Andrew Bimenyimana is an assistant to the prosecutor of the National Public Prosecution Authority at Muhanga Intermediate Level. The 42-year-old lives with albinism but this has not deterred the quest to achieve his dreams.
The father-of-two had a chat with The New Times’ Bertrand Byishimo about the journey that led to the realisation of his dreams despite discrimination and other obstacles he encountered.
What is your educational background?
I started primary school in 1986 at Ecole Primaire Rusoro, this was in my hometown (Mugina sector) located in Kamonyi District, Southern Province. I did secondary school at Groupe Scholaire Gahengeri in Rwamagana District in the faculty of accounting immediately after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and graduated in 1999. Then I joined the University of Rwanda, Huye campus, and also pursued a master’s degree in Public International Law from the Independent University of Kigali (ULK). I also added a diploma in legal practice that I obtained from the Institute of Legal Practice Development (ILPD).
How was life for you in school?
I realised each day as I stepped into the classroom that many people felt it was unthinkable for me to have dared to pursue formal education when I could have settled for any other vocation. The poor sight made me the centre of many jokes from my peers, including some of my teachers. But despite all of this, I still had the ability to teach my course-mates. Poor sight is a common problem for people living with albinism because of a lack of pigmentation of the iris. But I am proud of my studies at UR; I did not encounter any type of discrimination based on my skin.
What kept you going amidst all of those challenges?
When I was six years old, I encountered a scenario that remained a standing pillar of motivation in my mind. An illiterate lady once asked some guys to read her a letter, they read her private letter publicly and the entire group laughed and mocked her. This offended me and became my motivation to study and graduate.
How did life treat you after school?
I got a job after graduation and I am now an assistant to Prosecutor of National Public Prosecution Authority at Muhanga Intermediate Level, a job I obtained after working in the same institution at Ruhango district court for six months as a contractual prosecutor, and few months at Musanze intermediate level.
Did you encounter stigma and other challenges based on the colour of your skin when you were looking for a job?
Of course, I did. Employers used to convince me that what can’t be found in people without disabilities; can neither be found in us. I have faced stigma and discrimination. I once walked into an interview and the shock on the faces of the interviewing panel was just downright disheartening. They were not prepared to see an albino. From their facial expressions, I knew that I didn’t stand a chance, and that was the case.
What are some of your achievements at work?
I won a case that had gone on for five years. An innocent person was convicted and charged a fine of Rwf 30m. I spent two weeks looking into the case and found a problem and worked with the man, and the court found out that he was innocent based on the evidence that I had presented to them.
What are your goals?
I hope to take a doctoral degree, but I still have no economic means, I want to do this to show people without albinism that everything is possible.
In Tanzania, albinos are being hunted and killed. Do you worry this might spread to the rest of the region?
Of course, albinos are considered ‘assets’. There are times I met people who would stare at me and refer to me as an asset, but in Rwanda we are safe. The government does its best to protect us. Rwanda comprises of a government that seeks to have a different perception of albinos in the country. I have come this far peacefully because I had the unwavering support of my motherland.
What is your message?
To the government — we thank you for your security and inclusivity, but we request the provision of sunscreen lotion which prevents our skin from being damaged, something that might cause cancer. These lotions are expensive and not all of us can afford them. We want the government to find ways to make them affordable. To those living with albinism, we are people, like everyone else, and we can achieve anything. Let us stand up and work with others to build the destiny that we all want.