence, but that they plan to continue to employ violence against anyone in order to maintain their political hold. And this is not news for anyone whose followed Kagame’s career since the 1980s.
How else would you explain the occurance of such an attack on the lone woman opponent? That she made remarks that “seemingly” minimized that 1994 genocide? Eric Brown at Human Rights First Puts it best when he says:
Recently, a Rwandan opposition political leader returned home after 16 years outside of the country. She is the first woman to attempt a run at the presidency of Rwanda. Upon landing at the Kigali Airport, Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza headed to the genocide memorial at Gisozi. During an interview with a member of the media, she expressed words that virtually every Rwandan living inside Rwanda is too terrified to utter. She said that the memorial shows the genocide committed against Tutsis in Rwanda but leaves out massacres committed against Hutus. In Rwanda, it is a cardinal sin to mix these two issues. The issue of genocide against Tutsi’s is well acknowledged and is a reminder of Rwanda’s dark past. What is intriguing is that it is sacrilege to acknowledge that there were crimes against humanity and massacres committed against Hutus. The major issue with these crimes against humanity is that they were committed by the RPF (Rwanda’s current ruling party) as Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations have pointed out time and time again. The big issue with Ms. Umuhoza’s speech is that she is telling an “inconvenient truth”.
As soon as Umuhoza made these comments, government newspapers such as New Times, government officials, other government sponsored media organizations, and several genocide survivor organizations went on a full blown attack against the politician and called for her prosecution on charges of divisionism and genocide denial. The question here is this: how does saying that Hutu’s were killed deny that Tutsi’s were killed? How does saying that Americans were killed in the recent earthquake in Haiti deny that Haitians were killed? This genocide denial charge and divisionism are crimes that the Rwandan government added to the tiny country’s laws in order to muzzle opposition and to silence any voices of dissent. It was predictable that Ms. Umuhoza would face such talk and it is conceivable that she may have to answer to these charges in court. This will be Rwanda’s way of blocking her candidacy to the presidency as she poses a real threat to actually win Rwanda’s upcoming elections if they are held in a free and fair manner. (emphasis mine)
Is that justification to employ violence against her? Does anyone else not see the irony that? Although it is the weakest excused used to attempt to justify how a lone woman political opponent would be attacked and beaten by a mob under the President Kagame’s watch, I am not buying it, and I hope that from this point forward, a fair and democratic election processes will take place. Knowing President Kagame’s predilection for terror and violence however, I am not holding my breath.