The anatomy of Rwanda’s judicial system according to Victoire Ingabire

Nov 13th, 2015 at 9:20 | By | Category: News, Top news

It has been 5 years since oppositionist Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza was arrested in Rwanda. The President of the United Democratic Forces (UDF), who has become an icon of the battle for democracy and human rights in Rwanda, recently published her first book in Éditions Scribes entitled Entre les 4 murs du 1930: Notes de MMe Victoire Ingabire umuhoza 2010-2013 [Between the 4 walls of 1930: Notes from Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza 2010-2013]. This collection of notes recounts her years spent locked behind the walls of the famous prison 1930. From her ideals to her trial, exposing her doubts, Ingabire omits no subject. Through this book, particular elements stand out that allow an analysis of what could be described as the “anatomy of the Rwandan judicial system.” Up to now, descriptions of this anatomy reached us solely through media and official channels. Ingabire is the first prisoner to accomplish an analysis from the inside. The anatomy of this system as described in her book is based on what can be called the “Four Ps” in French, that is to say Fear (Peur), Trap (Piège), Propaganda (Propagande) and Forgiveness (Pardon).

A novel?

12042854_1529973437293642_5941792617864120835_nIn this collection of notes, Ingabire reveals herself to the reader by sharing her emotions as a woman, thoughts and reactions as well as the live of a mere prisoner within the walls of 1930. From clandestine messages to hidden relationships, she shares her experiences without omitting flaws and emotions that make her human. A veil is lifted and, more than ever, Ingabire opens a door for the reader that leads towards the meanders of her battle, political as well as social, but equally human.

A person who reads this book without knowing the identity and the ordeal of the author is likely to consider it as a novel, a fiction similar to George Orwell’s 1984. Indeed, this book has the style and appearance of a novel: it has a main character and secondary characters, a narrative that traces the history of this character who wants to become president but who is prevented from making the slightest step towards that aim by a Stalinist system.

Naturally, this book is neither a novel nor fiction, because this character is none other than Ingabire herself, and this story is not the result of her imagination but rather the story of her sorrowful experience, her observations, her reflections, and her prophecies.

Extract from the book fit for novels in the series of SAS (de Villiers):

media_l_4785776[March 23, 2010, Ingabire, believing to be in a state of law, wants to go to Kanombe airport to return to see her family in the Netherlands]

I have indeed purchased a flight ticket in business class which must be confirmed only a few hours before check-in. I must take some precautions because I already know that there is a risk it might appear as if I am running away, trying to leave the country. In fact, my informant visited me this Tuesday morning. He warned that the authorities know that I intend to leave the country. They are reportedly “arranging” to stop me. Also, their services allegedly planned to place grenades in my car without my knowing. Upon arrival at the airport, a search would then take place that would allow them to arrest me for attempted attack “(P. 37).

One of the precautions taken was not to allow anyone to approach her car. The other was as follows:

“Towards 5pm, I again ordered a search of the car, which was done. There was still nothing suspicious … So I accompany myself with a small army of two colleagues and my Dutch lawyer, Julius Von Boné, who at the time was in Rwanda. Everyone knows the instructions… Yet, from our first kilometer on this alternate route, we realize we’re being followed,. No surprises so far, because having agents on my tail had become a habit. Nearby the airport, I ask the driver to continue going straight. I want to see the reaction of those who are following us. The driver accelerated to distort their company and, a kilometer away, he parks the car on the side of the road and turns off the lights. Our trackers pass us less than a minute later driving at high speed. Maybe they think we took the option to leave the country by land. We then turn around and head back. That is when we once again fall face to face with one of the motorcycles that who have been keeping me company since I came back to Rwanda. “(P. 38)

The Fear


Tony Kuramba, Head of CID (Criminal Investigation Department)

Fear is everywhere in this book. Everyone is afraid. Starting from her arrival in Kigali on January 16, 2010, Ingabire directly touches on this subject in a speech that later became historic. ‘’What is the objective of our battle?’’ she launches before adding, ‘’We want every Rwandan to stop being afraid.’’ (p.12). However, a Rwanda without fear is a Rwanda without the RPF! The book shows how fear has become a weapon of the judiciary. Without it, the RPF would have no power over Rwandans.

The concept of ‘’fear’’ intervenes from February 8 at the first question of the first interrogator of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) with its famous Head of Services, Tony Kuramba.

“-Tony Kuramba: When you arrived at Kanombe airport, you said that Rwandans are afraid. Who were you talking about that? Why are they afraid? Who is scaring them? You said that you were going to liberate them, what were you saying precisely?

-Ingabire: First I would like you to understand that I spoke as a politician. With reference to the recent history of our country, we experienced a genocide committed against Tutsi and crimes against humanity committed against the Hutu. This explains why every Rwandan lives in fear: they fear being killed for what they are. Everyone has been affected and every person suffered injuries.

