Many people, who are not familiar with the Black American civil rights movement, may not recall who Rosa Parks (far left on the picture) was. She was an activist born Louise McCauley Parks on February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama, U.S. The U.S. Congress called her “the first lady of civil rights”, and ”the mother of the freedom movement”. She died on October 24, 2005 aged 92.
What made her an icon for the American civil rights movement was not mainly her act of defiance of white authority, but the impact it had by prompting Montgomery Bus Boycott and its overall transformation of racial scenery in America. In fact, before her there had been many acts of disobedience against unjust and racist laws of the then U.S. government.
On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks refused to obey bus driver James F. Blake’s order that she gives up her seat to make room for a white passenger. Her defiance was thereafter an important symbol of the modern civil rights movement. Parks became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. Victoire Ingabire, as leader of opposition political party FDU-Inkingi, went back to Rwanda on January 16th, 2010. On her arrival, she pays a visit to the Genocide Memorial in Kigali – Gisozi. At the Memorial she also pronounces at the intention of journalists and the general public the following statement:
“I would like to say that today, I came back to my country after 16 years, and there was a tragedy that took place in this country. We know very well that there was a genocide, extermination [intent – my emphasis]. Therefore, I could not have returned after 16 years to the same country after such actions took place. They took place when I was not in the country. I could not have fallen asleep without first passing by the place where those actions took place. I had to see the place. I had to visit the place.
“The flowers I brought with me are a sign of remembrance from the members of my party FDU and its executive committee. They gave me a message to pass by here and tell Rwandans that what we wish for is for us to work together, to make sure that such a tragedy will never take place again. That is one of the reasons why the FDU Party made a decision to return to the country peacefully, without resorting to violence. Some think that the solution to Rwanda’s problems is to resort to armed struggle. We do not believe that shedding blood resolves problems. When you shed blood, the blood comes back to haunt you.
“Therefore, we in FDU wish that all we Rwandans can work together, join our different ideas so that the tragedy that befell our nation will never happen again. It is clear that the path of reconciliation has a long way to go. It has a long way to go because if you look at the number of people who died in this country, it is not something that you can get over quickly. But then again, if you look around you realize that there is no real political policy to help Rwandans achieve reconciliation. For example, if we look at this memorial, it only stops at people who died during the Tutsi genocide. It does not look at the other side – at the Hutus who died during the genocide. Hutus who lost their people are also sad and they think about their lost ones and wonder, ‘When will our dead ones be remembered?’
“For us to reach reconciliation, we need to empathize with everyone’s sadness. It is necessary that for the Tutsis who were killed, those Hutus who killed them understand that they need to be punished for it. It is also necessary that for the Hutus who were killed, those people who killed them understand that they need to be punished for it too. Furthermore, it is important that all of us, Rwandans from different ethnic groups, understand that we need to unite, respect each other and build our country in peace.
“It is important that all of us, Rwandans from different ethnic groups, understand that we need to unite, respect each other and build our country in peace.” – Victoire Ingabire
“What brought us back to the country is for us to start that path of reconciliation together and find a way to stop injustices so that all of us Rwandans can live together with basic freedoms in our country.”
After her public utterance, Ingabire was immediately subjected to intimidation and her movements restricted. She was finally put in prison on October 14th, 2010. Despite her imprisonment, her stand and determination have irrevocably weakened the foundations of Paul Kagame’s regime.
Removing taboos on ethnicity and open or covered up segregation/ discrimination against Hutus and Tutsis who are not from Uganda by Kagame government of core Tutsi extremists, requesting democracy and freedom, have all valued Ingabire an icon statue in the hearts of many Rwandans. Her courage and unrelenting willpower have immensely inspired many of her compatriots to seek peaceful political change in their country, more than at any other time of Rwandan recent history.
As in the case of Rosa Parks with the path that the U.S. civil rights movement took, nothing in Rwanda will ever be the same after the act of defiance of Victoire Ingabire against unjust laws of the Rwandan government. She sparked of a spirit of resistance among Rwandans against their dictatorial, criminal and discriminatory regime of Paul Kagame.
While on January 16th, Rwandans from now on remember Ingabire’s homecoming, they need to support her unreservedly and keep alive the frame of change she brought to their country. The peaceful revolution she started on that day of early 2010 must continue until all citizens have same rights indiscriminately, more freedom of association and speech, can chose their leaders democratically, and all political prisoners are released.