Magazine article New Internationalist

Haunted Mornings, Sleepless Nights

Magazine article New Internationalist

Haunted Mornings, Sleepless Nights

Article excerpt

As a Tutsi and a genocide survivor, my account here Is not neutral, but a deeply personal one. It is a narrative of how I survived an attempt to annihilate all Tutsi in Rwanda and of the events I witnessed first-hand in the lead-up to, and during, the genocide. It is also a narrative of how I have since tried, day by day, to come to terms with the devastating personal legacies of these experiences.

Nearly all of my relatives, including my parents, two sisters and five brothers, were killed in 1994, perishing at the hands of the genocidal government, its army, its militias and Hutu mobs. Only two of my sisters, one niece and I survived. Like all Tutsi, my whole life has been a chain of suffering because of violent discrimination and extreme fear for my life and those of my loved ones.

It is not easy for me to recount what happened in Rwanda in 1994. Whenever I ponder the genocide, I revisit the agonizing death of my family and friends, and the physical and emotional trauma I also suffered. It sickens me to think that they knew one day they would be killed, but they never attempted to flee the country to find safety elsewhere. I also relive the terrible days of the genocide, when all Tutsi in the capital Kigali were counting the hours until they would be killed. As Hutu militias prowled the streets looking for Tutsi, we experienced haunted mornings and our fears continued throughout the days and sleepless nights.

I was born in Gikongoro province in 1963, the year after Rwanda gained independence from Belgium. This area is known even today as a hotbed of Hutu extremism. As a child, I grew up hearing from my parents harrowing stories of the sadism and cruelty that characterized the massacres of that time. My father once told me that the rocks on the banks of the Rukarara River remained crimson for years because the blood of thousands of Tutsi had flowed so freely there.

The bloodletting begins

On the morning of 7 April 1994 a group of armed presidential guards stormed the compound of the Jeunesse Ouvrière Catholique (JOC), where I lived. Several friends and I dashed through a nearby fence and sought refuge in the compound of the Centre for Learning of African Languages (CELA), run by the priests of the Catholic White Fathers.

Later that afternoon our camp swelled to 400 frightened Tutsi refugees and a few Hutu, including women and children. More continued to arrive that evening and during the following days. The fresh arrivals told harrowing stories of entire families being butchered. The White Fathers briefed us every day, telling us the names of those who had been killed. We realized that, as the situation stood, it was unlikely we would survive. The Fathers were soon evacuated by French and Belgian soldiers and left us with the keys to the camp.

We started to organize, focusing on the need to maintain hygiene. We sent most of the women and children to Saint Paul, a nearby religious centre in the Sainte Famille Parish. To ensure that we had enough food to hold out for a long period we contacted the Red Cross, who sent us a dozen sacks of beans.

Our camp was raided two weeks later, around 10.00am on 22 April. We were attacked by a combination of soldiers, members of the gendarmerie, the local population and the Interahamwe militias - some armed with guns and grenades, others with traditional weapons such as pangas, machetes and spears. Colonel Tharicisse Renzaho, Mayor of Kigali City, and Major General Laurent Munyakazi, Head of Muhima Police Station, led the attackers. Further back in the group was Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, Vicar of Sainte Famille and nicknamed Umujeune ('the young one'). He used to move around in a flak jacket, armed with a pistol and grenades. He was notorious for protecting women and girls who had satisfied his raging libido. During the attack he stood where he could see us and asked the killers not to harm women and children. Despite Munyeshyaka's role in the genocide, he now lives free and peacefully in France. …

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