– Tony Kuramba: You mean to say that after fifteen years, Rwandans still live in fear when we have security that is even recognized internationally?

– Ingabire: Having security does not mean that our wounds are healed.

– Tony Kuramba: So on whose behalf are you speaking?

– Ingabire: I speak on behalf of all Rwandans because there is no Rwandan family that has not lost a relative in the bloody events that took place in our country. I know that Rwandans still live in fear and anxiety.

– Tony Kuramba: So what do you mean by talking of liberation?

– Ingabire: I mean that all of us Rwandans, whatever our opinions, our beliefs or our ethnic groups, we must free ourselves from our fear to jointly build our country. “(Pp. 24-25)

As such, according to Ingabire, the first battle to face is to liberate Rwandans from fear. Ingabire also makes an interesting observation. In fact, the first ones to be afraid, are the authorities of the RPF themselves.

“Simply put, the authorities are afraid of losing control of this population which, for fifteen years, listens carefully to the single and monotonous speech of the RPF, the party-state. My speeches are a disturbance because they denounce the hegemony of the RPF and the omnipresence of its army. I bother them because I speak of justice for all, democracy and human rights “(p. 69).

Ingabire, in her book, describes herself as someone who resists the fear imposed by the system:

“Being always true to myself, I do not feel intimidated by this persecution” (p. 19).

However, being human, she cannot escape all the fears of the world. For example, she admits to have been very frightened and even panicked when, after one of her interrogations, she was supposed to pass by her house to retrieve a mattress before returning to her cell of Kicukiro.

“Suddenly I realize that we are not taking the path that leads to my house, we just passed it. This makes me more afraid. I seriously panic when we stop on a dirt road with no lighting. A Mercedes Benz and a white van went before us. They also stopped at the same place, just in front of us. I cannot see the person who is driving the car but I recognize CSP Kuramba who steps out of the van immediately. The prosecutor who is with me steps out too. The two men converge towards the Mercedes. I sit stuck between two police officers. The minutes we wait seem particularly long because an idea is torturing my head. How could I have believed that we were taking this detour for a mattress? Could the authorities have decided to get rid of me once and for all rather than to imprison me? I already foresee the scenario. If I am executed, I’ll be thrown into the house under construction located below the road “(p. 60).

The Trap

The infamous central prison in Kigali, 1930, from the inside

The infamous central prison in Kigali, 1930, from the inside

The second pillar of the judicial system is the concept of a trap. By reading this book, it becomes clear that nothing is done randomly in Rwanda. Everything seems to be a trap and Ingabire had to discover this fact too late. As it turns out, a large part of her entourage was actually colluding with the system she was fighting. Her chef Absolomon later comes to accuse her of having ordered to dig the famous military trench in her compound (p112-113); her driver Abdou accused her of having repeatedly called Vital Uwumuryenyi, one of the former FDLR officers who claimed Ingabire had formed an armed group (p. 114); the same Uwumuremyi who became her accuser is the same who pretended to be a loyal member of the UDF and who arranged for her to find accommodation (p. 89-90).

In addition, the media played along the traps of the judiciary. Thus, while all media refused to give any attention to Ingabire, Voice of Africa (VOA), a radio of the Muslim community, made an exception by agreeing to grant her an interview. It was a trap and Ingabire learned the hard way:

« Everything is going pretty well. The atmosphere seems calm, relaxed. My interlocutors are showing great professionalism in their questions. But as soon as I leave the studio, security services pay a visit to VOA and immediately grasp the cassette containing the records. I have probably been trapped, I should have known. In this country, the regime has eyes and ears everywhere (p.19). »

The cassette seized at VOA would later be used by the prosecutor as evidence of Ingabire’s culpability. Ingabire therefore remains savvy during her stay in the 1930 prison. She knows that everything is a trap. Almost all her companions in her isolated cell are spies. One of them is called Skola. Ingabire had to set a trap herself in order to confirm her suspicions:

« One evening, I told him that the police searched my house the day after I was arrested, that they took our phones, our computers, file cabinets containing our correspondance and many other things without interest. I told him that I what I thought interesed the police was the list of party members and the origin of our financial resources. I told Skola deliberately that the police will not acces that particular information because it is saved on a device that I keep between my beauty products in the bathroom » (p.134).

The next day, the bathroom of Ingabire’s residence is searched by the ICD.

