Kizito Mihigo (born July 25, 1981) is a Rwandan gospel singer, songwriter, organist, composer of sacred music and television presenter. Genocide survivor, peace and reconciliation activist, he studied at the Conservatoire de Paris in France. In 2010 he created the Kizito Mihigo Peace Foundation.
In April 2014, after releasing a critical song immediately prohibited by Rwandan authorities, he has been arrested and charged with planning to oust the government. In February 2015, he was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment after being convicted of conspiracy against the government of President Paul Kagame.
Kizito Mihigo was born July 25, 1981 in Kibeho, Nyaruguru district, in the former Gikongoro Province (now Southern Province ) in Rwanda. Third of six children, his parents are Augustin Buguzi and Placidie Ilibagiza.
At the age of 9, he began composing songs, and 5 years later, when he was studying in secondary school at the "Petit Seminaire de Butare", he became the most popular liturgical organist and composer of the Catholic Church in Rwanda.
In 1994, he lost his family and was orphaned in the genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda. He escaped to Burundi where he met members of his family who survived. He tried in vain to join the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) to avenge his family.
In July 1994, he returned to Rwanda . After high school, he enrolled at the seminary to become a priest where through music and the Christian faith, he managed to forgive those who killed his father.
In 2001, he participated in the composition of the Rwandan national anthem and thereafter was granted a Presidential scholarship to study at the Conservatoire de Paris (with the financial support of Rwandan President Paul Kagame).
In Paris, Mihigo undertook organ and composition courses under the supervision of Françoise Levechin- Gangloff, owner of the great organ of the Saint-Roch church in Paris, professor at the National Conservatory of Music and Dance of Paris - CNSMDP - and President of the International Conservatory of Music in Paris - CIMP. He then began his international music career based in Belgium.
Back to Rwanda
In 2011, Kizito Mihigo settled permanently in Rwanda and became a high artistic personality respected by the population and by the government. He was regularly invited to sing at all national ceremonies for the genocide commemoration. He became known also through many invitations in official ceremonies either in parliament or elsewhere, to interpret the national anthem in the presence of the Head of State and other senior dignitaries
His close relationship with the Power attracted much criticism from his Christian fans who were disappointed by the possible deviation of their liturgical composer towards political oriented themes. However, in 2011 the singer tried to reassure his fans.
His religious concerts attracted a large number of people in Kigali and Kibeho, the artist’s birthplace. Such events are often celebrated in the presence of different Ministers.
In 2011, the most popular concerts of the artist are the ones for Easter and Christmas.
After the 1994 genocide, the Rwandan prolific singer has composed more than 400 songs in 20 years.
The most popular are:
- Arc en ciel
- Twanze gutoberwa amateka
- Urugamba rwo kwibohora
- Mon frère congolais
- Mwungeri w'intama
- Yohani yarabyanditse
- Turi abana b'u Rwanda
- Igisobanuro cy'urupfu
- Umujinya mwiza
- ^ "Rwanda: quatre personnes arrêtées, dont le chanteur Kizito Mihigo". RFI (in French). April 16, 2014.
- "Biographie de l'artiste rwandais Kizito Mihigo". Rwandaises.com (in French). June 9, 2009.
- "Un artiste rwandais s'insurge contre les "falsificateurs de l'histoire" du génocide de 1994". PanaPress (in French). April 19, 2011.
- "Rwandan singer jailed for plot to kill president". Reuters. Feb 27, 2015.
- ^ "Kizito Mihigo churns out Liberation song". New Times (in French). June 28, 2011.
- "Mihigo planning mega concerts". New Times. September 4, 2010.
- "Kizito Mihigo's concert was grand". New Times. November 1, 2010.
- ^ "Kizito Mihigo excites fans on Xmas". New Times. December 27, 2011.
- ^ "Kizito thrills fans during Easter". New Times. April 25, 2011.
- "Rwanda: la perpétuité requise pour Kizito Mihigo". BBC (in French). December 30, 2014.
- "Rwanda : La paix de nos voisins c'est la paix de nous même, estime un artiste rwandais.". Echos Grands Lacs (in French). September 25, 2012.
- "Kizito Mihigo's song 'Umujinya Mwiza' an excellent philosophical, social cohesion and nation building aid". New Times. April 27, 2013.
