4th April 2014
Augustin (no burdening him with divulging surname) was a sweet, innocent boy born in an unstable and uncertain system that would turn ruthless to “his people”. Born
Rwandan, he would nevertheless soon be denied his full birth rights.
Unknown to him, he had been turned into a stateless pest, even before his birth, and would live in the knowledge that his was borrowed time.
His “pest parents” lived in Rwanda and, when his eyes opened to his surroundings, he knew he had to make the best use of his “borrowed time”. Every round of killings targeting Batutsi saw his family harassed and tortured but, miraculously, none was killed. Through it, he was able to start school.
Even as he was being taunted as the son of “cockroaches” everyday, he closed his eyes to it all and managed to pursue his education up to third year of secondary school.
Then came 1973, when the government incited Hutu students to kill Batutsi, especially their fellow Tutsi students. Those who survived were forced to flee, among whom, Augustin. Unfortunately, he could not secure a place in any Ugandan school and had to return “home” and “borrow more time”.
Further education was out now but he got a teaching job in a primary school, where he worked until 1990 when the Rwanda Patriotic Front/Army (RPF/A) launched an attack on their denied country, to force the government into accepting them and granting all Rwandans full rights.
With the attack as an excuse, the government simulated an attack on Kigali and rounded up all Batutsi inside Rwanda as “collaborators” and threw them in prison.
When, at the insistence of the UN, they were released, Augustin took the first opportunity to sneak out of the country, leaving his parents. Through Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda, he crossed into the small northern fringe of Rwanda controlled by the RPF/A.
Many men and women, and their sympathisers, joined the front in similar ways.
By 1993, in peace talks the Habyarimana government had reluctantly ceded to RPF demands and was ready for a government of unity. So, it allowed RPF officials to be stationed in Kigali, guarded by RPA fighters. For obvious reasons, many recently out of Rwanda were in the contingent.
That’s how Agustin was involved in daring rescue missions of genocide victims in 1994. And that’s how he managed to secretly slip away from his group of rescuers to uneasily check on his parents and six siblings in Nyamirambo, a suburb of Kigali.
God of Rwanda, would they be alive? (Only Rwandans and Israelis evoke their national God, I’m told!)
When he entered the house, what shone in the light of his army torch was beyond description.
His parents and four brothers were scattered around the small sitting room as jumbled-up pieces of bloody meat, except for the shattered skulls.
Holding back tears, Augustin picked his way gingerly over the pieces to check in the bedrooms for his two sisters. Both were in their parents’ room, both cut in two up to their chests, one on top, the other under, the bed.
Devastated, he picked his way back to the doorway and sat on the threshold. In the neighbouring compound across, he could see and hear clearly the militia elements around a bonfire as they swilled bottles of Primus beer and boasted about which of his sisters was better to rape.
Coldly, he removed a grenade from his hip.
But, as he made to remove the pin, the rallying call from his and his comrades’ commander rang in his head: “Vijana, munapigania nini?” And so did the boomed answer back: “Kukomboa nchi yetu na Wanyarwanda wote!”
Loosely translated: young men and women, what’s the aim of your struggle? To liberate our country and all Rwandans!
No, these were not the enemy. The enemy was the evil system that constructed division among Rwandans. Génocidaires are not enemies per se. Enemies are those who willingly and consciously conceived the project of extermination of their compatriots for selfish ends and drafted them into it. Enemies are the architects who thought out and refined that division into genocide.
Enemies are those in the world, Africa, North America, Western Europe, who erect and support systems that continue to shield genocide architects from justice. For, so shielded, these architects will not see the bankruptcy of their project. They’ll not renounce impunity or atone for their evil deeds. They’ll remain stuck in their evil history and attract their progeny into recreating it.
They’ll never see the value of embracing a united society.
The rallying call again: “Uzalendo ni nini?” “Uzalendo ni kutafuta suruhu ya pamoja sote!”
To be a patriot is not to nurse divisive or vengeful thoughts. It’s not to wallow in grief and despair. It’s to work with compatriots in the search for what advances the country and its society. A patriot seeks what advances society.
Today, Augustin and those génocidaires of 20 years ago are working together for the progress of a new Rwanda.
Rwandans, reflect and remember, that you be united and no one ever lives on borrowed time again.