Victims and perpetrators of 1994 genocide coexist, 25 years later
Written by: George Kalisa
Sunday, April 21st, 2019, 8:51
In the reconciliation village of Rwimikino, Jackeline Mukamana lives next door to Aloys Mutiribambe, who killed her family in the brutal 100-day long 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
As well as being neighbors they are also friends, according to Mutiribambe.
The 67-year-old was one of the Interahamwe Hutu militias who slaughtered Tutsis on the Cyohoha swamp in southeast Rwanda as they were fleeing into neighboring Burundi.
Mutiribambe has asked for a pardon for the killings, he told EFE.
The Bugesera District roadblock in the area was one of the most notorious during the genocide.
Mutiribambe said that amongst those he killed were 10 of Mukamana's relatives. She was the first person he asked forgiveness from in 2003.
That year the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) reduced jail sentences for genocide convicts that had shown remorse and were ready to provide more information on where the remains of victims had been hidden and/or dumped, and on how they had carried out the crimes.
"I knew Mutiribambe before genocide because we were living in the same village and all along I had no idea of who killed my family," Mukamana told EFE.
"So, when he confessed I lost consciousness in disbelief," she added.
It was an emotional moment for both of them.
"When our sights (eyes) met for the first time since I participated in the genocide, I thought on impulse that they were going to kill me and she also became unconscious and traumatized and nothing happened that time," Mutiribambe said.
"But, I was pretty ready to hug her and ask for forgiveness," he added, although this was not possible on their first meeting.
"The pastors arranged another day when I picked up the guts and the courage and the conviction to forgive him, and we danced and dined together," Mukamana continued.
Rwimikino is like many other Rwandan villages with four-bedroom family houses made of cement that were refurbished a few years ago so that Rwandans could live, study and grow crops together irrespective their perceived differences that were introduced by the colonialists. This reconciliation village in the Mbyo cell of the Bugesera District was established in 2005.
Although there has been a concerted effort to forgive the violent mass slaughter of 1994 is firmly anchored in people's psyche.
But murder had gripped the region before that bloody year.
Mukamana's father, Vincent Kaneza, was killed alongside another five people by then-President Juvenal Habyarimana's regime in 1992.
"The burgomaster (local leader) of the then Kanzenze commune Fidel Rwambuka and government officials sensitized Rwandans to rise up and fight the Tutsi stressing that they were returning to make us slaves," Mutiribambe recalled.
In pre-colonial Rwanda, Tutsis ruled whilst Hutus were slaves, and in a country with deep ethnic divides, Hutus lived with the fear of a return to that subservient past.
During the 1960s and 70s French and Belgian colonials favored the Hutus leading many Tutsis into exile to neighboring countries.
Current President Paul Kagame's Rwanda Patriotic (RPF) rebel group orchestrated a failed attack on Habyarimana's regime in 1990.
After the killing of Mukamana's father, she and thousands of Tutsis took refuge in the Nyamata Catholic Church where they spent two months.
They survived and the country saw temporary peace until 1994.
During this period peace talks between the genocide regime and the RPF liberators were going on in Arusha in Northeastern Tanzania which resulted in the signing of the 1993 Arusha Peace Accord.
But, on April 6, 1994 terror struck the country after news of the assassination of Ex-President Juvenal Habyarimana, one the longest-serving presidents in history from 1973 to 1994.
Habyarimana's private jet was shot down near Kigali International Airport and on that day local leaders armed men with machetes, blades and guns and ordered them to start slaying Tutsis and moderate Hutus, Mutiribambe said.
"All men were ordered to start killing and whoever refused was considered an ally of the Tutsi and was punished by death, and I was posted to Cyohoha roadblock where we killed thousands of Tutsi, including the family of my neighbour and friend today, Mukamana," he added.
Around 45,000 bodies were buried at the Nyamata Genocide Memorial site, which was constructed inside the Nyamata Catholic Church where Mukamana sought refuge and that also saw the murder of over 10,000 people.
The government and civil society groups have worked hard over the last 25 years to launch innovative projects, like the reconciliation village of Rwimikoni, in a bid to unite all Rwandans and prevent a similar occurrence in the fast growing East African nation.
"When we were making brick together, thoughts of being killed in a retaliation by other survivors kept crossing my mind but my heart was saying 'you will die a forgiven man'," says Mutiribambe.
When the government gave Mukamana a cow she gave the first calf to the Hutu who had slain her family in one of the countless acts of selfless forgiveness the African country that was ripped apart in just 100 days has seen. EFE-EPA