February 7, 2020

Evode Uwizeyimana: The Eloquent Constitutional Lawyer Who Called President Kagame’s Government “Clique of Armed Gangs”

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Maître Evode Uwizeyimana: He built and destroyed himself

Around late, towards December 2013, blogs of Rwandan exiles ran constant reports that Evode Uwizeyimana was in Rwanda. Speculation was rife that he had “sold his soul” to the RPF party of President Paul Kagame.

Then in January the following year, it emerged he had been appointed ‘senior advisor to the ministry of Justice’. Evode Uwizeyimana, a name which a large section of Rwandans, at least anyone who owned a radio set, very well knew, was back in Rwanda, ending a period that will never be erased from Rwanda’s post 1994 history records.

“Evode”, as many know him, this Thursday February 6, submitted his resignation letter to the Prime Minister Dr Edouard Ngirente, according to official narration posted on Primature’s Twitter account. The same post also said state minister for primary and secondary education Dr Isaac Munyakazi, had also tendered his resignation.

Uwizeyimana’s journey of departure from the political high table did not begin with the scandalous behavior in which he is reported to have angrily shoved a female security guard at entrance of a shopping complex in Kigali. NO! It began during the Umushyikirano (National Dialogue) of December 2016.

On December 16 that year, Uwizeyimana, then newly appointed State Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs, publicly rubbished a representative of the powerful Catholic Church, Monseigneur Sylverien Nzakamwita, the Bishop of Byumba Diocese. The few minutes Uwizeyimana stood up on that day shocked everyone to the core. President Kagame himself was not in the conference hall, as he had moved out briefly.

A long story short; it is during the interactive session on the topic “The Rwanda We Want”. Monseigneur Nzakamwita lifts his hand among many and is picked on to speak. He says security across Rwanda’s regions is perfect, but that insecurity in homes was getting out of hand – referring to domestic conflicts and poor family values. He asks for government intervention. Calmly, Nzakamwita’s message seems to be appreciated in the Kigali International Conference Center.

The Minister for gender and family promotion Esperance Nyirasafari agrees with the Catholic clergyman. But then the State Minister Evode Uwizeyimana seeks the microphone and stands up. With hand clearing his belt, a posture indicative of confidence and comfortable in his skin, Uwizeyimana wonders how Monseigneur Nzakamwita knows good family values yet he is not married and has no children due to the Church’s priestly celibacy.

For a few seconds there was brief laughter in the conference hall, followed by mummers of shock. Uwizeyimana rumbles on for about two minutes. He castigates Monseigneur Nzakamwita for raising an issue but cannot give solution. “There is a university student who spoke with a solution, yet Monseigneur didn’t attempt to share how the problem should be tackled,” angrily ranted Uwizeyimana.

Sounding embarrassed, Senate President at the time Bernard Makuza who was now chairing the session during Kagame’s brief absence, attempted to diffuse the situation, but it was too late. “What Monseigneur was alluding to is an issue that concerns us all Rwandans,” said Makuza, in a rather bizarre move to deflect the heat away from the Catholic bishop.

It is highly doubtful that President Kagame wasn’t briefed about the incident before he returned to the hall. Later that day, during the discussion on genocide ideology, President Kagame unleashed his own anger towards the Catholic Church for its role in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

When the Umushyikirano session ended that day, the mood among many had swung into favour with state minister Uwizeyimana’s outburst since the climax had been Kagame’s comments on the Catholic and the genocide. The ordinary folks at Umushyikirano and many following offsite, thought; maybe Uwizeyimana was on the right after all!

In the days that followed Umushyikirano, a spontaneous social media campaign demanded minister Uwizeyimana apologises to the Monseigneur. The clergyman was forced to issue a statement denying any role in the social media campaign against Uwizeyimana.

However, behind the scene manoeuvres involving the most senior ruling party insiders, considered Uwizeyimana’s attack on Monseigneur Nzakamwita unnecessary, reckless and unacceptable.

Judging from what has been happened since President Kagame’s audience at the Vatican with Pope Francis the following year 2017 and apology for Catholic Church role in the genocide , it is very clear the Church had maintained powerful influence over state affairs in Rwanda, despite the hostile government public statements.

ALSO READ: Monsignor Philippe Rukamba Gets 2nd Term To Lead a Catholic Church in Troubling Times

State Minister Uwizeyimana’s unguarded offensive against a member of the Episcopal Conference of Rwanda, the Catholic Church’s supreme organ, was never forgotten. Though we may never know, but it is highly unlikely that no one from the highest decision making centers extended some form of apology to Monseigneur Nzakamwita, or even Evode Uwizeyimana himself!

Attacks women, journalists and cabinet colleagues

October 6, 2016: President Kagame with Evode Uwizeyimana, Minister of State in charge of Constitutional & Legal Affairs in the Ministry of Justice, and his family. This was the day Uwizeyimana joined cabinet

Known for making statements that are completely opposite to the politically correct narrative, there are very few groups in Rwandan society that have not been offended by Uwizeyimana. At a woman’s forum, Uwizeyimana is reported to have said that once a woman is married and swears on the flag, then she commits to grant the husband conjugal right forever. Local women rights activists will never forget this, and other statements.

The media loved him and were always eager to be present whenever he spoke. And Uwizeyimana knew he is a media darling. He liked reporters around him. He had to, because it is the media that gave him talking space from the early 2000s until he became a hot political actor sought by the ruling establishment in Rwanda. But that did not make the media immune from Uwizeyimana’s wrath.

