EASTER CELEBRATIONS TURNED INTO A LENT ENDLESSLY

An aerial view of Kinyinya Deutsche Welle Station relay compound West south part facing Kigali CBD
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Kigali, 7 April 1994

Jean Serge Mandela

 

Jean Serge Mandela recounts what he experienced the first day after the terrorist attack that took the lives of two presidents, Juvénal Habyarimana (President of Rwanda) and Cyprien Ntaryamira (President of Burundi). Remember that it is April 6th,1994 that took place what is considered the triggering event of the Rwandan genocide. On April 6, therefore, at 9:00 p.m., the plane of Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down shortly before its landing in Kigali.

RWANDA: It is midday, our ears are struggling to get an update from our wireless since the batteries were dying and there was no where to buy new ones since a lock down was decreed and must be observed: Rwanda President Juvenal Habyalimana is dead.

Around 0500, I was rather awaken by some noise I fought that it could be my brothers turning on their beds.  Once I came to my senses, I managed hear that it was rather some machine guns! I tried to switch on radio, I was greeted by some classic music. I fought, that could be Deustche Welle (Voice of Gemany Kinyinya station relay) waves invading our own and only Radio Rwanda since during the Deustche Welle broadcasting peak hours we were experiencing some parasites waves in our area. In order to get better results I switched vainly on a different wireless.

Being at home for a short school Easter break, I had a small “busy schedule” to town (Kigali CBD) and some few buses servicing my village were there around 0600 only if I miss them I was due to walk almost 20 Kms.

At 0600, it was the Kinyarwanda news 1st edition, unbelievable first item: “the death of our President Juvenal Habyalimana in a crash plane gunned down by……….on his way back from Dar es Salaam mini summit ………” the newscaster added: “A curfew has been declared countrywide and nobody is allowed to move out of his residence”.

I called my two siblings, I broke news to them! Did they understand the gravity of the situation? I continued to hear comments from various international radio like RFI, BBC and so on.

The previous day, it was a good Wednesday, that came after a long Easter week end;  I was happy to be reunited with my kid brothers Maurice and Bebe busy telling me their lives in boarding secondary schools (by then, one was believed to be in a half way to make it in life once enrolled in a secondary school).

Did it rain? I can’t remember but the April was known to be rainy. I was itching to watch the semi final of AFCON Tunis 1994; my focus was rather on Zambia on a sympathetic note since a year was to elapse after its “creme de la creme” team perished in a tragic airplane accident that was to be being remembered as “Gabon Air Disaster”.

We had inherited from my parents (after the demise of my daddy 3 years ago while mum it was 12 years earlier) a house which was expropriated and we were still staying there while building another one with electricity near Kinyinya primary school. As a soccer follower, I could not afford to miss watching those games at such a crucial stage. I have no idea since on the entire village/hill, I knew no one owing a TV.  I was saved by my little friend: “Gugu” (his father Papias was assassinated by unknown gunmen during the summer 1993 school holiday along other who were killed in a such similar manner since RPF- Inkotanyi Uganda backed invaded Rwanda on 1st October 1990) who informed me that our friend Melee (a former midfield of our once flamboyant village team: “Union de Kinyinya (meaning Kinyinya United) had recently bought a TV.

What a TV: a black and white TV which was powered by a car battery, its size could march a box of matches. The ever jovial Melee, working in a company that was dealing in distribution of petrol products, was more than happy to see his tiny sitting room hosting the entire village (if not the entire Kinyinya Hill inhabitants). I was rather welcomed as a “prominent guest of honour” since I was the most educated of the group and very influent in French and I was due to be translating times to times to the amusement of the gathering.

Surely, I was not spared.  I was rather bombarded by many questions from the young stars soccer followers.  I became an encyclopaedia to be consulted as the game was going on: from explaining who is Kalusha Bwalya, Zambia skipper to “who is likely to qualify to the next stage” and so on. At the final whistle, the game was a stalemate. And the referee has no option rather going into penalty shoot outs.

Once the 1st semi-final ended, I could not stay longer since I had to prepare the following day. I had a “rendez- vous galant” on my list, the following day. I had to iron my clothes (if not to go fold them nicely and put under my bed pillow) and catch a bath since the 1st bus was to start off by 0530. I left without watching the second semi- final.

