On the 10th of November Alice Muhirwa, a young Rwandan lady, was awarded the annual prize of Jeunesse engagée (Committed Youth). This prize was given by the Canadian section of the International Network of Women for Democracy and Peace (RifDP) and is distributed to young people who, through their actions and commitment, have contributed greatly to peace and democracy. This year the theme was ‘let us be masters of our own destiny’ and it’s within the annual activity around commitment that Alice Muhirwa was chosen for the prize.
In an interview that Jambonews had with the winner, Muhirwa explained the reasons behind her commitment in Rwanda and talked about the current situation of democracy in Rwanda. Furthermore, she shared her views on the role of Rwandan youth in building future leaders and her hopes for Rwanda.
1. Who is Alice Muhirwa ?
I am Alice Muhirwa, 31 years old, mother of two children, Rwandan and I am the national treasurer of FDU Inkingi.
2. You were awarded the prize for « Jeunesse engagée » by the International Network of women for Democracy and Peace in Canada. What does this represent?
First of all I thank the International women Network, for its different activities that evolve around raising awareness for the role that the Rwandan people can play in the country’s democratization process I can’t say a lot on the prize, I took it as a motivation to young people, to get more involved in their country concerns; it represents for me a recognition of a certain level of courage expressed individually or collectively but which had impacted the community toward the “Democratization processes”; I prefer process because it is still ongoing, we still have a considerable to do list; to reach where we want to be.
3. You fight for the promotion of Rwandan women’s rights and you are also committed in FDU INKINGI , the main opposition political party in Rwanda. Where does your spirit for commitment come from?
It comes from my personal key values; I promote confidence, excellence, integrity and compassion: I believe that a woman has the same ability to excel in any situation, in the same way a man does, I stand for her empowerment, and I consider her role as an elite in a country that is in a transformational development process. Women’s involvement level accelerates or inhibits the country development; MDGs and country goals will remain a utopia if women by themselves do not consider their role, their fully engagement to shift from the cultural mindset to a transformational mindset.
It goes twined with my political motivation; I believe that a developed country is one that values the will of nationals, where the freedom of expression drives the nation’s vision and leads to a common will and everyone is taking part in the progress. I value a political philosophy which stands for truth- equal opportunity- rule of law- freedom of expression and democracy.
You can’t say there is a rule of law, if there is no freedom of expression, if people are not free to exercise their right to vote, to association, demonstration, and reporting and criticise failures; and if justice has served for long as a tool to silence all divergent visions.
4. Is it easy for Rwandan youth to commit to politics?
How will it become easier for young people if it has been difficult for their elders? The opposition has faced serious threats from long ago. Living in a country that does not fear to silence a president because he is turning to another political vision, imagine what it is able to do to a simple citizen motivated by the will of change… All we know is that, this cause is bigger than ourselves, we have a reason to raise our voice for political space openness, because we are convinced by other democratic countries’ experiences that only inclusive dialogue and free political debate can direct a country’s vision towards prosperity and success. Otherwise there will be repetitive conflicts between people; the feeling and expression of rejection will not end.
5. Faced with daily arrests of political opponents and journalists, are you considering stopping your political fight?
We shall not stop this cause until we reach the goal, we need change and we are living it, no matter how hard it may be, we are engaged and we shall win it. This rally is a generational will, we have to take responsible actions in order to leave a good legacy to other generations; that none is super- powered, none has the right to oppress others, none is beyond the law; that we are all equal. We have witnessed countries where the will of the people has taken actions and initiated the change they wanted. Democracy has never been gifted, and will not remain a dream in people’s minds. Democracy will bring?the change; they can’t jail a whole nation.
6. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticize Rwanda for its repressive policy against the opposition. How does this repression appear on a day-to-day basis?