In November 2017, Uwizeyimana speaking in Parliament branded journalists as “imihirimbiri” (literary meaning ‘social outcasts’ undesirable in society because of what they do, look like and act). He said journalists were so desperately poor he would never bother suing any media because they wouldn’t have anything to pay. The extremely derogatory comments prompted angry social media hashtag #JeSuisUmuhirimbiri (IamUmuhirimbiri). It lasted for days, and minister Uwizayimana didn’t badge. The journalists moved on!

Nobody was immune to Evode Uwizeyimana, including Rwandan exiles, among whom he actively belonged for several years. In Kigali, at the annual Unity Club forum in October last year, which converges current and former top government officials with their spouses, Uwizeyimana said some Rwandan exiles are extremists not willing to ever compromise.

Uwizeyimana said unlike those hardliners, the unique performance of President Kagame in developing Rwanda, convinced him to come join the struggle. Uwizeyimana said: “When President Kagame came to Toronto, I immediately booked air ticket following his rallying call. He said ‘we want all those who have harvested knowledge, money, constructive knowledge which we need, please come home. However, those who have harvested bad manners, better remain here.”

The video in which Uwizeyimana makes the comments spread like wild fire online. He was called all sorts of names on blogs and social media by the exiles.

At the same Unity Club event though, Uwizeyimana tickled another highly sensitive subject. He openly, but without naming anyone, accused fellow cabinet members of indecisiveness, hypocrisy and double-speak. He said officials in Rwanda have two different skins whereby they say certain things in some places, but also say something else when hidden. “You look at a person on the outside, but inside has five beings,” said Uwizeyimana.

To illustrate his point on the indecisiveness among cabinet colleagues, Uwizeyimana said there have been cases where cabinet teams are given issues to develop and bring policy papers. The teams will adopt a joint position, but when they listen to Kagame’s thought direction and it is contrary to what was agreed by the joint team, they renounce the team’s position.

Uwizeyimana narrated: “This person will keenly gauge His Excellence’s thought process and when its different, they put their hands up to say ‘Your Excellence that is also my point of view, but my colleagues didn’t seem to grasp‘. You even find that idea was actually brought by this same person now denouncing other colleagues. I will not name names but those am referring to are present here.”

As Uwizeyimana articulated his concern, there was laughter, which you could easily feel had the “why the hell did he have to go that far” sentiment.

“Agatsiko k’amabandi…” (Clique of armed gangs)

Uwizeyimana was young journalist working in different local small tabloid publications, and in early 2003 joined Imbarutso newspaper founded by former VOA reporter Lucy Umukundwa who lives in France today. During the heated political season of that year, Uwizeyimana joined the campaign of ex-prime minister Faustin Twagiramungu. They lost miserably to incumbent Paul Kagame. Twagiramungu went into exile. Uwizeyimana stayed. Their party MDR was banned soon after by a Senate ruling, accused of promoting ethnic divisionism.

February 23, 2014: Justice ministry organizes press conference for new kid on the bloc Evode Uwizeyimana to deal with barrage of queries about him

In 2007, Uwizeyimana, then a lower court judge, left Rwanda and settled in Canada. He went back to law school in Canada and actually taught there as well. From the 2010 presidential poll, up until he clandestinely returned to Rwanda, Uwizeyimana was the point-man for BBC and VOA great lakes radio channels on matters law or politics.

Uwizeyimana actually linked up with Twagiramungu who was based in Brussels and they had a political organization RDI Rwanda Nziza. The two then turned against each other in September 2012. By this time, Uwizeyimana had established his own profile and didn’t feel Twagiramungu was of any value.

BBC and VOA had Uwizeyimana as their permanent commentator on anything Rwanda, Kagame, RPF party and the Rwanda Defense Forces – all considered as one, according to him. In interviews, Evode Uwizeyimana famously described the establishment in Rwanda using various but similar forms including as “agatsiko k’amabandi yitwaje intwaro afata igihugu” (cligue of armed gangs…), “gaco k’amabandi kagize ikinyoma intwaro ya politiki”, and various other phrases.

Despite all the derogatory tirade, Rwanda Day was held in Toronto on September 28, 2013. More than 3,000 Rwandans attended. It is from Kagame’s speech here that Evode Uwizeyimana, according to his version, decided to come home.

On February 23, 2014, Uwizeyimana then advisor in the justice ministry, the same institution organized for him a press conference. It was in response to unending phone calls to the ministry from media asking about Evode Uwizeyimana, that it was decided a press conference was better. He said a lot, like a lot on that day, but was not apologetic, in any way, for past behaviour.

At the time, local media was awash with speculation that Uwizeyimana had been wooed back to be handed the justice docket, away from then Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama. It did not work out that way. Instead, he moved to the constitutional review commission, from which he was elevated to a new docket of ‘state minister in charge of constitutional and legal affairs’ in October 2016.

Not much is known about his private life, whether married or not, with children or not. On the day he took his first cabinet oath, while others bring children, wife and parents, Uwizeyimana was accompanied by only his parents.

The neatly dressed legal mind will also be remembered for spearheading a government scheme that last year removed 1,000 laws dating to colonial period, from the country’s books. It is a feat that has not been done anywhere!

For the ordinary Rwandan, it will seem like February 6, 2020 when Uwizeyimana tendered his resignation, has a relationship to the now ex-minister’s alleged attack on a female security guard.

The full story though, shows that Evode Uwizeyimana singlehandedly built his political stature, and is the same self who has worked so hard to shred it into pieces. And because he annoyed nearly everyone, it is hard to find anyone who sympathises with him!

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