I went to a named close friend house, one of the members of the staff residing within Deustche Welle premises so I can iron my clothes and catch a bath with warm water. I left the place around 2000

At the entrance check point, I was greeted by a deafening sound however that noise could not disturb me. It was common to hear such kind of noise due to: grenades, land mines, etc.

Despite the increasing number of such incidents, there was no one among the wary factions (Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) Kagame led group and labelled rebels by then. The group launched a deadly war from its stronghold of Uganda since 1st October 1990. The other side was Rwanda Forces Armées (FAR) and its President Juvenal Habyalimana labelled as the regular arm) who could dare coming forward to claim its responsibility. If it was a RPF perceived supporter killed, the RPF group was quick to denounce the FAR, if it was government official killed it was the FAR to accuse the RPF. Our current affairs news from Government owned radio was dominated by reports of a number of people assassinated by “un-identified people” especially during the period of 1992 to 1994.

I exchanged some few words with a small group of 2 to 4 people which I found at Deustche Welle relay station compound checking point about the noise heard few minutes ago without able to get any further details apart from being told  that the noise was coming from Kigali Grégoire Kayibanda International airport side, KIGALI CBD east side.

Around midday, I managed to make a call from a Pepsi kiosk near our health center in order to contact Sam, my brother in law, staying at the Nyambirambo last bus station. Jokingly, I asked him to come out and waving since the hill on which he was staying was taller than ours but there could be a short distance separating us.

After my phone I gather the courage to walk up to the “center” (where people use to gather) to check whether some shops/village taverns could have opened and to have an idea of the village mood. I could not use the main gravel road from home to the “center” (located nearer my former primary school and village parish out station). I was in fear at the level my clothes were wet as if I was finishing a jogging.

I looked at the west I could see the Kigali city (Rwanda being a mountainous country you could see what is happening to the other surrounding hills), I saw few cars moving at the top of Kacyiru, a nearby hill at the other side of Nyarutarama golf club.  I could hear, as well, some machine guns sporadically followed by a smoke column of dust! I try to force my eyes if I can see anything at CND (our parliament building) that was hosting Rwanda Patriotic Front battalion in readiness of “Arusha Peace Protocol” implementation; I was unable to see anything tangible. Once I arrived at the “Center”, I was told to go back home by a friend since few minutes ago soldiers from the nearby Kami Military barracks have dispersed an “unlawful assembly”.

By 1400, stubborn I was, I tried to take a walk to west part on our Kinyinya hill. A journey of a 20 minutes in to check on the Nyabyenda, (Nyabyenda, a former ordained priest in his late 50’s who left priesthood in order to join civil services and was at a certain time in 80s, a no 2 of Community Development Ministry before being jailed over “1981 Ugandan asylum seekers food relief mismanagement”, the conviction he described as political. His co-accused and convicted the late works and supply minister Félicien Gatabazi (former General Secretary Socialist Party [PS] was assassinated early February1994 by the famous” un-identified people.)

As I was approaching Nyabyenda’s home, I met two soldiers who asked if I had my ID and I acknowledge, they were walking out of his yard. Nyabyenda was rather surprised to see me moving around despite the curfew, and he asked to go back home!

On my way back, I saw a column of soldiers from Kami Military Barracks; later on, I heard some guns noise in order to learn that some people were shot dead; the victims were running to seek refuge in Deustche Welle station relay premises It was not easy to establish the number. Since Deustche Welle compound was fenced by blocks and was occupying a surface of more than 50 football grounds. Later on, I learnt that some people were found trying to jump the wall into the Deustche Welle compound. Others were taken out the same compound where they went to seek refuge in early hours of the day!

As the night was approaching, I had a debate with my siblings (Bébé and Maurice) if we had to sleep inside the house or out. It had rained in afternoon, meaning the grass that was all over was wet.  We were asking ourselves how would be safe to sleep inside the house……We were obliged to d o so fearing being surprised by the rains in the middle of the night! Being a reader of the great 2nd war books, I had to teach my siblings, Bébé and Maurice how to react in the case of a surprise. We noticed that the machine gun noise heard during the day was dying.

Since October 1st, 1990, life has changed for the Rwandan people. The blood bath that the RPF unleashed that day has cost countless lives to this day; even Habyarimana was not spared despite his willingness and commitment to a durable solution leading to a last peace agreement. The dounting question is this: How and when we will take a moment to reflect on day 1 of the post RPF era?

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