No one cared about her real name; we just called her Joy Rwigema or Mushiki wa Rwigema (Kinyarwanda: Rwigema’s sister). Joy was Maj Gen Fred Rwigema’s young sister. She was found dead in her house last week and was buried yesterday.
Joy RIP, you just went before us for in death, we share a destiny. It doesn’t even matter how she met her death for Islam has taught me to treat death as the ultimate ‘total recall’ by sender. However, Rwanda media’s low level of interest in Joy’s death is unsettling.
Joy was born in Uganda to Anastase Kimonyo (RIP) and Gatarina (Catherine) Mukandirima in the 1960s. Her father died in Gahunjye (Kamwenge District in Uganda) widowing Gatarina with three orphans: Emmanuel Gisa (later to be known as Fred Rwigema), Beatrice Mukadebe and Joy Nyiramakocyo.
Lady Mukandirima lives in Kigali’s upscale suburb of Kacyiru, while Beatrice Mukadebe lives in London, UK. Joy has left three children from two marriages: Two children from her first marriage to a Kenyan and one from her marriage to a Tanzanian (ethnic Munyarwanda).
In December 2013, the mortal remains of president Paul Kagame’s brother and father were exhumed (from Uganda) and taken to Rwanda for re-burial. In the same vein, Kagame also had the remains of Joy’s father (Rwigema’s father) also exhumed and returned to Rwanda. The acts of exhumation (in Uganda), return and consequent reburial (in Rwanda) were so secretive that it went unreported by the Ugandan and Rwandan media.
I was introduced to Joy in 1998 (or thereabouts) by Blanche Majoro, sister of renowned Ugandan (and Rwandan) guitarist Dede Majoro (RIP). Blanche was new in Rwanda and spoke more Luganda than Kinyarwanda. Her English also carried a drawled on letter R, betraying her as one of those arrivals from the UK. Her story was: Before 1966, (and her consequent departure for the UK), the Majooro family enjoyed the patronage of the King of Buganda.
Blanche was currently managing the Kigali Liaison Office for the production of 100 Days, a movie which enjoyed governments benefaction. I had been introduced to Blanche by Hope Azeda, the talented playwright and actor (who always mentioned her ‘Namasagali Days…’). Azeda’s introduction was simple; and very typical: ‘Blanche, you may need to know Asuman. Big people here trust him. He is a journalist’.
Now Blanche and Joy were teaming up (or planning) to start Miss Rwanda Beauty Pageant and a modelling agency. Later on, Blanche asked me to accompany her to meet Joy. I found Joy very outgoing and open (in a more Ugandan way than would be expected of an RPF Royalty of the time).
We talked about Kampala, Kigali and many other things (as Blanche always threw in bits of London). We went somewhere for some eats. In fact, it is from these two ladies that I learnt how to use tooth picks (you have to cover your mouth when picking your teeth).
Since I was the more Rwandan of the three (Blanche and Joy had arrived after the war), I knew Miss Rwanda Pageant was a crazy idea. At that time, the idea of mannequin (French: modelling; pronounced as ‘maneke’) was so outlandish that when I told ‘my people’ (don’t mind who they were) about it, they just laughed it off. “Abo Bagande barasaze (those Ugandans are crazy),” ‘my people’ were referring to Blanche and Joy as Baganda or Ugandans.
Joy was a real RPF royalty. That her death is not a talking point in Rwanda is pointer to how things may have changed. I guess I would get lost if I went to Kigali for Christmas this year.
RIP Joy Rwigema!!