Activism for peace and reconciliation
During his stay in Europe, he met the Mouvement international de la Réconciliation - MIR, a French NGO that advocates for non-violence. In 2007, in collaboration with the organization, Kizito Mihigo organized a Mass for Peace in Africa held in Brussels.
For the African catholic community living in Europe, he has been regularly organizing concerts of sacred music followed by a Requiem Mass for the victims of all kinds of violence in the world. These masses were celebrated by Monsignor Leonard, at the time bishop of Namur. In 2010 the latter became archbishop of Brussels.
In 2010, the singer created the Kizito Mihigo Peace Foundation - KMP - a non-governmental organization advocating for peace and reconciliation.
Having settled in Rwanda, together with his Foundation, in partnership with the Rwandan government, World Vision International and the United States Embassy in Kigali, he began a tour in schools and in all prisons of Rwanda.
In schools, the goal was to promote the youth education on peace and reconciliation values, as well as the establishment of peace clubs. In prisons, the singer’s aim was to generate debates with inmates about the crimes committed, before creating the dialog clubs called "conflict transformation clubs. "
In August 2011, in recognition of his activities for peace, Kizito Mihigo receives CYRWA award (Cerebrating Young Rwandan Archivers) given by the Imbuto foundation, organization of the First Lady of Rwanda, Jeannette Kagame.
In April 2013, the Rwanda Governance Board recognized the Kizito Mihigo Peace foundation (KMP) among the top ten local NGOs that have promoted good governance in Rwanda. On this occasion, the Foundation received the "RGB award" of Rwf 8,000,000 (eight million Rwandan Francs).
President Paul Kagame himself had always presented Kizito Mihigo as a model for young Rwandans.
Since 2012, Kizito Mihigo presented Umusanzu w'Umuhanzi ("The artist’s contribution "), a weekly national television program produced by KMP Foundation.
In this one-hour program every Tuesday at 10 pm, the singer broadcast and commented on his concerts with prisoners and students. Once a month through this program, Mihigo organised the interreligious dialogue a debate with religious leaders to find, together, the role of religion in Peacebuilding.
Christian, catholic, single with no children, admirer of Mozart, Bach, and Haendel, fan of martial arts and cinema, in 2012 a rumor in the local media spoke of a secret love affair between him and Miss Jojo, a local R & B singer. Interviewed, both parties denied the relationship and talked of a deep friendship instead.
Since 2009, Kizito Mihigo appeared often in showbiz media of Kigali as one of the celebrities who attract most women in Rwanda.
In April 2013, The new Times ranked him second among the "top 8 hottest mal celebrities in Rwanda".
In March 2014, Mihigo uploaded on YouTube a new song called “Igisobanuro Cy’urupfu” (“The Meaning of Death”), in which he challenges the official narrative of the genocide. The song has been prohibited by the Rwandan government and quickly deleted from the website.
On April 7, 2014, the day of the 20th commemoration of the genocide, the singer is missing. On April 12, the former Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu claims that Kizito Mihigo is in police custody over his controversial song. On 15 April 2014, Mihigo was presented to journalists by the Rwanda National Police, arrested on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks and collaborating with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda - FDLR - and the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) Political party, in order to oust the government.
WikiLeaks revealed that the singer was kidnapped April 4 (10 days before the official announcement of his arrest).
From the public point of view, many observers are still convinced that the arrest of the musician is linked to that very critical output and prohibited song that was released a few days earlier.
A few weeks before the announcement of the arrest, in his speech during the graduation ceremony for police officers at Gishari (in the Eastern Province), President Paul Kagame declared: "I am not a singer to entertain haters of Rwanda". After the official announcement of the arrest, the Rwandan government banned the broadcast of all Kizito Mihigo' s songs on local radios and televisions.
A few hours later, after the hearing dated 21 April 2014, a "confession" interview is broadcast where Kizito has "pleaded guilty to all charges and requested to be assisted by a lawyer." In a second "confession" interview he declared to "have accepted the idea of reading a statement denouncing the lack of rule of law in Rwanda and calling the youth to rise up. "
Interviewed by the Radio France Internationale, a human rights defender said, "Those kinds of confessions are contrary to the principle of presumption of innocence." Other Rwandan Human Rights activists talked of "an action to oppress Reconciliation actes"
On the other side, Rwanda official sources rejected accusations of possible torture.
