“Victoire is Lumumba in his indefectible courage up to death, Victoire is Sankara in the love of his people, Victoire is Nkrumah in his demand of unity…” Benedicte Kumbi Ndjoko.
History today, the one which is not written, would like us to endorse, or acclaim injustices and lies incarnated in people like Paul Kagame, Yoweri Museveni or Joseph Kabila, and their Western masters Bill Clinton before yesterday, and Barack Obama yesterday. That history would want us to leave our heroes buried in hidden corners of memories and replaced only by terror, the one which makes men submissive, sometimes cowards when it does not engender executioners. Thus, what is cynically proposed to us is the darkness, the banality of triumphant evil. Yet, there are stars which, through their shimmering, timid glitter, allow us to perceive through chiaroscuro, a world of possibilities. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza is one of those such stars.
My encounter with Victoire was through the means of a video, while I was trying to understand what was happening in the Congo.
I was moved by what this woman that I did not know was saying. She spoke of the need to tell the truth. But tell the truth about what exactly? And who was this woman who had undertaken to speak it out? Who was this woman who, in the midst of an unspeakable silence, braved the intimidation, censures to express that her rights, like that of thousands of others, were worthy, that there was a narrative that remained to be questioned and told at last?
It was not a challenge, it was just about not to be an accomplice of barbarism.
What this woman said was that she was interested in what characterises to be human. What she was telling us was that no human being on this earth could be free as long as his fellow human beings were silenced, insulted, imprisoned, tortured, and killed.
She highlighted that incontournable evidence while intense horrific intimidations, arrests of innocent people, and elimination of men, women and children had taken place in Tingi Tingi, during the time a complicit international community honoured the killers. The voice of Victoire was that truth which, like burning embers, escaped and went up to feed other lampposts while trying to stifle the flame. The lies of Paul Kagame and his friends were there to knock us down, slapping us with terror, but the truth, the one that climbs stairs, which may seem long to come by cares to strengthen our convictions, our beliefs in a world of justice, truth and peace. That truth, Victoire stood up to speak it out.
This profound message truthfully moved me, disturbed me because in the war that we Congolese were enduring, there was on the other side of the border, a voice, voices, people the world wanted us forcibly to hate, and they were saying that we had a common destiny, that solidarity was our future because there could not be a free Rwanda, if there was not a free Congo and there could not be a free Congo, if there was not a free Rwanda. The struggle of Victoire is ours as well and it takes a resonance and a particular dimension on the African continent because what has been happening to us in the region of the Great Lakes is an African tragedy of the most banal: Africans who are exploited, Africans who are armed to kill each other, Africans who are despised because of the colour of their skin, Africans who are pillaged, Africans still alienated as consequences of sufferings that centuries of servitude have not yet succeeded in erasing, Africans who undergo this ” they ” which is never questioned.
In this context, the life of Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, her struggle, are a reminder of the need for memory, the historicity of all events that must necessarily be understood to bring adequate solutions and answers. What Victoire tells us is that it is important that we take back the initiative of our lives so that we can in turn tell our experiences, our truths, also express our sufferings without muzzles, mourn our dead and finally bury them in dignity.
For all these reasons, I am strongly attached to the person of Victoire. This woman, who in adversity, in the extreme brutality of the forced separation from her family, that she is subjected to, this woman stands firm. Every action that Victoire makes is always a no, that she opposes to barbarity, to powerlessness. And in this, Victoire Ingabire represents for us what we have as most dear, that is to say, life. The one to be celebrated, the one to be respected. This life has meaning only when it is lived in freedom, which requires, as an indispensable preliminary, the establishment and the declaration of truth.
And that is why it is important for me to say today, as I was able to write some years ago about Victoire Ingabire, that it is essential that we celebrate our heroes while they are still alive because it is life that is important. As long as they are alive, they give us the strength to continue our struggle so that we can see them free, they can steep us in their force of character, and the testimony of their lives and their struggle become these numerous ramparts against abjectness. Victoire is one of our role models among all those people who yesterday today and tomorrow stood, stand, and will stand for this battle for freedom.
Because of that we must cherish her. Because of that we must deeply respect her call, and we must not be ashamed or afraid to stand besides her, for that way we affirm that she represents the truth. So today, I thank you very much for the immense honour you give me, but these actions that we are undertaking each other wouldn’t have their raison d’être, if they are not guided by the spirit, actions of these exceptional beings like Victoire who decided that freedom, justice and love were not negotiable so that we all be free. So I dedicate this prize to the millions of people we have lost, in the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and in particular to all these women, but I dedicate it especially to that woman whose courage is an inspiration, whose star is called to shine eternally in the African universe, because by her sacrifice and her courage, she has joined our legendary greats.
Victoire is Lumumba in his indefectible courage up to death, Victoire is Sankara in the love of his people, Victoire is Nkrumah in his demand of unity, Victoire is the multitude (all of us) and in fact Victoire is Victoire, a woman only armed with truth and love who has made tremble those armed themselves with hatred and bayonets while boasting that they had stopped genocide. Could it be otherwise when she has a name with oaths of so many meanings?
On March 11th, 2017 RIFDP, Reseau International des Femmes pour la Democratie et la Paix, gave the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Prize to 4 winners. The 3 other beneficiaries are: David Himbara, Anjan Sundaram, and Alain de Brouwer.
The speech was presented in French. Its translation is by the editor of the blog.