Isaac Hakizimana’s father, Laurent Kamirindi, had been warned by Interahamwe that they would kill him. Acting on the warning, he started spending nights hiding in the bush.
Then a week later, on April 7, 1994 the genocide began spreading wildly.
Kamirindi, who lived near the Presidential Guards’ camp in Kimihurura, a suburb in Kigali city, divided his family into two groups. One group would stay at the home while another went to stay at his eldest son’s house.
Hi son Hakizimana was just 11.
“I was in my elder brother’s house when I learnt that six of family members back home had been murdered,” Hakizimana says.
By then, as killings escalated in the city, Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPA) fighters were advancing and intensifying pressure on government troops and Interahamwe militias.
Killers went for Hakizimana’s brother. The house was attacked. Everyone ran separately. “Killers tracked us down…they shot my elbow and fractured my bones as I was reaching the gate…I was bleeding awfully,” says Hakizimana.
According to Hakizimana, killers did not have time to come back and check whether someone is finished because, “they had set high target to kill massively.”
At this time, he was not aware how many of his nine siblings were alive. But, Camile Mugwaneza, now 27 and a soldier with the Air Force, managed to take cover in a bush.
Meanwhile, the frightened Hakizimana managed to crawl like a snake from the gate to the living room, living a bloody line behind him.
He tried to cover his wound with a piece of cloth but failed. He lost too much blood and also became dehydrated. He couldn’t find water, he ended up drinking muddy water mixed with blood.
“I had no choice but to drink the mixture,” Hakizimana says, shedding tears. “I thought I had a few hours to live.”
He lay in the house for days. On the fourth day, he heard people digging tunnels. They were RPA fighters.
“I was too weak to open the door, but I can’t tell how I pushed it to let the men know someone was agonizing inside the house,” he says.
Meeting the doctor
It was difficult to access any medication in such a situation. People rescued by RPA fighters were rushed to Conseil National de Development (CND) building, now Rwanda’s parliament.
The parliamentary building had been occupied by 600 RPA fighters in the famous 3rd Battalion. In the building were also members of the RPF political wing that would form part of the interim government as provided in the Arusha Accord.
RPA had established an emergency medical unit to treat causalities as well as other diseases.
Hakizimana was carried on the back by a junior officer, now a Major in the Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF).
“We reached the parliament through a cave that was linking the road to the building because government soldiers had turned their heavy tanks towards parliament to hit anyone that dared to cross to or from the building,” said Hakizimana.
Through a similar cave earlier before, Vincent Biruta, a medical doctor then, now Minister of Natural Resources was rescued with his two children, his wife, a guest and several neighbours from his residence, opposite the parliament building.
In the building, Dr. Biruta began treating the sick. Hakizimana was one of them.
“I was laid on a table in an open space inside the parliament building. Biruta and his team succeeded in a surgery operation and then sent me to the fourth floor where I spent almost three weeks,” Hakizimana recalls.
The medical team worked in difficult conditions, but they saved patients.
“Ours was unconventional medical setup; in an operation room, you normally have a specific bed and appropriate lights. We did not have that, yet we still treated cases,” Biruta told KTPress. “We used lamps or torches.”
The number of patients was increasing as the genocide escalated.
According to Dr. Biruta while civilians stayed inside the building, some wounded soldiers escaped from the sickbay before healing and returned on the battlefield. “They had the zeal to win the war,” he said.
Government troops began attacking the building. Rockets were fired at the complex relentlessly. RPA managed to secure Kinyinya and Kimironko health centers where they relocated the patients.
Relocating them, says Dr. Biruta, also meant risk of concentration of patients with several diseases in one place.
At every medical station, there was at least one extraordinary experience.
“At Kimironko, we used meager resources in a successful caesarean,” says Dr. Biruta who does not want to take any credit because, “I was rescued and the opportunity to contribute in such circumstances was a privilege to me.”
At some point, these centers became extremely congested. Some patients including Hakizimana were transferred to Byumba hospital through a night convoy with all vehicle lights off and painted in military camouflage colours to avoid detection from government army.
And the genocide ended. A year later, Hakizimana returned to school. He completed both Primary and Secondary school.
Later, he acquired a government scholarship for a political science degree at the University of Rwanda and graduated in 2007.
Until then, he had not fully recovered. In 2014, GARG an association of university survivors alumni, fundraised Rwf6 million to have him treated from Nairobi, Kenya.
He recovered successfully.
Now married, Hakizimana is a father of five working at the National Commission for the fight against the Genocide (CNLG), in the memory and genocide prevention unit.
Last year, he completed a master’s program in Genocide studies and prevention.
“My dream is to teach about genocide,” he said.
Among Hakizimana’s family of eleven (parents included) only six, including three sisters and three brothers survived the Genocide. They are happily married.