Every Genocide survivor can make it, says Dr Karuranga
Like all the survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Dr Egide Karuranga’s story is like no other. It is a long heart wrenching but also inspiring story.
It is a manifestation of bravery, resilience, determination, hope, selflessness, love, and devotion to his motherland.
Currently living in Canada, from where he keeps encouraging fellow survivors to transform past adversities into opportunities, he had never thought that he would survive and be able to get a university degree, let alone become a lecturer in North American universities.
After overcoming many odds, he has an MBA and a PhD in Management, among his many accomplishments. The discriminatory policies against the Tutsi since 1959 could not have allowed him to go that far.
Dr Karuranga, 55, now a father of six, never tires from lending a hand to others back in Rwanda through organisations like Ibuka-Education, which he co-founded, Ibuka-Action, Orphans of Rwanda and others, because, he says he believes “that assisting those left behind is more than a moral obligation.”
“I also do believe that every survivor can make it, even if it might take some dramatic change.”
Nevertheless, memories of 1994 never go away, he says.
“Memories of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi are still vivid, and will probably never leave my mind since it unfolded before my eyes, with almost my entire family in Rwanda killed in such a brutal way. It’s part of my daily life.”
According to the man who is now the president of Rwandan Diaspora in Canada, all the early warning signals in 1994 pointed to “something ugly in the air but nobody knew when the evil preparations would lead to the ‘final solution’, resulting in over one million victims in 100 days.”
Dr Karuranga says that while the methods could have been anticipated “based on our sad history” and in light of other genocides like the Holocaust and in Cambodia, the scale and the magnitude of the Genocide against the Tutsi surprised even those who, “like me,” had tasted its preceding atrocities in 1959-1963, 1973, and 1990-1994.
In April, 1994, Karuranga, then a father of two young children (aged 5 and 3), survived because he was among the lucky few survivors who made it to the Hotel des Mille Collines.
“We were finally exchanged as prisoners between the RPF and the government of the killers, under the auspices of the United Nations.”
At the time, Karuranga and his young family lived in the city centre, at Avenue Kalisimbi.
Life before their escape to “the so-called Hotel Rwanda” was very complicated, he says.
“We kept inventing hiding places, from hot ceilings inside our roof to garbage drums and trying the more obvious closets when everything else was too hot to accommodate young children.”
When rampaging Interahamwe militia came to loot Karuranga’s electronics shop, they asked the owner of Hotel Isimbi, where he then rented a showroom, to show them where he lived.
“Instead of disclosing that information, the family that owned the hotel warned me. They suggested we escape to Mille Collines where, according to them, it would be less painful to die with other Tutsi. I hung on to this advice.”
To reach the hotel sanctuary, the Karurangas had to bribe killers all the way through the perilous nearly three-kilometre course from their house.
Fortuitously, they reached the hotel.
“Life inside the hotel was far better than hiding in our house which was particularly risky as it was close to the then president’s office, and his ruthless republican guard. Inside Hotel de Mille Collines, life was structured and organised around small self-supporting cells of refugees; in contrast to the fiction depicted in the Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda.”
“We fundraised for relief supplies, shared the small amounts of money we fled with, and even bribed the militia to bring in more refugees. I remember paying 100 dollars for a medical doctor trapped in a sensitive zone.”
“From an economic perspective, either human life was very cheap or money had gained unprecedented value!”
Going from a successful businessman, before the Genocide, to a street vendor and then a less successful driver of cars on commission from the Kenyan port city of Mombasa to Kigali, after the tragedy, Karuranga later managed to recapture an old dream of becoming a university professor.
He went back to school, a dream he says, he cherished a lot but was never able to achieve under the then regime’s discriminatory policies.
Despite the 1994 mayhem, anguish and loss, today, Dr Karuranga is a professor of International Business at Laval University in Canada. Before joining Laval University, he taught Strategic Management and Current Issues in Management at the Reginald F. Lewis School of Business, Virginia State University, USA.
“I eventually completed a MBA in International Business, pursued M.Sc courses in Information Systems Management, and completed a PhD in Management. I am currently teaching in the School of Business Administration at Laval University after having served in a similar position at the Reginald F. Lewis School of Business of Virginia State University.”
“For somebody who had been kicked out of school by the Rwandan government in 1973 because of my ethnic origin, I never thought I would be able to get a university degree, let alone teach in North American universities.”
All that said, Karuranga notes, as survivors, “we need to keep nurturing our capability of resilience while raising awareness worldwide so that ‘Never Again’ becomes more than a slogan.”
“That is, in my humble opinion, the best we can give back to those who rescued us. It’s a legacy – my generation has to keep fighting for so that no family or ethnic group will be taken out, and no more children will need to hide in the garbage dumpster.”
Dr Karuranga has received prestigious awards including the 2006 Academy of Management Best Papers Awards, and a 2006 Honourable Mention from the Administrative Sciences Association of Canada.
He is an active public speaker against genocide.
He made the cover page of Le Soleil, Québec’s biggest newspaper, as a member of Remembering Rwanda, 2004. Dr Karuranga was also an active member of Richmond for Darfur coalition during his term at Virginia State University.
In addition to serving as president of Rwandan Diaspora of Canada, Dr Karuranga is co-founder of Ibuka-education, a registered charitable organisation providing university scholarships for Genocide orphans in Rwanda.
He has travelled, lived, and worked in more than 20 countries.
Contact email: james.karuhanga[at]newtimes.co.rw