A note to Paul Kagame from 1930 Prison

In the Rwandan prison infrastructure, ‘1930 Prison’ is noticeably one of many places for depriving freedom to supposedly convicted criminals. One of its recent residents was the US lawyer Pr. Peter Carl Erlinder. The prison takes its name from the year it was built. I suppose Paul Kagame knows well about it. What I am not sure is if he personally chooses where to imprison those he finds most worthless or useless of all in order to punish them exemplary. For example I would’ve liked to know if I am detained in this horrendous location because of his grace. At least I would feel I have some importance in his eyes. Hopefully through this note he can recall if he weather sent me here or not.

I am a seventy year old woman and single mother. Before being thrown in here, I had in my care an elder sibling and five orphans of the Rwandan wars since 1990. My health is not stable because I regularly suffer from high blood pressure. For that reason I was meant to be taking medication periodically when I could afford it. I was arrested and imprisoned after I was sent a ‘Gacaca’ court order calling me to attend a trial. A speedy ‘Gacaca’ court hearing was held within three weeks of receiving the court order. I wasn’t represented by any lawyer. It was decided to get me imprisoned immediately. The sentence is for 30 years of imprisonment. The same number of years you spent in exile. What an irony this can be!

The reason I am writing this note is to let you know that you have done everything possible, humiliating me, dispossessing me, and dehumanizing me, to destroy my soul, but you haven’t finished me yet. If you had I won’t be writing you. I would say I have been lucky but not unfortunately for long. I am getting weaker every day. I don’t know if you are aware of the thousands of Rwandans who regularly disappear in your prisons. I feel you have put us in slow motion crematoriums that are speedier or slower in taking our lives depending on personal circumstances of each inmate.

This is selfishly about me, though I imagine there may be thousands of inmates who would also like to tell you something. They have their own selfish reasons for not doing so. As selfish as you too must be when you decide that people like us must be incarcerated for whatever reason. I don’t think you even consider us as humans when you order to get rid off us. Though I presume you go along that line because like anybody else you must be a selfish human.

I cannot get out of this prison like Pr. Peter Carl Erlinder who was incarcerated here a few weeks ago. As he said he is a white American and a lawyer. He managed to get out as soon as possible because he couldn’t bear the conditions we persistently experience day and night year after year when we manage to survive. Luckily he counted on the fraternity of lawyers around the world and an international movement of supporters to advocate for his innocence and release. I don’t have that. This is the case for thousands of inmates who have been in here for years or others you round up everyday.

Despite my innocence for alleged crimes of genocide you want me to die here for your own satisfaction. While I was still relatively free, I remember you telling Stephen Sakhur from BBC Hard Talk that you had some right to kill Juvenal Habyarimana, your predecessor. You said, ‘I wasn’t responsible for his security. And he wouldn’t have cared if I had died. I don’t care that it happened to him. I was fighting that government, the government that made me a refugee for those years, for which I had a right to fight about, and the Judge (Jean-Louis Bruguiere) wants to ask me why?’ Frankly I don’t buy into that right to kill. Imagine if all refugees had such right and the means to exercise it. I would fear for you first. I sense that you find pleasure in other people misery, particularly when your hand is involved.

As Election Day on August 9th nears, I am sure you will claim as in 2003 that, “others are advocating genocide. But you need not be afraid when you elect me on Monday. I will protect you.” Maybe you don’t realize that your protection is killing us, unless our death doesn’t matter as long as you are elected. I feel frankly sorry for my compatriots that you will force to vote you as president unwillingly. As in 2003 for the presidential or 2008 parliamentary elections, like in a comedy show which is repeated several times, there won’t be significant changes in the script. These are detailed acts of the show as prepared for the presentation on Monday 9th August 2010 that I can predict.

  1. On Sunday 8th August, or even before that, in some Rwandan local authorities at their lower levels, electoral staff with government officers will sign electoral cards for citizens under their jurisdiction, to prove they have voted even before election day
  2. In the early hours of Monday 9th the same signatories of election cards will present them to registered citizens for fingerprinting; as one would expect, all the cards will be RPF ones
  3. In other places, they will get citizens to wake up as early as 4.00 am so they can force them to vote RPF before any international monitor comes to observe the process
  4. By 7.00 am voting will have finished in some places; when it should officially start at that time
  5. In other rural areas, loud speakers will be used from 3.00 am calling people to get out and go to vote RPF
  6. This campaign will go on until the previous day of the poll, though legally campaigning will have officially stopped days before
  7. The National Electoral Commission will work hand in hand with RPF as the former is serving RPF political policies
  8. International observers if any will not get permission to monitor the voting
  9. Generally these international observers will be ignorant of the working patterns of RPF; they will feel proud to be neutral advocates of a non-existent opposition, while represented parties are all an RPF coalition and supportive of your re-election for their selfish interests
  10. In some places, members of the coalition other than RPF may complain to their leaders about irregularities, but they will be explained that this was earlier agreed between members of the RPF coalition.