For Monsignor André-Joseph Léonard, the arrest of Mihigo is like a mistake on a person's identity: "There is an error on the person, I can never consider Kizito as a man who would be dangerous to society," says the Archbishop of Brussels, a year later, in an interview with the Jambo News.
Several international media commented on the event. According to Radio France Internationale, the arrest of the musician caused a big confusion in the country, misunderstanding and fear of possible destabilization. The widely broadcast confessions of the singer by local media and some politicians speech before the trial began, caused outrage among human rights activists who denounced the violation of the presumption of innocence.
According to Al Jazeera Television, and France Inter Radio, the singer kidnapped on the eve of the 20th commemoration of the genocide, prior to appearing before the press a week later, would be experiencing the consequences of the lyrics of his song Igisobanuro cy'urupfu in which the singer challenged the Commemoration Policy implemented by the Kigali government led by the Rwandan Patriotic Front - RPF of President Paul Kagame.
For the Belgian journalist Colette Braeckman author of numerous books about Rwanda and the Great Lakes region, it is difficult to believe that the singer is in cahoots with the FDLR. Interviewed by Le Nouvel Observateur, she considered the singer's arrest as a sign of an internal unrest: "There is no doubt, something else is going on, which we don't know because everyone is silent as usual in Rwanda " says the Belgian journalist in charge of Central Africa in the daily newspaper Le Soir.
International Federation for Human Rights
The International Federation for Human Rights - FIDH - denounces arrest with a political aftertaste. The organization talked of "a new proof of the repressive turn of the regime of Rwandan President Paul Kagame".
Reporters Without Borders
Reporters Without Borders reacted after the arrest of Kizito Mihigo and his co-defendants including the journalist Cassian Ntamuhanga. The NGO denounced the illegal detention of the journalist a week before the official announcement of the police, and was concerned about the deteriorating environment for the media in Rwanda, particularly by arresting Cassian Ntamuhanga, Kizito Mihigo and their co-defendants.
The United States of America, in turn, expressed their concern following the arrest of Kizito Mihigo. On this occasion, according to Radio France Internationale, Washington reminded the Rwandan government the importance of "allowing freedom of expression [...] respecting the freedom of the press and granting defendants the minimum guarantee for a fair trial."
The United Kingdom also reconsidered the case Kizito Mihigo and his co-defendants, asking the Rwandan government to ensure fair trial.
Rwandan government and opposition parties in exile
After the reaction of the United Kingdom and the United States, President Paul Kagame, during his visit to Western Province, rejected criticism of arbitrary arrests. He threatened to "continue arrests and even kill in broad daylight those who would attempt to destabilize the country".
The Rwandan opposition in exile comprising the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which from the arrest of Kizito Mihigo, denied working with him and condemned his arrest, returned on statements of President Paul Kagame. A Rwanda National Congress spokesman declared to be disturbed and disappointed by the president's speech. As for the arrest of singer Kizito Mihigo, the RNC said it is a consequence of his song Igisobanuro cy'Urupfu.
FIDH also recalled the words of President Kagame, saying that there is an escalation of violence including verbal from the Rwandan authorities.
After two postponements, the Mihigo trial began on 6 November in Kigali. Kizito Mihigo pleaded guilty to all charges against him and requested leniency from the panel of judges. His lawyers, themselves, say they do not find the elements of an offense. The three singer's co-defendants pleaded not guilty and claim torture.
The prosecution accused the singer of having conversations via Internet with an alleged member of the RNC (Rwanda National Congress), an opposition party in exile that Kigali describes as terrorist. In these written conversations, the singer would have suggested a reversal of the Government with names of people to be killed, among them President Paul Kagame.
According to the British Broadcasting Corporation TV channel - BBC - The prosecutor said that the accused were thinking to avenge Colonel Patrick Karegeya, former head of the Rwandan army intelligence who became a political opponent against the government of Paul Kagame. The co-founder of the RNC was found dead strangled on 1 January 2014 in a luxury hotel in South Africa. The South African government has frequently accused Rwanda of being behind the assassination and attempted assassination of Rwandan exiled opponents in South Africa, which the Rwandan authorities have always denied. But after the death of Patrick Karegeya, the Rwandan President said that "anyone who will betray Rwanda shall assume its consequences".
