One of the many powers invested in the President of the Republic by the Rwandan constitution is the prerogative of mercy.
It is a privilege President Paul Kagame has exercised many times in the past, granting early release to thousands of prisoners, to the complete indifference of the world.
This year, over 2,000 were granted clemency. Judging by the media clamour from beyond Rwanda’s frontiers, one might be forgiven for supposing this to have been the first time such a thing has ever happened.
The difference is attributable entirely to the apparent success of one of the released, in convincing the world to accept, unquestioningly, the image of herself she has carefully cultivated.
Smartly attired in clothes clearly designed to reflect her party’s colours, and looking for all the world as though she was stepping out of her residence to attend one of Kigali’s smarter cocktail parties, Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, strode out of the Nyuregenge prison gates, straight to the waiting microphones.
Within a day, she would declare to among other media, the BBC, Deuche Welle, that of course she had not asked for clemency.
According to her version of events, her early release had been thanks to hers, and her supporters’ campaign to open the eyes of the Rwandan government to the error of their ways.
“It is a sign that they now understand that they can work with us…that there is more political space…” she assured her audience. “But, the struggle continues,” she added, “We must see the release of other political prisoners”.
Media savvy, Ingabire has stage managed her every move for the benefit of the world’s media, ever since she stepped on Rwandan soil, from her self-imposed exile in the Netherlands.
She has tapped into the widely publicised narrative against Rwanda, making her own the much repeated cliché, beloved of the likes of Human Rights Watch (HRW), that there is no “political space” in Rwanda.
She recognised a symbiotic relationship between her, and Western media. Here, goes the narrative, is “a brave woman” standing up to the “Rwanda regime”, ‘regime’ another preferred term, employed in an attempt to delegitimise the Government of Rwanda.
No journalist likes to admit that his or her audience has been misled, least of all by poor research or simple prejudice.
Ingabire would serve as proof positive of media claims that Rwanda was an “autocratic regime”. In turn, what they wrote and broadcast, she repeated, right on cue, virtually verbatim.
It was neat, near perfect. Admission of having asked for clemency, would spoil the symmetry of it all, like an errant stitching on a well-tailored suit.
In fact, we know from court documents, some of which have been published in a book on her case, by then prosecutor Alain Mukurarinda, that she did indeed seek clemency.
In the book, Who Manipulates Whom, written in French, Mukurarinda points to at least two letters, in Kinyarwanda, addressed to President Kagame, entitled, “Gusaba imbabazi”, or request for forgiveness.
Tom Ndahiro, a Rwandan researcher whose work focuses on genocide, and who has tracked Ingabire’s career and background for over a decade, is aghast at how little research, in his view, the world’s media has bothered to do into her background.
“She parrots ‘political space’ and she’s taken at her word, but she is no politician, she is a criminal, and you don’t have to look hard to see why”, he says.
“Listen to her language, and you can see a direct link to the planners of the genocide against Tutsi, a fact that is either ignored, or missed by Western journalists and many commentators on Rwanda.”
It certainly should be of at least some journalistic interest that both Ingabire’s mother, and father, are fugitives from Rwanda, who stand accused of crimes of genocide.
And when she talks of fighting for the release of “other political prisoners”, she is also referring to Joseph Ntawangundi, her assistant, who is serving a jail term for his part in the genocide.
At the time of his arrest in 2010, he was championed not only by Ingabire, and her supporters, but, by HRW, Amnesty International, and others, as Rwanda was lambasted for denying “political space” by “imprisoning political opponents”.
He and Ingabire made much of the claim that he was not in Rwanda at the time of the genocide in 1994.
It was only when confronted with eye witness accounts from survivors of the genocide, that Ntawangundi changed his plea to guilty in the hope of a lighter sentence.
As far as much of the world is concerned however, Ingabire remains the “Prominent Opposition leader”. According to HRW the charges against her were “politically motivated”, although significantly, the organisation has always been careful not to suggest that these charges were false.
Only in Africa, seemingly content as it is to be defined from a disinterested distance by others, and often on a basis of preconceived stereotypes, can someone like Ingabire be described as prominent.
