Thursday, April 06, 2006

Tharcisse Mukama

About the history of segregation & resulting conflict in Rwanda

I was born in Ruhengeri and so were my father, grandfather and great-grandfather. I finished school in 1942 and married in 1950. Then in 1959, King Rudahigwa died and Kigeri was put on the throne. Jérôme Bicamumpaka opposed this and passed word to the Hutu about eradicating Tutsi. War broke out. The next thing we knew, our houses were being set on fire by the Hutu amongst us. They were our friends and neighbours, but they had been taught propaganda about Tutsi. Nevertheless, they didn’t kill anybody then; it was just burning houses. We all ran to the churches. The people who had gone to the provincial town were all packed in cars and sent off to Bugesera. I had my own land, so I went back to it. Vitari Basekwa, the leader of my hill, told me to go to Bugesera right away. I didn’t even sleep at my house that night. Early next morning, I left for Nyamata as a refugee with my two kids, my wife, my mother and grandmother.

They sent us to this area because it was a bad place with forests, wild animals and the tsetse fly. But the land was fertile and we had good rain, so we had good harvests and settled there. In 1963, those who had fled to Burundi invaded, but their attack failed. Then there were some killings of Tutsi, but only of those who were rich or educated. We stayed at home but others ran to the church. In 1966, there were killings again. We took refuge in the church. Soon it was over and we went home. Every time we went back, we had to rebuild our homes. Every time they killed, they also looted and burned. If you had crops, you would find empty fields. If you had a cow, it was eaten. You had to start all over again. That was the way of life for Tutsi in Bugesera. In 1973, Habyarimana removed President Kayibanda in a coup. In 1990 the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) attacked from Uganda.

Then in 1994 Habyarimana’s plane was shot down. Things got bad. People ran. They came to Nyamata, and because there were roadblocks no one could go back. Killings started here on 11 April. We fought for two days. Up to then, they had been fighting with bows and arrows, which we also had. On the third day, we saw a man called Murekezi going up in the air, then we heard the gunshot and he fell to the ground. He was our best archer. When this happened, we ran. The next morning we saw fires everywhere and heard gunshots from all corners. Most of the people ran into the Ntarama church, but we ran into the tall grass in the valley. My wife died there; she was with my children. I had eight children; six died in the genocide.

Before 1959, Hutus and Tutsis got on well together. There was no problem at all. The Hutus weren’t mean, it was other people who taught them bad things. They taught them first to burn houses and then, thinking that was not enough, they taught them to kill. I think things will get better, now that segregation no longer exists. In the past, we had our race written on our identity cards; first it said which clan a person belonged to, then later they changed it to race. Today, it has been removed; if things continue this way, they’ll get better. We fight segregation today. People are one. Children are taught as one, taught the same things by the same teacher. If people are united at such an early stage, they will not become separated again. Division is created by bad leadership. The Rwandan government is fighting against segregation. This gives me hope. I do have hope in the future. The most important thing everyone asks for is peace – even if you have only a little to eat, to be able to eat it in peace. Even though I’m old, I ask for peace and I have it now. I am sad, but I have peace. I’m in a peaceful country.

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