On September 14 over two thousand convicts received a presidential pardon and got early release from prison. They had been convicted of different crimes and were serving sentences of various lengths from different facilities.
That should not be big news. It happens everywhere all the time. It is not even the first time that the Government of Rwanda does it. It has done so several times before without a mention in the world’s media.
There is even a country, a very powerful one, where presidents grant pardon to certain individuals before they step in prison or even in anticipation of a conviction.
This never makes front page or headline news because, although the motive for the pardon is usually suspect and perhaps immoral, it is accepted as a presidential prerogative.
But last week’s early release of some prisoners in Rwanda was trending news around the world. Some noisy groups with very little knowledge about this country even claimed responsibility for securing the release of a couple of them.
Of course, you cannot stop some people from feeling self-important if that’s what gives them a sense of worth, or from stupidity if that’s their choice. That’s their right as long as it is restricted to them and not visited on others.
The reason this otherwise normal presidential clemency received such wide coverage was because of two individuals, Kizito Mihigo and Victoire Ingabire.
These assumed importance well beyond their actual worth and overshadowed their fellow prisoners. The other two thousand thirty nine Rwandans, who have lives to pick up, and families and friends to return to did not matter.
They do not exist in the world of the commentators because they do not fit the narrative they have selected for Rwanda or the self-aggrandisement scheme of the noisy brigade.
But let us get a few things straight. What and who gives them such importance?
Admittedly, Kizito Mihigo has a good voice and can compose good music. And this made him famous. He had developed a sense of himself that placed him above the rest of us and therefore not subject to normal rules of behaviour.
I am also told that some people used to swoon at the mere mention of his name or sound of his voice. All this seems to have gone to his head. But he was not the first to suffer from delusion.
Does that make him any more special than say, Prosper Mugabo (name of any prisoner) who was also freed last week? He too has some skill. He is a highly skilled carpenter and makes some of the best furniture.
He feeds his family, has a loving wife and beautiful children. He sings in his church choir and is chair of a local cooperative.
But Mugabo’s story cannot be picked by the noisy bullies and broadcast to the whole world. Why? His story does not fit the narrative.
Then there is Victoire Ingabire. She is said to be a politician, but of the extremist and destructive variety. Her politics was built on an ideology of hatred and extermination of a section of Rwandans.
But those who built her profile disregarded this aspect of her and presented her as a courageous woman who dared stand for president in Rwanda.
She was also deluded about her importance and was not helped much by people who had adopted her and elevated her to a position that made her dizzy and then left her there.
Both Mihigo and Ingabire were accorded a fair hearing and found guilty of crimes that Rwandans found to be unpardonable. Yet President Kagame has now pardoned them.
That should be the story – that despite their horrible crimes, they have had their sentences cut short and can now resume their lives. The story should be about magnanimity and forgiveness which qualities have been at the centre of Rwanda’s regeneration.
Presidential clemency is normal practice across the world. The president can exercise it as he sees fit or following appeals for mercy as happened in the case of both Mihigo and Ingabire.
We can only assume that their request for pardon was the result of remorse and a change of heart, in which case they deserve to be forgiven.
But let us not forget that the other two thousand prisoners released with them must also have been contrite and equally deserving of mercy. The human element in all this and the Rwandan spirit of forgiveness that has been shown time and again is the real story.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.