The charges against her, which included raising funds for a terrorist organisation, and fermenting communal hatred, were dismissed by much of the world out of hand. The claim they were simply a way of silencing “dissenting political voices”, rather like Ms Ingabire herself, taken at face value.
But, were any of the commentators, who pronounce on her “prominence” as an opposition politician, to take a closer look at her and her background, the more dispassionate among them would find the reality disquieting.
The charge of financing a terrorist organisation for instance could hardly be denied even by her. A UN investigation had pointed to her culpability.
And it was Dutch police who during a search of her home in the Netherlands, found the most damning evidence to support this charge. Hers and her husband’s only response was to complain about the legal technicalities of the search.
The other charges against her are by their nature, less clear cut, although even they come into sharper relief, the closer one looks into her background. Until 2000, Ingabire was President of the Republican Rally for Democracy, or RDR.
This was an organisation that was formed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), by the Rwandan genocidal establishment which had fled there, following their defeat by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) forces in 1994.
For its founders, the RDR would be a reservoir in which the ideology of so called “Hutu Power” would be preserved, and from which supporters and sympathisers would draw strategies on how to advance their cause.
It is from within the RDR that many within the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) would come. An armed group composed of the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, including the notorious Interahamwe militia, it was in part for raising funds for the FDLR, that Ingabire would be charged, and convicted.
At its formation, the RDR had been called the Rally for the Return of Refugees and Democracy in Rwanda, its leadership a virtual who’s who of Rwanda’s genocidal extremists, both military and civilian.
Hassan Ngeze, Ferdinand Nahimana, the voices of genocide in the media, respectively, Kangura Newspaper, and Radio Television Libre de Mille Colline (RTLM).
These media organs were responsible for so many deaths that Ferdinand Nahimana’s nick name as “Rwanda’s Goebbels” might be enough to make even Goebbels shift in his grave in protest.
And if evil has human form, it surely must bear the likeness of Theoneste Bagosora. Bagosora was de facto leader of the genocide against Tutsi.
For all the huffing and puffing from France about the shooting down of then President Juvenal Habyarimana’s aircraft, all credible evidence points to the extremist clique led by Bagosora, and which included Habyarimana’s own wife Agathe Kanziga.
It was Bagosora who, at the time bizarrely, but now with the benefit of hindsight, chillingly, threatened to “unleash the apocalypse”, as the RPF tried to reach a negotiated settlement at the 1992 Arusha peace talks.
We know now that he was referring to long standing plans to wipe out the Tutsi, plans that would be put into action with horrifying efficiency in 1994.
All these individuals who were tried and convicted by the UN tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) were, and effectively remain Ingabire’s mentors.
It is they who picked her out to be the President of RDR’s chapter in the Netherlands, when it was still called the Rally for the Return of refugees and Democracy in Rwanda.
By 2000, she had risen to head the organisation worldwide, when she oversaw the change of its name to The Republican Rally for Democracy.
By 2006, when she became the President of the Union of Democratic Forces (FDU-Inkingi), Ingabire had become the figurehead for all the main extremist Rwandan groups.
The party is a composition of several extremist parties, which were home to the planners, perpetrators, and sympathisers of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi. In many ways, FDU-Inkingi is RDR in all but name.
The irony that must cut into every genocide survivor’s soul is that it is this party which much of the world’s media now holds up as the champion of Democracy and human rights.
Most seem blithely unaware that given free reign, the people they laud as defenders of human rights would seek to deny a section of their compatriots, the most important human right of all, the right to life itself.
At the time, in 1994, both Medicin Sans Frontiers (MSF), and HRW saw the RDR for what it was, and denounced it as nothing more than the leadership of the planners and perpetrators of the genocide against Tutsi.
The most charitable explanation of these rights groups’ support of Ingabire and her FDU-Inkingi now, is that they fail to see the clear thread linking her and her party to the malignant minds in which mass murder could so easily be nurtured.
And in the grim irony of the topsy-turvy world of media depictions of Rwanda, it is the RPF which stood, and stands between every Rwandan, and the nihilism of the RDR, which is condemned as a threat to human rights, while a woman who not only subscribes to such an organisation’s ideology, but, leads it, is championed by human rights organisations.
The writer is a broadcast journalist and a program maker