“The president is someone I’m not scared of. On the contrary, he is someone I feel I can rely on, because before being president, he is a human being first and foremost.” Danny Sibomana is explaining the context of his now famous letter to President Paul Kagame, titled “AN OPEN LETTER TO MY PRESIDENT.”
The 900 word missive easily caught the president’s eye, and indeed that of the world; But why? And how? Well, it was posted on Facebook, and not just anywhere on the social networking site, it was right there on the president’s own profile page.
In the letter, posted on Monday, November 12, Sibomana is both making a candid personal confession, as well expressing gratitude to the president; an emotional testimony into his terrible past of drug and alcohol addiction, and how the president unknowingly delivered him from it.
Sibomana says the president delivered him not just once, but twice; “The first time was in 1994, when he heroically led the gallant RPA-Inkotanyi soldiers to stop the 1994 genocide.” Danny lost his father and a brother to the genocide, and credits the president’s brave military intervention for the life he has today.
To cope with post-genocide trauma, Danny slipped into an abyss of drink and drugs. The genocide, he says, had made him lose any trust he had in human beings. Many times, he wished for death as a solution. “I would sit at Nakumatt and draw tattoos on people’s bodies in exchange for a drink,” he recalls. “I did anything that would bring me a drink or a joint of marijuana.”
One day, he got to learn that he and the president shared a birthday (October 23). He refused to view this as a mere co-incidence; “I held onto that fact as though my entire life depended on it,” he quips.
Well, may be it did, after all. One day, he heard the president use the expression “Sibomana”, his name, in a speech. “Sibomana means ‘people are not God,” Danny explains. “It captured my attention so much that I started listening to all of your speeches as much as I could,” he writes in his famous letter, which has cast him into the spotlight overnight as it does its rounds on the internet.
Perhaps what gives Danny’s letter all that glamour, is the fact that the president took the trouble to personally acknowledge it with a comment. The president wrote; “brave young man. Inspiring story!” He further went ahead to share the link with other people.
The president’s brief comment seemed to act as a trigger, for a torrent of comments commending Danny for his bravery and empathizing with his story soon followed.
“People only think of the president in terms of his political image, which I think is to be respected, not feared. I thought of the positives that could come out of writing to him, not the negatives.”
Danny is a practicing journalist at Kigali Today, a news agency. Calm, articulate, soft-spoken and bespectacled, he comes across as a nerd. “I feel this enormous moral obligation to share my story. My conscience tells me I can’t keep it to myself. I think I’ve done what I felt I had to do.
I asked him of what impact he thinks his letter to the president has been. “I saw that the president is popular and loved. People told me I had said aloud what they all bore in their hearts. I realized the power of truth, of honesty. Above all, I realized that people need some inspiration.”
“I have realised the power of my testimony, and now feel I could do more.”