The gods have not let go of a man who, years before, blessed the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda
It’s November 22, 1992, and the political situation inside Rwanda is tense as rebels are gaining ground two years after launching military attacks against the government.
It is a Sunday and residents of former Kabaya sub-prefecture in Gaseke commune in western Rwanda have to attend an important gathering at a nearby hill. The meeting, which had been announced 22 days earlier, is strategically scheduled on this Sunday to attract more people from the 10am mass.
Notably too, the must-attend gathering, organised by the ruling party; Revolutionary National Movement for Development (MRND) is taking place in party leader and President Juvénal Habyarimana’s village.
Indeed, thousands pour to the venue, the size of a basketball court, but not big enough to accommodate participants. Organisers are forced to shift to another venue, at Migongo hill, a kilometer away.
The Interahamwe militias carry their chairs for visitors as the crowd follow, walking past offices of Kabaya sub-prefecture, police post and Kabaya health center, opposite Migongo hill, where the Catholic Church is preparing to construct a massive church.
As thousands trek to the next venue, they are waving party flags and chanting party songs; “umugambi niumwe banyarwanda, amahoro ubumwen’amajyambere, MRND yacunziza, sugira maze usagambe mu Rwanda” (the goal is unique fellow Rwandans: Peace, Unity and Development, Live long dear MRND”.)
Siraje Rwamasasu, a teenage boy, is selling samosas. It’s a vibrant day. Rwamasasu who is used to selling 200 samosas on a normal Sunday, has sold 8000 today, each at Rwf50.
But there, he experienced more than the rise in his sales.
Today, 23 years ago, Rwamasasu narrates to KT Press what transpired that day.
“I had prepared for the day because I was anticipating a big crowd; everyone was meant to attend because none wanted to be blamed by local leaders,” says Rwamasasu.
“About 10.30am, I saw a white car, Peugeot 504, escorted by two military jeeps carrying Interahamwe militia.”
Dr. Leon Mugesera was in the Peugeot car and was the guest of honour although there were other senior party officials.
Dr. Mugesera was a prominent person; a university lecturer and president of MRND party in Kabaya sub-prefecture and native of Muhororo, a nearby commune.
However, on this day he was coming from Kigali where he worked. He wore a black suit, black shoes and a shirt printed on photos of president Habyarimana, Rwamasasu narrates
Emmanuel Kivuruga who still lives in the same village also attended the big gathering. He told KT Press that when Mugesera arrived at the site, he first privately consulted with Joseph Munyandamutsa the party president in Gaseke commune.
Munyandamutsa was Bralirwa’s agent in the area, whose bar was Mugesera’s favourite hangout spot every time he visited.
Munyandamutsa first took Mugesera to his home for a-20 minute chat and later walked to the meeting venue. Party loyalists recited political slogans manifesting the party’s agenda. Interahamwe tightly guarded the venue.
At 11am, Munyandamutsa introduced visitors including; a delegation from Kigali and the party president in Gisenyi prefecture, Wellars Banzi.
Several invited guests were allowed to address participants at the gathering. Mugesera spoke last.
When Mugesera stood to deliver his speech, he first waived to participants who responded with a thundering clapping.
He approached a wooden podium without a single piece of paper and started a 28 minutes and 50 sec speech. The transcribed speech is 808 words.
According to Rwamasasu, Mugesera called for Hutus to eliminate Tutsi in the country, those he said were linked to rebels referred to as Inyenzi. “Know that he who you will not cut the neck is the one who will cut yours,” Mugesera said.
Mugesera said he regretted that Tutsi were left to leave the country alive in 1959. In the speech made in Kinyarwanda, a translation picks one of the notorious statements. “The mistake we did in 1959 when I was a child is that we let you go; we shall transit you to Ethiopia where you came from, through river Nyabarongo.”
“Hearing this speech, the Tutsi became speechless. It was unbelievable. We all had to think about the words because they were uttered by an intellectual,” says Rwamasasu.
