Women keeping Rwandans’ hope alive

I am several people in one person”, explains Angelique Umugwaneza when she is asked who she really is.

Angelique Umugwaneza - Author of "Les Enfants du Rwanda" and survivor of the genocide committed against Hutu refugees between 1996 and 2003 in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Angelique Umugwaneza – Author of “Les Enfants du Rwanda” and survivor of the genocide committed against Hutu refugees between 1996 and 2003 in the Democratic Republic of Congo

You’ve well read. However the person making such statement is far from suffering any apparent personality disorder. In fact her life experience would’ve predisposed her to such mental health issue considered what she went through.

Angelique Umugwaneza is one of the few Hutu survivors of the long walk through the Congolese forests [1996 to 2003] who after their suffering thought of writing a public testimony of what they experienced. As Rising Continent is dedicating this month to the role of women in society, we decided to feature her in this post. But in the context of the Rwandan recent history she is not the only one who needs being highlighted.

Twenty years have passed since 1994. From January 7th, 2014 the official Rwanda is remembering the national tragedy in big fashion displays of discriminatory nature among the victims. Millions of innocent Africans’ lives were wasted when evil spell took over the region. One can still smell it around. It has not yet evaporated despite the number of years which have gone since.

Joseph Matata, Co-ordinator of CLIIR[Centre de Lutte contre l’Impunite et l’Injustice au Rwanda] likes stressing that: “One cannot discriminate among the dead and at the same time be of any good to the living.” He only implies here the different apartheid like policies which characterize the Rwandan Patriotic Front [RPF], favouring Tutsi in every aspect of the Rwandan society, even when the whole nation is remembering officially what happened in 1994.

Presently there is plenty evidence that demonstrates that more Hutus than Tutsis were killed before, during and after the 1994 genocide against Tutsis. After RPF took power, it embarked on several segregationist policies against Hutus. These policies are even today being steadily implemented. Among them is the infamous Gacaca judiciary system which aimed at officially criminalizing all adult Hutus who had survived targeted massacres and dispossessing them of their properties. The result of the policy has been that today more than 1.5 million Hutu males have been officially labelled genocidaires and are consequently being treated as such by the RPF government. Those who have not done their time in prison are still there. Many died in jail or immediately after their release.

These victims have families: wives and children, and sometimes orphans to care for from related families. Their dependents are intentionally deprived of the most basic fundamental rights: health, housing, education or employment. Once out of jail, the victims can no longer participate in the life of their society because of the genocide stigma. They automatically become second-class citizens. Their lives are thereafter at the mercy of the arbitrary.

Victoire Ingabire, the Rwandan imprisoned icon of democracy; she is in jail since October 14th, 2010 and was sentenced for 15 years in prison on December 13th, 2013.

Victoire Ingabire, the Rwandan imprisoned icon of democracy; she is in jail since October 14th, 2010 and was sentenced for 15 years in prison on December 13th, 2013.

In the midst of all these injustices certain women stand up and voice the plight of the victims. Victoire Ingabire, chairperson of FDU-Inkingi is one of them. Journalists Agnes Uwimana and Saidati Mukakibibi who were imprisoned for their articles in their newspapers are some others. There are as well millions of Rwandan women across the country who are Hutu in their majority, but also Tutsi that RPF system does not favour because of where they were before 1994 – those whose parents did not go in exile after the social revolution of 1959 and continued living harmoniously with Hutu are labelled as betrayers by those who returned after the RPF victory. All these Hutu and Tutsi victims are struggling day after day to survive without a husband to support them because their partners are either in prison, have died, been murdered during the 94 genocide or through other atrocities thereafter that targeted specifically Hutus.

Starting from 1996 with the destruction of Hutu refugees camps of North and South Kivu in Eastern Congo, we see other Rwandan women survivors who attest of an exceptional courage despite adversity. According to the Mapping Report published in October 2010, the world community has today proof that killings of genocide nature of hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees by RPF soldiers took place between 1993 and 2003 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These are ironically the same soldiers that the UN has been sending around Africa in peacekeeping missions.

