Aloisea Inyumba: Politician Who Played a Key Role in the Rebuilding of Rwanda

   •    April 16, 2013

She believed the key to Rwanda's reconstruction lay in involving women at the grassroots level

This post by Linda Melvern, investigative journalist and author, originally appeared in “The Independent.”

Rwanda’s Minister for Gender and Family Promotion, Aloisea Inyumba, who played a decisive role in the rebuilding of her country, has died aged 48. Inyumba was a pioneer in the advancement of women and she received international praise for her achievements.

Inyumba was first appointed to this post in July 1994 immediately after the genocide of the Tutsi and the civil war were over. The country’s infrastructure was in ruins and the social problems were unprecedented. Women now comprised 70 per cent of the population. The estimates from a 1997 report from UNICEF showed 250,000 women and girls had been raped and were infected with HIV with 35,000 made pregnant and more than 100,000 children had been separated from their families, orphaned, lost, abducted or abandoned. There were hundreds of thousands of women who were homeless, internally displaced and had lost their husbands.

Inyumba believed that the key to reconstruction and peace was to involve women in community development at the grass roots levels in society. She created a national women’s movement based on the former administrative structure with local groups run by women in every neighbourhood. Under her stewardship – like other ministers her initial salary came in beans and rice — the ministry grew in size and importance and it attracted international donors. Rwanda developed faster than other countries, Mary Robinson, former UN Commissioner for Human Rights believed, precisely because women had played such a determining role.

Inyumba grew up in a refugee camp in Uganda. The Rwandan government was run by politicians claiming rule for the Hutu majority and who, with Belgian colonial help, had overthrown the Tutsi monarchy. Her father was killed before she was born in the massacres of Tutsi that swept the country. Her mother and five children managed to escape. In 1990 the UNHCR had estimated that 900,000 Rwandan refugees were living in neighbouring states. The regime in Kigali refused the right of return.

She was a student at Uganda’s Makerere University and studying social work and social administration when she joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), initially a clandestine group, created in Uganda in 1987. The RPF was dedicated to a return home and the RPF cadres in the refugee camps encouraged Rwandan youth to enlist in the Ugandan army in order to receive military training and experience. Inymuba had travelled abroad to explain the movement’s intentions to the diaspora. On October 1, 1990 the armed wing of the RPF, the newly created Rwandan Patriotic Army, (RPA) invaded Rwanda when some two thousand Rwandans deserted Uganda’s army ranks taking weapons and supplies. The result was a three year civil war and massive internal displacements inside Rwanda. For the RPA this initial invasion was a disaster. The Rwandan government army had the benefit of decisive help from the French military.

Inyumba was appointed the RPF finance commissioner and she organised a covert but successful money-raising campaign. The RPF created support cells in every Rwanda community in Africa, Europe and North America. Inyumba had argued that even the poorest could contribute if only by knitting blankets for RPF soldiers. Inyumba talked of these troops as “our children” and persuaded women to give their jewellery and men to leave their shoes. She was extremely frugal. She sourced cheap army uniforms in eastern Germany and travelled to Berlin to negotiate the best terms.

In his eulogy at her state funeral, President Paul Kagame, who had been the RPA military commander, said she would have given her life for her country. Tributes came from President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, from actor Ben Affleck, and Lillian Wong, the UK’s first ambassador to Rwanda in 1995. Cindy McCain, wife of 2008 Republican Presidential candidate John McCain, said that Inyumba changed her life forever.

In 1994 Inyumba had spearheaded a national adoption campaign for children orphaned by war and genocide. “We are committed to seeing all Rwanda’s children grow up in loving, caring families and not in institutions”, she had said. The UNICEF Representative to Rwanda, Noala Skinner, described Inyumba as “an inspiration and full of dignity and a true activist for women and children”. Inyumba was instrumental in the building of the Maranyunda secondary school for girls, Nyamata.

She served as Executive Secretary of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission where she established a grass roots programme to explain the benefits of Rwandans working together at local level. She was a Senator in Parliament and for a time was Governor of a province, Kigali-Ngali. In 2011, she was once again appointed Minister for Gender and Family Promotion. She was a member of the African Women Advisory Committee. She was on the advisory board of Women for Women International and in 2012 was one of three recipients in the inaugural ‘Women have Wings Courage Award’, for outstanding women who were living the courageous spirit of Amelia Earhart, the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Her humility, her quiet voice and graceful manner betrayed a will of iron. She was fiercely loyal to the RPF. She loved her country with passion and was proud of its achievements. When she died Rwanda had a higher percentage of women Parliamentarians than anywhere else and women occupied more than half of senior government posts. One million people had been brought out of poverty, free education was available until the age of 14 and a nation-wide national health insurance scheme was in place.

“It was not easy for us to manage the aftermath of genocide”, she said. “It was a big challenge for us”. After the disappointment at the international failure to stop the 1994 genocide, Inyumba and her colleagues had resolved that they would rely on home-made solutions to their problems.

She was married for 16 years to a Rwandan army colonel and medical doctor, Richard Masozera, who is currently director general of the Rwandan Civil Aviation Authority. She leaves two children: Nicole (16) and Noah (8).

Aloisea Inyumba. Born Uganda, December 28, 1964. Died Kigali, December 6, 2012.

This article originally appeared on The Independent’s website and can be seen here.

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