If a country can dispose several illegal detention places and several intelligence organs, we need to ask what these are for. They are there to intensify their activities against the opposition, such man hunting, intimidation, blackmails, detentions, tortures, party divisions and so on… Even in our political leader‘s trial the co-accused testified on this kind of illegal detention, interviews from intelligence department without any legal defense right. Such services are not only used against opposition parties only, they have been used to detain many low-class people who struggle to make their lives by mobile-businesses.
7. What kind of problems are militants and sympathizers of opposition faced with?
They are being hunted, intimated; fired form jobs, threatened, forced to exile ,shouted ,imprisoned for long sentences, and even behead.
8. Can Rwandan students speak freely about politics on campuses?
If the national parliament is not free to express the will of the people how can colleges and the youth on campus exercise that right? Unless you pay a visit to their washing rooms and social platforms on the internet where they can breathe under pseudonyms.
9. As the FDU treasurer, you are used to meeting Victoire Ingabire ; how did she receive the 8-years jail sentence? How is she coping since the announcement of the sentence? Is she in good spirits?
She is a very inspiring and strong lady; she has kept her strength and still has the same courage as the one she had while landing at Kigali airport 2010! This trial was masqueraded to withdraw her from the political scene; she is innocent. That conviction alone is enough to sustain the strength.
10. Do you think that Rwandan people really want change and that they are ready for it?
Of course they do; We came in to respond to their will, we want to end that spirit of fear, the silence of the mind. People need to express themselves, to get involved in decision-making, to get informed about their rights and have the space to inquire who it may concern. Recently, there have been evaluations of different managing boards; a number of huge amounts of money was found mismanaged or just missing, but still there’s no justice done, and this is going to be paid for by Rwandans through taxes. Of course people want change, they want accountable and credible leaders managing the country’s assets, the country’s international relations, and involving people in leading their own country.
11. On October 19th 2012, President Paul Kagame told Rwandan young people to « be the leaders of today and masters of their fate ». Does the current political system allow Rwandan young people to be masters of their political fate and the leaders of political change?
Of course not. This lack of freedom of expression and the closed political space justifies that impossibility; the only way to work here is to embrace the ideas from the created channels and these channels are well monitored by RPF, if there were independent platforms that would be promising.
Rwanda has molded its political form from Singapore type-where democracy matters less: The Lee kua yew Principle “Development first”. This is when there is a team of people who assume that they think best for a million people without any assessment on what this people need the most!
It is good to have a set vision, but it is also important to make citizens conscious of where they have to go and why they have to go there; then creating an environment which will enable them to reach where you want them to go. That is the role of a transformational leadership; you don’t lead people in a blind corridor and hope for a lasting success. That is why some countries have failed to reach their visions, or even fail to maintain the leap or immediately change direction after succession. Normally a country’s vision should be unchangeable by round of presidency, but here in Africa every presidency brings in its own setup, and finally it’s a mix- up. At the end of decades we find ourselves rotating on the same ground.
I think the country’s vision should be integrated and highlighted as a chapter in the national constitution law. The country’s vision should be precise, indivisible and unchangeable because it has been voted for by citizens themselves. The Parliament must shape the mandate of the executive leaders based on the vision. It should not be the opposite. Here the executive leadership is also the one shaping the vision, defining and evaluating mandates. Leadership is beyond a physical exercise where you can easily auto-evaluate. Good leadership highly values each detail of citizen’s will.
12. Is there anything else you would want to tell Rwandan youth abroad ?
I thank those who are already engaged, who are living the kind of change they want to see. I encourage those who are still hesitating to discover what they are best at, and use it to lift up others to get more involved. We are a dynamic strength, with different talents, we are responsible of what is happening right now, and we shall be endorsed of its legacy; let our actions embrace our mind for a successful democratic legacy.
Suddenly we are reminded of ‘lettre à la justice’ in which the French writer Emile Zola addresses the youth: ‘Oh, youth, youth! I beg you, think of the great task that awaits you. You are the future’s working force, you will lay the foundation for the next century, in which we have deep faith, you will solve the problems of truth and fairness raised by the ending century.’