Towards 3pm, the meeting was closed and the crowd headed back to their villages reflecting on the speech. Mugesera was known for buying one or two drinks. A few followed him. They just waited from outside Munyandamutsa’s bar, and drinks began flowing.
Most of them drunk banana brew (urwagwa) and sorghum brew (ikigage). Primus beer, then favorite local beer and goat meat was only reserved for Mugesera and his delegation.
Mugesera left at 8pm for Kigali.
Kivuruga continues the narration. He told KT Press that no Tutsi drunk anything offered by Mugesera. “No Tutsi drank any beer; they had all headed home, afraid,” Kivuruga says.
Meanwhile, Hutus and Tutsi in Kabaya started walking from a far distance from each other. In a few days, reports emerged about the first victims of the speech.
Jonas Nzamuye, a local judge at Kabaya primary court, began receiving death threats. “Party members said he was recording Mugesera’s speech to share it with RPF Inkotanyi,” Kivuruga told KT Press.
Three days later, Nzamuye was reported missing. Several Tutsis were reported dead too. Mugesera had blessed the genocide. Tutsis in the entire village would be whipped out, only a few to count survived.
Meanwhile, after the Kabaya meeting, Stanislas Mbonampeka, then Minister of Justice, issued an arrest warrant for Mugesera over the speech. Mugesera fled to Canada before the arrest and later acquired a residence permit.
Mugesera fled with his family to Quebec where he was granted permanent resident status and began lecturing at Université Laval. Back home, in protest, Minister Mbonampeka stepped down.
In 1995, an indictment landed Mugesera in court to answer genocide charges. He battled the case for years. On January 23, 2012, the Quebec Superior Court ordered that Mugesera be deported immediately. By 4pm, handcuffed, Mugesera was on a plane to Kigali.
He is battling the case.
The grandfather and the fare tales
Once upon a time in his childhood, Mugesera sat in front of his grandfather with his siblings listening to the old man’s words of wisdom.
Typical of all the African elders, Mugesera’s grandfather would regularly treat his grandchild with abundant fairly tales, as part of the Rwandan folklore.
That day, as the old man talked, Thadeo Ngirabatware, Mugesera’s step brother, was also listening.
Ngirabatware recalls the old man saying that, “nobody should ever kill anyone.” He warned them that the spirits of the victim would later haunt you.
Ngirabatware knows Mugesera as a very bright child in school and indeed ended up becoming successful, despite the fact that no one in his family tasted the fruits of his success.
One of his brothers, (R.I.P) built a house so that whenever Mugesera returned home, he would find a place to stay.
But Mugesera rarely visited his family and whenever he came home, he would not even socialize with his siblings, Ngirabatware says.
He would leave his car about 3km away and walk home. He would immediately return to Kigali, Ngirabatware recalls. Mugesera had no reasons to build any house for himself in his home village.
In fact, his brother told KT Press that Mugesera never bought anything for his parents, “not even a goat or a cow.”
Sometime in September 1992, Mugesera returned to the village to bury his sister-in-law. After the burial ceremony, Mugesera took off and has never set foot in his village again.
Later, his family had to plead to their mayor to ask Mugesera to return to the village and take care of his ailing mother.
They say Mugesera only sent his driver to pickup his mother from the village and to get treatment in Kigali.
When Mugesera fled the country, he left his mother with his family in Kigali. The wife and children joined him in exile, abandoning the mother in the house.
A family friend learnt that Mugesera’s mother had been left alone and later drove her back to the village. The story spread across the village and that is how the village learnt about Mugesera’s fleeing. His family had no clue where he was living until 2012 when he was deported.
KT Press has visited Mugesera’s home village, Muhororo, now Ngororero District.
Some family members are still alive. They told KT Press how much they miss him.
“I miss him. It is sad we aren’t together,” says Ngirabatware, who paid for his school fees because “he was a very bright student in school.”
Who knows, maybe the family’s misery should be blamed on Mugesera’s failure to heed his grandfather’s wisdom?