In his argument, the singer who acknowledged having had these conversations with a man named Sankara denied the intention to kill the President and said his commitment in the discussions was motivated by his simple curiosity. "I was in conflict with some of the officials at that time, but I have never had problems with the President," reported Radio France Internationale. On the other hand, the singer’s Lawyers continued to believe that none of these constitutes a crime.
On the second day of the trial, the singer asked in vain to be judged alone.
On the third day of the trial, in open court, Mihigo waived his lawyers and continued to plead guilty.
During the trial, prosecutors requested perpetuity against the Singer.
On 27 February 2015, he was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment after being convicted of conspiracy against the government of President Paul Kagame. However, due to the lack of evidence, he was discharged of "conspiracy to commit terrorism."
Reactions after verdict
After the verdict was announced, many reactions from the international press, various International non-governmental organizations and the Rwandan political opposition.
On the day of the verdict, the international press including France 24, Radio France Internationale and Reuters reconsidered the song "Igisobanuro cy'urupfu" (The meaning of death) which, according to observers, would have caused the wrath of the regime, and the fall from grace of the Christian singer formerly close to President Kagame and his government. Some observers interviewed by Agence France-Presse talked of a "feverish power that does not tolerate dissenting voices".
For Susan Thomson, Professor at Colgate University in New York, this trial is a sign that the government is on the defensive: "I interprete it as a weakness sign [...] since they have to eliminate people with a potential base in the country "says Susan Thomson. As per this American author of numerous books on Rwanda, "the Government is using the trial of Kizito Mihigo as an alert message to all those who would want to be politically active"
For the Huffington Post observers, Kizito Mihigo was forced to plead guilty without a lawyer, to hope for a release, which unfortunately had no effect on the sentence.
In this melancholy song published on the Internet a few days before the start of the 20th commemoration of the genocide - and immediately banned by the Rwandan authorities – it can be heard:
"...Though the genocide orphaned me, let it not make me loose empathy for others. Their lives too were brutally taken but not qualified as genocide. Those brothers and sisters they too are human beings. I pray for them. I comfort them. I remember them ... Death is never good, be it by the genocide, or war or slaughtered in revenge killings... "
The Christian singer was referring to alleged crimes committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front- RPF – ruling party. In the same song, the singer criticized a program called "Ndi umunyarwanda (I am Rwandan)". In this controversial program launched by President Kagame in 2013, all Hutu population is urged to apologize for having participated in the genocide against Tutsis.
"My dignity and love are not rooted in carnal life nor in material possessions, but in humanity. Let the words I am Rwandan be preceded by I am human"
says the rwandan genocide survivor in the 4th verse of his song Igisobanuro cy'urupfu.
International Non Governmental Organizations for the Defence of Human Rights
After the verdict, the International non-governmental organizations for the defence of human rights, such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, in their reports for the year 2014/15, criticized the conduct of criminal proceedings, denouncing the illegal detention, torture and the politicization of the trial. In the 2015/2016 report, Amnesty International talks of an "unfair trial [...] believed to be politically motivated" For Human Rights Watch, "Mihigo was held incommunicado in an unknown location for several days in April 2014 before being formally questioned by the police and brought to trial." Before and during his incommunicado detention, according to Human Rights Watch, "... government officials repeatedly questioned him about a religious song he had written in March in which he prayed for victims of the genocide as well as for victims of other violence. They also questioned him about his alleged links with the RNC. Police officers beat him and forced him to confess to the offenses with which he was later charged in court"
Reporters Without Borders also returns to this verdict, requesting that the decision of the Kigali court should be reviewed on appeal.
After the verdict was announced, reactions from Rwandan political opposition parties was that "Kizito Mihigo is a political prisoner", judged in "the trial with the regime's image".
In a resolution adopted by the European Parliament in a single reading on October 6, the institution condemns politically motivated trials and attacks on freedom of expression in Rwanda especially the trial of Victoire Ingabire. The case of Kizito Mihigo is also mentioned. The Euro MPs urge the Rwandan authorities “immediately to release all individuals and other activists detained or convicted solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression”.
According to Mediapart, in prison, the rwandese singer didn't give up the fight for Peace and Reconciliation. Quoting testimonies of the singer's fellow detainees, the website reports that after his arrival in Kigali Central Prison, also known as 1930, Kizito Mihigo is said to have contributed to the restoration of trust between some prisoners who were continuously agitated by ethnic hatred [...] He did not spare his efforts in the sensitization of the detainees to behavior and actions for tolerance and unity.