For the past 27 years, Dufina Tabu has been a human rights activist in Goma, a city in eastern DRC. For his efforts, he’s been imprisoned seven times. In turn, he’s been instrumental in improving the living conditions of inmates at Munzenze central prison.
By Gaïus Kowene, Goma
Barefoot and bound, Tabu endured a constant stream of abuse from his arresting police officers as they escorted him to Munzenze central prison for the first time. As if this long, exhausting walk wasn’t enough, he was greeted by his new cellmates with their fists. But later, these same inmates would hail Tabu a hero.
“I was arrested because the government suspected me of being a spy”
As a fervent human rights activist, Tabu’s activities had become extremely upsetting for the authorities who responded by throwing him in jail. His time and experience behind bars motivated him to start the Association of Congolese Volunteers, which rallies people to fight for human rights in DRC.
His first battle was to improve the precarious living conditions of prisoners. Tabu put together a project that he planned to fund himself. When he sought authorization from the Congolese government to implement his initiative, they arrested him once again.
“At the time, no one believed that a prisoner had the right to eat, speak, shower or even sleep on a mattress. I was arrested because the government suspected me of being a spy. They kept questioning me about the source of the funds I used for the rehabilitation of the central prison,” says Tabu.
The first prisoner uprising
One of his most memorable victories took place after his second arrest. During his incarceration, Tabu educated fellow inmates on their rights and soon they rallied together in a protest. It was the first uprising by prisoners in the Goma central prison.
“We set a 48-hour ultimatum for the prison and provincial authorities,” Tabu recalls with a smile. “Before the ultimatum ran out, they brought us mattresses, food, water and started respecting our rights. It was a great victory.”
Today, both local and international NGOs have joined the struggle for better results on a larger scale. This brings joy to Tabu, who is now nicknamed ‘Mr Human Rights’.
“Back then, I had to walk to prison barefoot, tied up and under abuse," he recalls. "But today, there is a vehicle that takes the prisoners to jail.”
A motto to live by
"He who opens a school door closes a prison": these words from French writer Victor Hugo became Tabu’s motto when he began working in schools.
During his first campaigns to bring attention to the idea of free primary education, school directors often thought Tabu was crazy. In their view, it was impossible to imagine that children could study without paying their school fees – even though this right is enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Through his organization, Tabu continues to raise awareness in schools across Goma about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And for now, he remains unbound.
Listen to and download the audio file of the full interview with Tabu in French.