Laurette Mushimiyimana: Political leader in Post-Genocide Rwanda

Each of our participants has his or her own unique path into politics – in some cases a self-evident one, and sometimes a rather winding and twisting one. But when they apply for ICLD’s programmes, they all have one thing in common, and that is the desire to make people’s lives better and fairer. Laurette from Rwanda is one of those whose story we want to share with you.

“Depriving the rights of anyone wounds me. I don’t want anyone anywhere in the world to suffer the same way that I did. That is why I struggle against that.” 
Laurette Mushimiyimana

Laurette Mushimiyimana is ICLD’s participant of the Women’s Political Leadership programme, but also the vice president of the Gisagara District Council in the Southern Province of Rwanda. After losing everything she had at the age of 18, Laurette decided to join politics to contribute towards positive change in her community and the country in general.

– It has been a long journey. I was born and raised in a country that had a very bad leadership. From the beginning of the 1960s onwards, Rwanda had the politics that was segregating and sidelining some part of the citizens. I personally was a victim of that.

Ethnic conflict and Genocide

Laurette Mushimiyimana, who belongs to the ethnic group Tutsi, experienced injustice from a very young age as a result of the Hutu ethnic majority’s systematic violence against the Tutsi minority. Being a bright student, 15-year-old Laurette passed the national exam. However, her name was crossed out with a red pen later.

– It was shocking. They wrote in front of my name that I was not allowed… I went back home crying, and I asked my dad: ”Why that?” We, children, were innocent, we didn’t know what the difference between the tribes was.

Laurette’s dad, a part-time teacher and father of eight, had to work hard to ensure that after one year of home studies his daughter would be able to get her secondary education in a private school.

However, Laurette didn’t have long to stay in school and one day all her dreams came crashing down:

– Only after two years of my secondary studies, the genocide broke out. I lost all of my family: my seven siblings were killed, my parents were killed, and even my far relatives – my grandparents, my aunties, my uncles… All of them were wiped away. Life then became very difficult after losing everyone. I became depressed. It took me more than three years to recover and to come back to my senses.

Pathway to politics

Laurette Mushimiyimana together with her fellow participants during the workshop in Stockholm, June 2022. Photo: Olga Shadura.
Laurette Mushimiyimana together with her fellow participants during an ICLD workshop in Stockholm, June 2022. Photo: Olga Shadura.

Laurette was left all alone, with the family home in her possession, which aroused great interest among people who wanted to get their hands on her property. Strangers were keeping Laurette busy, proposing her, and she decided to take a refuge in a convent.   

– I felt like the world was persecuting me. The world has become so harsh and cruel, so I went to hide myself there.

This is where Laurette Mushimiyimana spent the next two years of her life as a volunteer, taking care of orphans. With each passing day, the conviction grew in her that she, the only one from the whole family, was left alive for a reason. Laurette says that is when she understood the importance of getting involved in politics.

– As I was growing up, I could see that we had heros who fought for our freedom. That is how the thought of politics came to me. I said to myself: ”I have to be there, that is why I was left to contribute towards positive change.” What I wanted was to prevent human suffering. I really do not want anyone in this world to suffer what I suffered. That is the urge, that is what strengthens me to go on. I want the world to be just.

Being part of ICLD’s leadership training

Laurette Mushimiyimana is one of the 20 participants of the eighth cohort of the Women’s Political Leadership programme, an international training which ICLD offers to politicians holding an elected seat in a local or regional government in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. According to Laurette, being part of the programme and being empowered personally means that she will be able to empower others, especially young girls, who, in their turn, will grow having capacity to train future leaders.

– When I saw ICLD’s call for applications which was inviting women politicians, I thought: ”Wow, this organisation is concerned to empower women in politics, and I was already attracted. In my country we are really trying to encourage women to engage in politics, but my experience as a politician shows that we have women politicians who are not empowered.

Of particular interest to Laurette was to learn how Sweden has, in a fairly short period of time, come a long way from a country which provided women no right to vote to one of the five most gender-equal countries in the world:

– I was so curious to know how gender-mainstreaming is in the blood of the Swedish population, that women have to be represented in every sector. I am really grateful to ICLD that you are contributing to the world, because you are making future leaders, concludes Laurette Mushimiyimana.

Rwanda, women's political leadership,