The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: The Passing of an Icon

Photo: New Times
The late Minister of Gender and Family, Aloisea Inyumba (file photo).

HER last tweet says it all. It is a short tweet but packed with a compelling message that brings out the values she so cherished in her life that was cut short at the age of 48.

She had a special passion for the wellbeing of children and family values; perhaps this explains why she began and ended her government career as minister of gender and family planning.

"We are committed to seeing all Rwanda's children grow up in loving, caring families and not in institutions," Aloisea Inyumba, then Minister of Gender and Family Promotion in the Prime Minister's Office tweeted on May 4.

But no one knew that was to be her last tweet. Certainly not herself either. Yesterday, the nation was saddened by the news of her death. The soft-spoken but charismatic Inyumba returned to cabinet in May last year in the same position she held in the first post-Genocide cabinet.

She had spent nearly seven years as a senator. Prior to that, she had served as the executive secretary of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission and prefet (governor) of the then Kigali Ngali prefecture.

A documentation of her life shows that public issues were so close to the fallen minister's heart, particularly children and family.

She had a family and children of her own, but proudly shouldered the unenviable responsibility to help save Rwanda's family values from being extinct in the face of globalisation.

And she had the strategy. One of them was to encourage Rwandan families to get children out of orphanages and raise them as their own, a bold move that has already resulted in some orphanages closing, with the former occupants now in foster homes.

But she also sought to come up with what she described in another of her tweets as "an economic security programme for families, including access to finance, and new technologies".

Inyumba's story is synonymous with Rwanda's rebirth and healing since the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

But many of her friends recall a young Inyumba who abandoned the opportunity of a good job as a young graduate from Makerere University in Uganda to dedicate her life to the liberation struggle that brought the Rwanda Patriotic Front to power and ended the Genocide.

During the liberation struggle (1990-94), she was entrusted with the movement's finances and was a community mobiliser who worked selflessly for the liberation cause.

Inquiries about her death began to spread on social networking sites Twitter and Facebook yesterday morning. Many Rwandans and friends paid a glowing tribute to the mother of two, describing her death as a great loss to the nation.

President Paul Kagame tweeted, "What a great loss in the passing away of A. Inyumba for RPF, nation and all of us at a personal level!!? Among the best of RPF & national leaders!"

And Rwanda's High Commissioner to the UK, Ernest Rwamucyo, echoed similar sentiment on Twitter, "Inyumba was a truly dedicated, committed and selfless patriot. Rwanda, RPF have lost a leader, a patriot a mother to her family. RIP Inyumba."

The UNICEF Representative to Rwanda, Noala Skinner, described her as "a friend, an inspiration and full of dignity and a true activist for women & children."

Several former colleagues also spoke fondly of her.

"She was selfless, loving and caring, positive and active in promoting the RPF spirit, goals and principles in her different assignments. At a tender age, she made a clear choice and has since never turned back from the ultimate goal," Rwanda's High Commissioner to South Africa, Vincent Karega, eulogised the late Inyumba.

During her various responsibilities, she inspired many along the way.

"She inspired me very much as an RPF role model cadre when I was her staff at Migeprofe (Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion) and after. Inyumba is a big loss to many of us in RPF. She was a humble but steady freedom fighter, a committed cadre living by the patriotic principles," Karega, also a former cabinet minister, said.

He added, "She was much known to the World from her duty as an extraordinary minister of gender full of passion and focus for change. Inyumba shall always be remembered in Rwanda and beyond as a true revolutionary and an extraordinary daughter of our continent Africa."

Indeed Inyumba's outstanding contribution to society won her recognition not just at home, but also abroad.

Earlier this year, she was named among the three recipients of the inaugural 'Women have Wings Courage Award' - the others being women activists Virisila Buadromo from Fiji and Chi Yvonne Leina from Cameroon.

The award is reserved for outstanding women from around the world living the courageous spirit of Amelia Earhart, the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and was the first woman to receive the US Distinguished Flying Cross.

Inyumba was recognised for the "courageous strides she made to further the rights of all people in her country. 'The Women have Wings' team was impressed by Hon. Inyumba's courage and determination to promote peace in her country. Her political work shines a light on the importance of women in government positions. The US has much to learn from Rwanda in this regard," the Women have Wings team wrote.

From 1994-99, Inyumba served as the first Minister of Gender and Social Affairs in the post-Genocide Rwanda, and was instrumental in the immediate management of post-Genocide trauma and hopelessness.

During that period, she oversaw the burial of Genocide victims, the resettlement of returnees, actively promoted truth-telling and reconciliation, and spearheaded a national adoption campaign to place Genocide orphans in homes.

From 1999 to 2001, Inyumba served as Executive Secretary of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, during which time she played a key role in encouraging truth-telling and reconciliation as the country moved from transition to the development phase.

Later, she was appointed the prefet (governor) of the Kigali Ngali province before joining the country's inaugural Senate in 2004.

Inyumba is credited for using her strong understanding of grassroots affairs to mobilise community-based organisations, the civil society and others to pull towards the general wellbeing of the people, particularly women and children.

In several interviews, she spoke highly of the Rwandan people and predicted a great future inspired by the people themselves. She always talked about the need to come to terms with the country's difficult past and to build a better country.

In one interview in 2001, she said, "It's a choice between life and death; the people of Rwanda have made a choice of living... We are looking into the future and the coming generation, not to be stuck in genocide; this does not mean that we forget, but it gives us a more kind of challenging life; what kind of life are you going to lead to ensure that the future is better and just for everybody, and that's really where we get the inspiration from."

As someone who twice served as the minister of gender, Inyumba was passionate about women empowerment and participation in leadership.

In 2010, she said, "I'm who I'm because of that background that I acquired with women at the grassroots, before I became a minister I was involved with mobilisation of resources with the communities; actually if you look at women in leadership positions today in Rwanda they came from the women NGOs, from the community-based organisations, they are people who were very much involved with the civil society, and today they are the ones who are providing the leadership."

"What's important is to stick to our principles; be honest, be active, be articulate... women at the grassroots are the force, this is a positive force; they need to be strong and need to know that they are the ones who made us who we are, we are products of the grassroots women".

Inyumba was also a strong believer in family as the foundation of nation.

And it is these values that she stood for that will define her legacy.

She attended Rwamurunga Primary School in Nshungerezi before heading to Mary Hill Girls High School in Mbarara district, Uganda.

She later joined Makerere University in Kampala where she graduated with an Honors Degree in Social Work and Social Administration. Inyumba also held a Masters in International Relations from the Irish American University and the Swedish International Centre for Local Democracy.

She was also awarded an honorary doctorate from La Roche College in the United States.

And with the RPF members gearing for the party's silver jubilee on December 20, there is no doubt that Aloisea Inyumba will greatly be missed on that day and so many years to come.

She is survived by a husband and two children aged 15 (girl) and 10 (boy).

May her soul rest in peace.

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InFocus

Rwanda in Shock As Gender Minister Dies

The late Minister of Gender and Family, Aloisea Inyumba (file photo).

Tributes are pouring in for the late Aloisea Inyumba, who died at the age of 48. Read more »