I would like to know how you will feel when the National Electoral Commission will announce that you won by more than 85% as 99.9% would be unthinkable as if there wasn’t any opposition. Professor Karangwa, the chief executive of the commission, is clever enough to make the results look much plausible despite the scale of fraud and rigging of votes which is being meticulously prepared.

Few months ago I was told that you claimed that no one could do a military coup against you. I hope you don’t think I am planning one and come after me. I pray strongly that no foolish individual attempts on your life. Otherwise they won’t be different from you. On the other hand, I remember as if it was yesterday what it was like after April 6th, 1994. Despite the inhuman life I have come to be customized to in your prison, I wouldn’t want to see my compatriots experience similar circumstances as when Juvenal Habyarimana was killed. His killer got what he wanted, but at what a human cost.

Though I am in 1930 Prison, I can still write you this note. You tried to restrict my thinking, but unfortunately I cannot help it. That’s what I am left with to exercise some free will. If the fool I mentioned killed you accidentally, I may also die prematurely, and we would miss this opportunity, which in a sense makes me feel better despite everything else. Hopefully, I will still be around, the day you may become my neighbor inmate, before me being allowed to get out.


9 responses to “A note to Paul Kagame from 1930 Prison

  1. so shameful that these things take place on the same planet


  2. How did you get your hands on such a note?


    • This is a story of a woman I quite know very well. She is still today detained in that prison. She has been imprisoned because of her ethnic group she belongs to, nothing else. Of course, there were official allegations but she was not allowed to stand in front of any court. In her 70s, her relatives don’t expect to see her released alive, considered the harsh conditions of imprisonment in Rwanda.


  3. kalisa anastase

    This woman should have thought of what would happen to her when she was involved in the genocide. Her being a woman, being 70 years old, having blood pressure doesn’t remove her involvement in the genocide. I don’t think she is still detained for nothing. In 1994-1995, this could be expected. But as of now, the justice has reformed. Detained people have files and have right to appeal.


    • @Kalisa. Please allow me to disagree with your presumption of guilt of that poor woman because someone has alleged she was involved in the genocide. I don’t think she is talking about her gender, age or health condition to prove her innocence, but to show you and me that she is a human being that common characteristics define, either you are innocent or not, free or in prison.

      Maybe you could clarify for the readers of these pages when the Rwandan judiciary system has been reformed to become fair and equal for any Rwandan, and not only serve as a repressive tool for the RPF government? Your claim would be in contradiction with the motives of countries which are reluctant to send to Rwanda genocide suspects because of the country’s lack of fair judiciary system.

      Having a file on a detainee does not give any guarantee on the lack of factual fabrications and lies on a case, which are intentionally made to imprison someone (and today thousands of people are dying in Rwandan prisons untried). Who do you appeal to even if you could? The same institutions which got you where the RPF system want you to be? Who represents you in court when you are allowed? Let’s not be cynical.

      The poor woman is crying out because she wasn’t heard by any fair justice system for her to content with the outcome of her trial. She was sentenced without being given the possibility of getting fairly represented.


  4. @Gigi. Please correct me if I am wrong with my Swahili. When you say ‘kula ni kulipa’ this means I suppose paying back what you’ve taken from somebody else either unduly or in agreement with them. I don’t see what this could be that this poor old woman would’ve taken since she was sentenced without trial, without the possibility of presenting any argument in favor of her case because she was not allowed to have any legal representation.
    But you are right about the last kicks of a dying horse. They are not intended to hurt but to let those around know that she is still there despite; take it as a cry for help.
    About her innocence I would only refer you to victims of authoritarian and criminal structures which torture, dispossess, imprison, discriminate, and kill them; would you say that these victims must be guilty because they cry out loud their suffering?


  5. So you think you are innocent? what you have written drops the veil off your face


  6. 1930 my foot. kula ni kulipa. these here are the last kicks of a dying horse


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