A while ago I had a high tempered discussion with a Rwandan compatriot, him complaining about the role of high politicians’ children of the former Habyarimana regime who are totally absent from the political scenery. My friend’s argument was based on one only premise: that because these children had been the primary beneficiaries of the regime, in theory they had to be on the front lines leading on the political changes that Rwanda needs today badly. He was however mistaken thinking that, though people had some DNA of their parents, they were not fundamentally different from them.
On another note it is important to highlight who some of these politicians were. Surprisingly, RPF and its regime have since 1994 portrayed many if not all of them so negatively in the eyes of the general opinion, that people who have known them differently and or closely find it difficult to tell their truth about them. Kagame’s regime forces the Hutu majority inside Rwanda to forget their past. But Jeanne Habyarimana, one of the daughters of the assassinated former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, while living in exile, has overcome that challenge and in the following interview translated from Kinyarwanda talks of her father as she has known him. This is part of an exercise that this blog contributes to through restoring truths about some realities Africans and particularly Rwandans experience persistently: the re-writing of history by authoritarian leaders preoccupied only by their stay in power.
Another daughter of Habyarimana has already featured two months ago on these pages. This was Marie Rose in her interview with Le Gazette. She had focused more on the unfair treatment that Kagame’s regime had inflicted to her family than anything else. Jeanne Aimee concentrates instead here on the person/character of their father.
The original text in Kinyarwanda is published by Ikaze Iwacu online news outlet – http://ikazeiwacu.fr/2014/06/10/dusase-inzobe-kwicisha-bugufi-kwa-papa-kwatumye-yanga-kuzamurwa-mu-mapeti-jeanne-habyarimana/
Ikaze Iwacu [II]: Mrs Jeanne Habyarimana [JH], thank you for offering us this interview. Please take some time telling our readers who you are.
JH: Thank you too for sharing with me the request from your readers who want to know important aspects of the life of the former president of Rwanda who happens as well to be my father: Major General Juvenal Habyarimna. I am Jeanne Marie Aimee Habyarimana; I was born in Kigali Rwanda, my parents are: Agathe Kanziga and Juvenal Habyarimana. I am 48 years old. I am the second born in a family of eight children. We were four girls and four boys. After the assassination of our father, the eldest boy Jean Pierre Habyarimana died of heart attack, and the second boy Jean Claude Desire Habyarimana was victim of an accident.
I grew up in Kigali and attended primary school at the Kigali military camp. After completing it I went to Byimana – Gitarama for one year, then pursued at the Lycee of Nyundo in Gisenyi where I completed the second part of my secondary education. I did economic sciences at Notre Dame de Citeaux in Kigali. From there I continued to Paris – France where I completed a French Baccalaureat in Literature and Philosophy.
I went to La Sorbonne University where I did two years of Economics and Social Administration. From Paris I went back to Kigali then got married in 1989. My father died when I had given him two grand children; since then we fled Rwanda, and now twenty years have passed.
II: Twenty years after his death, many Rwandans and even foreigners keep wondering who was this Juvenal Habyarimana who is taking a lot of time to fade away from their memory or hearts. Please could you tell us who really was your father in his day-by-day ordinary life, outside the confines of Urugwiro village [Location in the centre of Kigali where Juvenal Habyarimana held many of his official meetings]?
JH: Juvenal Habyarimana was a friendly person in an indescribable way. He did not discriminate. According to him, citizens’ interests and improved conditions of life were paramount in his work ethic of every day. He would teach that spirit to his work colleagues [in government and other high positions in the country]. He was a hard worker, and selfless for the interests of the country. He educated persistently his compatriots on these values, because, according to him, – used he to say, work and hard work were the only ingredients to bring about our country’s development.
I remember very well when he sloganeered that “Rwanda will be developed by the efforts of its people” or that “Even if there would be aid from outside, it would only come as a topping up.” Habyarimana liked working hard because since my childhood and then after becoming an adult until we fled, I had never seen him staying at home doing nothing; he went to work every day very early.
Habyarimana was an honest, integer and humble person. These are ones of the values he left us with in his legacy. When we were still little he used to tell us this: “You are children like any others; that we should not look down on anyone; that we had to obey everybody…” He was very law-abiding. He persistently indicated that if laws had been put in place, they had to be imperatively respected. This explains why he taught us constantly during our childhood that we needed to obey God’s and the nation’s laws. He was that type of parent who did not like to lie; he instead advised us that in place of lying we would better remain silent and not utter any word.
Habyarimana was against injustices and exploiters. He was against excessive wealth, in such way that since becoming president, the salary he started with was the same he had when he was assassinated. If I remember well this was FRW 100,000 for his monthly pay. He was many times asked to get his wages increased but refused. Because of his humility too, he refused to take on additional military grades when it was time for promotion. There was a time when he was told that the moment had come for him to become Marechal. He refused and remained Major General.
Something else I observed about him was that when he became aware of someone – ordinary citizen, who faced a particular problem, he followed it up until he made sure it was completely solved. He liked to talk to everybody from all ethnic backgrounds, and walks of life. He liked as well to joke; when he realized that someone greeted him with some fearful attitude, he reassured them by making them feel comfortable, asking them calmly if everything was OK. He was that type of man of his word. He did what he said he would do. This made him to be nicknamed “Ruticumugambi” – The Trustworthy. Wherever he had appointments or public engagements, he was there on time, never late. This was known about him even abroad since his peers talked about it in their conversations.
Habyarimana was very educated, mastering highly the French language. He used to tell us that he was friend to his peer heads of state and they too liked him. Once he joked saying that “when African heads of state met and prepared a speech for a general assembly, and needed someone to read it, many time they chose him because they believed in his mastery of the French language.”
Would anyone give of their own father a negative picture? Yes there are out there bad fathers but also children who wrongly assess their parents. That Juvenal Habyarimana was a good father to his children we will take the word of Jeanne for it. Good for them.
According to Jeanne Habyarimana, we have here a portrait of a good father who was assassinated on April 6th, 1994. The question that remains is of getting in front of a court his assassins who are still running and leading Rwanda. At least, you and me as ordinary people, we can through her testimony make up our mind about who he was, [though frankly he was not so ordinary], particularly if you are a father, and most importantly a good one, hard worker, humble, against injustices and exploiters.