Will the new Ingabire please stand up?

21 Jun

Ms Victoire Ingabire was in court yesterday, and for the second time in one month she asked the High Court to adjourn her case to September this year so that she can adequately prepare her defence. The High Court duly obliged as it had done in May when she had first requested for postponement of the hearing of her case.

Prosecution said that granting her request was consistent with the principle of a fair hearing to which  every accused is entitled.

This means, of course, that she will stay in prison a little longer, but it is her choice. And maybe she needs the time for a little more introspection.

So, yes, Victoire Ingabire is beneficiary to respect for the rule of law in Rwanda despite allegations to the contrary by her overseas supporters and rights groups.

But Ingabire has got other benefits from staying in detention than simply enjoying the right to a fair trial. She seems to have changed for the better as a result of her time in detention.

Every time I have seen her appear in court, she has appeared a different and better person – certainly in appearance and demeanour. She is not the fire-spitting woman who descended on the country nearly a year and a half ago threatening to undo what the country has achieved in the last seventeen years.

Nor does she speak in the rapid-fire, metallic way – with no pauses or even time to catch her breath – that made her sound like a turned on automaton, not a human being.

Gone also is the tough robotic image that many visits to the beauty parlour had done nothing to soften. It was perhaps always intended to be like that because that appears to have been her preferred image – a sort of Lady Macbeth.

Now, all that has changed. Months of reflection (perhaps?) can work such changes. Ingabire now seems to have had time to reassess her appearance. Out has gone the hard image with the rough and sharp edges. Now there is a smoother, prettier woman – well, nearly. And all this done without the aid of a beautician. No fancy hairdo to distort her features, but a simple shave that accentuates her natural shape.

In her rapid fire speech days, Victoire Ingabire did not smile or laugh at a joke or talk easily in a conversation like many people do most of the time. She must have found these simple, ordinary expressions of emotions to be signs of weakness that must be suppressed and replaced– again like Lady Macbeth appealing to the spirits,”  unsex me here….and fill me from the crown to toe top-full of direst cruelty….”

Now, she does these normal, human things easily and naturally. At her court appearance yesterday, Thijs Bouwknept, a Radio Netherlands reporter who was at the hearing, found it noteworthy to remark that Ingabire was “laughing and chatting and looking healthy”.

Where previously Ingabire was forbidding, she now appears like someone you can like, even fall in love with. Were this to be true, it would be the most remarkable transformation and good reason to stay in detention a little longer.

It might have finally dawned on her that she can make her point differently and more effectively. Which is what she should have done from the very beginning. Certainly this is what I would have advised if I had been on her team.

I would, for instance, have told her that the time sabre-rattling sent everyone cowering is long gone; that a bellicose stance is no substitute for charm and gentle persuasion. I would have advised that a macho woman is far from being attractive and will, in fact, repel admirers, even political ones. I would have encouraged her to relax her muscles so that she could speak more freely and naturally and not sound like she had metal tins for vocal cords. Finally, I would have asked her to smile and warm her way to people’s hearts, and to speak with less anger and hate , but replace all that with compassion and understanding.

That is what her advisors and associates should have done. She would then have been a more formidable politician. But, of course, they did not.  And who can blame them? They know no better. Ingabire’s old comrades and new-found friends, wherever they are, are stuck in a belligerent mode and seem unable or unwilling to get out of it.

In the meantime, the newly unadorned Victoire Ingabire appears to have shed some of her most unattractive qualities. Maybe it will last. Maybe it won’t. Or perhaps it is a facade. No matter. As they say, time will tell.

What is certain, however, is that the time she has asked for will not only be for studying the charges against her and preparing her defence, but also for her to unwind and stretch and understand herself better, and if she can finally find it in her, appreciate who Rwandans are.

If that happens, her time in detention would have been a small price to pay for reclaiming her humanity.

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One Response to “Will the new Ingabire please stand up?”

  1. Margaret S. Maringa June 28, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

    CHARLES ONYNGO OBBO MADE A VERI SHREWD OBSERVATON LAST YEAR: that government opponents need to be beaten down and constrained (in order to gain political credibility with their constituents).

    He made that observation with respect to the Ugandan elections where the local Opposition was having serious difficulties being “heard” over the unusually peaceful campaigns. He therefore suggested (rather cheekily) that Yoweri Museveni should go back to the old and familiar pattern of official government repression — so that the Uganda Opposition could become attractive enough to be interviewed, published and quoted regularly in the mass media.

    However this smarter abunuwasi waited until the last ballot box was counted (in his favour) before releasing the usual mbwa kalis– resulting in the Opposition dropping to a record low.

    Hence the post-election campaign to regain the disappeared voters by dramatically walking-to-work (through a phalanx of heathen Babylonians ready to break your nose) and this strategy is now working miracles in resurrecting the almost-buried politicians.

    THERE IS SOMETHING MAGICAL ABOUT BEING DEPRIVED OF THE BASIC HUMAN FREEDOMS: that invariably results in quietness of character and clarity of purpose. Some of the best (and most loved) revolutionaries have been forged (refined) in harsh prison environments — Joseph ben Jacob, Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, Christian martyrs, Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, Jomo Kenyatta, Fidel Castro, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela (to quote just a few).

    Victoire Ingabire has grown into a wonderful and thoughtful woman (in her prison cell) because she does not need to speak the old belligerent rhetoric anymore — precisely because your prison system is now shouting louder volumes around the world. Not to mention the free advertisement that her pink uniform and shaved head is now flashing towards her core supporters (yes she is now truly joined to their pain).

    That is why I am finding it very hard (unwise) to join your congratulatory smirking about this situation. Somebody needs to stop playing “hakuna matata” and boldly call her bluff.

    Just open that prison cell and boom cheerfully: “NDUGU YANGU — HERE IS A FREE RWANDAIR TICKET TO AMSTERDAM — GO AND COOK FOR YOUR FAMILY.” Then sit back and watch the usual blogs deflating rapidly.

    Thaaai Thaaai (peace and blessings)

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