Among the Hutu victims fallen in the Congolese forests, the majority were women, children and elderly. However, by some divine protection, Marie Beatrice Umubyeyi and Angelique Umugwaneza – though the latter was still a teenager-, managed to survive and could put down in writing their stories. Angelique Umugwaneza recently published “Les Enfants du Rwanda”, which is a touching story of courage of a human being that everything is against but where, by some unexplainable fate goes through the horrible experience relatively safely and finally emerges strengthened.

In the following long excerpt from the French online news outlet leJDD, we reproduce what its editor says about Angelique Umugwaneza and her book.

Why I survived, I do not know.

Why me? Why not others? This is the burning question in all survivors. “Why I survived, I do not know. Luck, fate, this is the big question. I’ve seen people fight against their fate and abandon, and others die. I realize today I was among the weakest, yet here I am. I felt great guilt when it came to the writing of this book.” Even at the sole thought of her brother that she had to leave behind. “At the time I seriously thought that that was the best thing to do for him. Letting him to join us in the unspeakable journey, he would not have survived.” Still, Angelique asks her brother, who yet ultimately survived, if he is not angry about what she did. The answer is always the same inscrutable and unchanging: “No, why?“. Angélique stands up. She has tears in her eyes. She who has crossed forests after forests on thousands of kilometers of distance, saw death, experienced hunger, lost her loved ones [mother and brother], is so alive today, does not support such moment of weakness which only makes her so human. “What I did was not morally acceptable,” she whispers. Her brother is studying in Kenya; she pays for her studies.

Angélique has never returned to Rwanda. “This is not a priority. And with this book, I’m not certainly welcome.” She knows where her father is: in Rwanda, but she has not seen him in 20 years. Her sister with whom she has survived and who lives in Oslo, she does not see her more either. In this sense, Angelique is right that the history of genocide in Rwanda did not stop there suddenly, after the massacres. Her family has been dislocated, as did her identity. She has gone from refugee status to being citizen.  Today, she is Danish of Rwandan origin, but still looks at this world (this white world) which saved her yet, suspiciously. “They (UN and humanitarian organizations) have abandoned us there.” Angelique gives nothing. Paradoxically, she admits that her life with whites is not easy. “I do not know what they think of me.” A subject of intense discussion with Peter who wants to make her understand that identity is not a matter of color but of culture. But Angélique also admits that even in Africa, she feels foreign. In Rwanda, men killed other men. In this madness, they provoked forced displacements of innocent women and children. Angélique Umugwaneza was lost along the way but then found a piece of her destiny. But her, who is she really? “I am several people in one person.

In this long note dedicated to Rwandan women confronted

Nadine Claire Kasinge - Spokesperson of the presidential candidate Father Thomas Nahimana of Ishema Party, for the elections scheduled for 2017.

Nadine Claire Kasinge – Spokesperson of the presidential candidate Father Thomas Nahimana of Ishema Party, for the elections scheduled for 2017 in Rwanda.

with adversity, on the political front, particularly of the Rwandan opposition, on top of the Rwandan icon of democracy Victoire Ingabire, there are other figures like Marie Madeleine Bicamumpaka from FDU-Inkingi or Nadine Claire Kasinge from Ishema Party. In other political parties there are Marie Mukamwiza from RDI-Rwanda Rwiza and some others.

Overall, Rwandan women bear the hope of their nation. The general assessment is however that there are not enough of them among politicians of the opposition seeking change in Rwanda. Understandably change does not necessarily emerge from one and only sector of society. It has to be a conjunction of movements undertaken from every area of concern. While those already on the political scene might be struggling to occupy fully their right and dignified place in society, we invite those who think they can bring their contribution to rebuilding sustainable foundations of a different Rwanda from what we see today. Please don’t be shy. You are truly needed and would most be welcome, supported and celebrated. 

 

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