Kizito Mihigo

Rwandan musician, reconciliation activist and genocide survivor

Kizito Mihigo (1981–2020) was a popular Rwandan gospel singer, songwriter, genocide survivor, and peace and reconciliation activist dubbed Rwanda’s “Apostle of Reconciliation.” Hailing from a devout Catholic Tutsi family, he began composing liturgical music at the age of eight. After surviving the 1994 genocide, he overcame his desire for revenge through music and his faith. At the age of 16, he contributed words and music to Rwanda’s new national anthem and went on to study music at the prestigious Conservatoire de Paris. He founded the Kizito Mihigo Foundation for Peace, which used art (concerts, plays, and poetry) to promote reconciliation in schools and prisons in Rwanda. Paul Kagame’s regime’s perverse political manipulation of the memory of genocide and its stigmatization of Hutu, including children, as irredeemable vessels of “genocide ideology” led Mihigo to release a seminal protest song in 2014 entitled “Igisobanuro cy’Urupfu.” The song called attention to the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front’s role in massacres before, during, and after the genocide and the exclusion of moderate Hutu genocide victims from official history. The regime quickly banned the song, which had gone viral, and imprisoned Mihigo for four years. In February 2020, Mihigo was re-arrested while attempting to flee the country and died under suspicious circumstances in police custody. The Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent posthumously honored Mihigo’s bravery in what Havel called “living in truth” at the cost of his own life and in defiance of a regime.

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