Ann Garrison awarded the Victoire Ingabire Prize

Letter from Ann Garrison, on sharing the Victoire Prize with Pere Sampol i Mas

I can’t imagine a greater honor than the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize

I can’t imagine a greater honor than the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize, and I send my deepest thanks to the Womens International Network for Democracy and Peace for giving me this chance to share it with Spanish Senator Pere Sampol i Mas. Victoire herself bestowed the only comparable honor on me, after my reporting on Rwanda’s 2010 “presidential election year,“ which saw candidates, journalists, and opponents of the Kagame government shot dead, imprisoned, or driven into exile. “You’re one of us now, Annie,” she said, after all that, just before the Rwandan government arrested and imprisoned her.

Ann Garrison

Ann Garrison

As I write that, I can hear shouts all the way from Kigali, Rwanda to KPFA Radio-Berkeley, California. “Biased!” “Not objective!” “So-called journalist!” “Genocide denier!” By the time Victoire told me that I’m one of you now, I had been written up quite a few times in President Kagame’s newspaper, which called me, “a denier of the genocide against the Tutsi on a rampage” and a leading Kagame hater.” I’d also been cartoonized on his friends’ smear site, The Exposer, which identified me as “the self-appointed spokeswoman of evil,” and “the reincarnation of the apocalypse.” These were the examples of “unbiased, objective” journalism that my critics expected me to emulate???

For the record, I have never claimed to be an “objective” journalist. That is an epistemological impossibility, most often invoked as a gag order by those who refuse to tolerate any dissent from their version of the truth. As American journalist Jeremy Scahill has said, “There is no such thing as being an objective journalist. We all are who we are. What I believe in is being transparent and truthful and always trying to get the facts right. People will make their own judgment of whether or not they want to trust you based on how transparent you are with them and the principles that you bring to the game.”

A year after Victoire went to prison, I filed an assault complaint against the Rwandan government contingent during the “Third International Conference on Genocide,” with the Sacramento State University Campus Police. The next year, in 2012, I submitted that complaint to the UK Parliament Development Committee, which published it online shortly after their decision to limit aid to the Rwandan government that year.

What had I done to deserve being surrounded by shouting fanatics, several of whom even laid hands on me before someone stopped them? I sat quietly listening to the presenters all day, for nearly eight hours, before finally raising my hand to suggest that further information and documentation should be included in the discussion, including the Gersony Report, the record of the RPF’s Radio Muhabura, and UN investigations of Rwanda’s wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, from the 1998 Garreton Report to the 2010 UN Mapping Report, and including the 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2008 Reports of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Sacramento State University incident was like a condensed version of my experience from the time I began to follow Rwanda’s 2010 “presidential election” up until now. I quickly realized that Rwanda was not having an election, that the country was instead having an argument about what really happened in 1994, and that anyone in Rwanda who dared disagree with the government’s story would soon be dead or behind bars. Shortly thereafter I learned that anyone who disagreed from outside would be hounded all over the Internet by fanatics.

I’ve since tried to read and reflect on many investigations, histories and personal narratives about Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but I’ve never claimed perfect understanding of everything that happened in Rwanda in 1994, or before and after. That would be an impossible task for even the most formidable scholar, and one thing I love about Victoire is that she has never claimed to own a padlock on the truth either. She insisted, most fundamentally, that both Hutu and Tutsi were victims, and that Hutu people must be able to mourn and commemorate their dead if true reconciliation is ever to be achieved in Rwanda. Nothing stands in more vivid contrast to the world’s racist demonization of Hutu people than her courage, intelligence, and commitment to democracy and peace.

I’ve spoken to Victoire’s former lawyer Peter Erlinder and her British lawyer Iain Edwards for Pacifica Radio, and the two of them actually have distinctly different understandings of what happened in Rwanda in 1994. What they share is conviction of Victoire’s innocence and enormous admiration for her courage, dignity, intelligence, and love for her Rwandan people. After the lower court’s ruling, Iain Edwards told our Pacifica Radio audience that, “She’s been an absolute joy to represent. She is an extraordinarily courageous woman. She’s an intelligent woman. She’s a fiercely independent woman. She’s loyal and it’s my very firm belief that what she wants is the very best for the Rwandan people. She makes no distinction whatsoever between Hutu, Tutsi, Twa. She sees the Rwandan people as simply that, the Rwandan people.”

Now, before I become longwinded, I’m going to conclude by quoting two of the many wonderful people from the Great Lakes Region whom I’ve had the good fortune to meet since meeting Victoire:

“Victoire Ingabire does not believe in invading the neighbors. She believes in living peacefully with your neighbors, and if there is a conflict, resolving it peacefully. If Victoire Ingabire was allowed to run for president in Rwanda, and she won, there would be a major change in how Rwandans and Congolese live as neighbors, because that would be the end of Rwanda invading Congo.” Claude Gatebuke, Rwandan Genocide survivor and Executive Director, African Great Lakes Action Network.

“If there’s one person in the world that Kagame fears today, it is Victoire Ingabire. Because Kagame is a military man, he knows how to fight wars. So anybody who tries to go fight him militarily, Kagame’s ready for that. What he is not ready for is an unarmed woman standing up and saying, ‘I’m here for democracy. I’m here for human rights. Please let these people be free.’” Aimable Mugara, Rwandan Genocide survivor and human rights activist.

Ann Garrison, 2014