The story of Rwanda’s first female Prime Minister, has been told, or written, many times. Agathe Uwiringiyimana who served as Prime Minister from July 17, 1993, to the time of her untimely death, in April 1994, is one of Rwanda’s leading lights who exemplified heroism in her self-sacrificing fight against the regime that perpetrated the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
But beneath her well-known heroic deeds and story lies a woman of many roles.
In a telephone interview with The New Times, her daughter, Marie-Christine Lussi Umuhoza, revealed a different side of her mother. Beyond politics, the late Prime Minister was a charismatic host, relishing in the joy of sharing meals and engaging banter with neighbours, friends, and family, especially on weekends.
Uwiringiyimana’s commitments extended beyond politics; she was a feminist, who vehemently opposed any form of inequality. Umuhoza who lives in Switzerland recounted a poignant moment that showcased her mother’s dedication to equal rights.
Umuhoza said: “One day, a classmate was forced to repeat a class due to the ethnic discrimination that was prevalent in schools at that time. This classmate wrote a letter and entrusted it to me, asking me to deliver it to my mother, who happened to be the Minister of Education at the time.
Do you think it’s fair for you to be promoted simply because you are my daughter?
“When my mother finished reading the letter, she looked at me and inquired about the classmate’s performance in school. I told her that my classmate had always excelled academically, consistently, ranking among the top students in our class. After pondering for a few minutes, my mother asked me another question, ‘do you think it’s fair for you to be promoted simply because you are my daughter, while someone else’s daughter is being treated unfairly due to her ethnic background?’
During her tenure as Minister of Education, in 1992, Uwiringiyimana courageously confronted the discriminatory quota system against Tutsi students countrywide, despite facing threats and resistance.
Her stand garnered significant public support, with 3,000 women in Kigali publicly demonstrating their solidarity.
Umuhoza said: “Her courage served as an inspiration for women across Rwanda, empowering them to rise against oppression and emerge as heroes in their own contexts.”
She remembers her mother as a strict and principled parent who advocated for or promoted independence and fairness.
Umuhoza believes her mother’s parenting style profoundly influenced her own values and parenting approach.
To many people, Uwiringiyimana was a powerful and articulate public speaker, known for effectively conveying her messages. Interestingly, her journey into politics wasn’t born out of political aspirations but rooted in a passion for education. A top-performing student, she initially pursued a career as a teacher before joining politics.
Uwiringiyimana’s academic excellence started at Lycée Notre Dame de Citeaux, in Kigali, where she earned a certificate in Mathematics and Chemistry. After briefly teaching in Kibuye, in western Rwanda, she pursued a degree in chemistry at the then National University of Rwanda.
In 1975, she married Ignace Barahira and raised five children, four boys and a girl.
Sadly, however, Uwiringiyimana and her husband were tortured and assassinated during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, leaving behind five children.
On the fateful night of April 6 to 7, 1994, following the downing of President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane, Uwiringiyimana and others who opposed the genocidal regime were targeted and brutally assassinated, marking a dark chapter in Rwanda’s history.
Umuhoza, a mother of two, was 15 when her parents were assassinated.
Agatha Uwiringiyimana’s daughter Marie Christine Lussi Umuhoza speaking during the ccommemoration of the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers on May 31, 2017, in Geneva, Switzerland. UN Photo