The Propaganda

Tom Ndahiro – Communication adviser to Kagame, genocide specialist and recognized as one of the propagandists of Kagame regime

Tom Ndahiro – Communication adviser to Kagame, genocide specialist and recognized as one of the propagandists of Kagame regime

The third pillar of the system is propaganda. This aggressive technique of communication aims to promote its own ideology and its own way of seeing things. The first step was to use the expertise of the famous Tom Ndahiro and his press as well as the services of the newspaper The New Times. Ndahiro, among others, suggested that Ingabire was colluding with the United Nations investigators who wrote the Mapping report on the massacres of Hutu in the DRC.

I knew Tom Ndahiro had an imagination filled with ideas that he would like everyone to take for truth. But I cannot believe that he would go as far as telling such lies on national television (p. 69).

The Attorney General at that time, Martin Ngoga, also used the media for propaganda purposes, while criticizing Ingabire for wanting to get her message across through the media. In short, Ngoga claimed that Ingabire, while being on probation, should not have made any press statement or grant interviews for media purposes. However, according to Ingabire, such a requirement was not made by the judges upon her release (pp. 154-155).

One of the most spectacular examples of propaganda lies in the submission of evidence from the Netherlands to Rwanda. The prosecutor and the press announced that 600 pages of evidence were sent when in fact it was 55 pages (p. 215).

Another example of propaganda carried out by the regime is the descent of police and the press in Ingabire’s home to show the entire world the military trench located in the compound (p.112). The explanation given by Ingabire would not receive the same publicity.

« It has been a few months since those who are responsible for our neighbourhood came to see me and told me they received a complaint from neighbours living below my plot. They complained that the water dripping from my home caused damage to their homes. They were right because the initial pit dug was no longer enough to hold any runoff water in case of heavy rains. I then began discussions with local officials and finally, they ordered me to dig another hole with sufficient capacity to hold the excess water passing through my plot. It is Absolomon, the man of the house, who proposed the plan and dug the hole. So it is no wonder that he was able to find it without any difficulty » (p. 113).

So it was a trap that was used for propaganda purposes (both P’s).

The forgiveness

Martin Ngoga, former Attorney General of Rwanda

Martin Ngoga, former Attorney General of Rwanda

The fourth pillar is forgiveness, which in itself is supposed to be a good deed. Asking for and being granted forgivenss is recognized as a rare virtue. Nevertheless, this concept of forgiveness has become a powerful weapon of the Rwandan judicial system. Ingabire is attacked from every corner: the authorities want her to apologise and incorporate into the system. The first to make this proposal is none other than the dreaded Attorney General, Martin Ngoga, who offers the following to Ingabire in a one-on-one interview in his office, when she is already imprisoned:

«- Ngoga: But what do you think of the accusations contained in your file? We can talk about it if you want. Maybe we can find a compromise.

-Ingabire: But what compromise Mr. Prosecutor? I said that I am innocent from the beginning ” (p. 159).

A few days later, Ngoga relaunches his request, again head-to-head in his office. This time, he says he cannot do anything without confessions (pp. 164 and 167).

“-Ngoga: I wanted to see you to see whether you had given thought about my proposal … I cannot do anything without knowing that you are willing to admit that you are guilty (p. 164).


Ngoga: Mrs Ingabire, your file has already been sent to court, the only way you can get out of this is by accepting the compromise that am proposing to you “(p. 167).

Ingabire refused all proposals defending her innocence. Only after her conviction, the pressure increased. Instead of congratulating themselves for reaching their goal by condemning her, the servants of Rwanda’s legal system wanted to extort valuable confessions and therefore demanded a formal request for forgiveness from Ingabire. As such, the director of prison 1930 was the one who was tasked to convince her to write o President Kagame. The director insisted until he asked her to write anything, provided she agreed to write to the President. Ingabire fell into the trap when she wrote to the president on November 6, 2011. She wrote the following, which in itself does not mean much, but was able to reach its effect:

“H.E. The highest authority of our country,

Please, accept my apologies to you or any other Rwandan whom I caused grieve in his heart through my statements. It was never my intention to dishonor anyone or offend anyone’s rights “, (p.223).

Not completely satisfied, the prison director returns with the letter and asks her to rectify it and be direct in asking for forgiveness. That is when Ingabire discovers the trap. The prosecutor and the press had already started talking about confessions without having published the letter.

« The four P’s »

1930 prison in Kigali

1930 prison in Kigali

In conclusion, we see that Ingabire’s small letter is significant because it gathers the 4 P’s [in French] at once: those in power are afraid of the prisoner (Fear (Peur)) and demand that she apologizes (Forgiveness (Pardon)). In an attempt to evade the pressure, she falls into the trap (Piège) and those in power use the press for propaganda (fourth P) purposes.




Article written by Dr. Olivier Nyirubugara

Edited and translated by Jambonews

Olivier Nyirubugara is a lecturer of Journalism and new media at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam in The Netherlands

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