Member of Parliament Françoise Mukayisenga is a shrewd politician with a humble background. She was a refugee in a camp controlled by Interahamwe militia inside former Zaïre, worked as a roadside sweeper in former Gisenyi Prefecture but against all odds rose to become a Member of Parliament. In an Interview with The New Times’ Edwin Musoni, she talks about her past, Rwanda’s post Genocide reconstruction and this year’s Presidential race that has attracted a controversial figure. Below are the excerpts.
You lived in Rwanda before the Genocide and you closely saw how Genocide unfolded. Could you briefly tell us what happened exactly during that time and compare notes of the then Rwanda and that one of today.
I was in the country during the Genocide. Truly speaking, this country was characterized by divisionism and enmity which was sanctioned by the government of the time.
In my view this divisionism and enmity originates back in the colonial period and during the first and second governments until when the Genocide happened in 1994.
I witnessed that divisionism during those days. I remember for instance this divisionism affected all facets of the society. It ran down to the school system as an example.
During the genocide, the then government trained Interahamwe. I saw them myself. Due to this hate based on divisionism whereby parents killed their children, husbands killed their wives. It was total madness.
The Genocide unleashed was against the Tutsi and nobody should refute that…during that period I was staying in the neighbourhood of the airport with my family and after the plane crash, we immediately started hearing gunshots and we fled.
The killings had intensified, roadblocks had been mounted and the militias we requesting for the national identity cards so that they could single out and and kill all Tutsi. Tutsis could be killed instantly.
I fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) and I stayed in Kibumba camp. However during the fleeing, we were led by Ex-FAR soldiers who continued with their anti-Tutsi rhetoric. They were telling us that we had to leave the country because the RPF soldiers (Inkotanyi) would kill us if they found us in the country.
Surely to a mature person, it was evident that some people had to be held accountable for what they did during the Genocide that is why they had to flee. In this they used some of us who were innocent as human shields while fleeing justice.
During the time you fled, were you with members of your family?
I left my family behind since I wasn’t staying with them by the time of the Genocide. My family left Kanombe and went to Kibuye then they returned to Kigali while I was still in DRC. This means that whatever people say that the Tutsi revenged the murder of their loved ones is false.
Sincerely I have relatives and friends who did not flee but they were not hurt at all. In fact, they are still alive up till now. So there is no way I can be convinced that there were Hutus who were killed by Tutsi out of a planned revenge campaign...no that is wrong, that never happened.
What was your impression upon arrival in the country?
We were safe but we lived with fear. My fear was most based on what the Hutus did in this country, I could not understand why the Tutsis did not revenge but everything is possible. This is the 15th year and I am living with no fear.
Beside that, during my stay in Gisenyi, I witnessed the infiltration of the Interahamwe myself. They entered from Rwerere and mixed up with the people. They started killing people sometimes even during the broad day light.
During that time, there was no way the new government could sit back and relax while killing continued. I know for sure that while dealing with infiltrators lives were lost. This is where I depart with those saying that a double Genocide happened.
During that period, did you have any sympathy for the RPF soldiers?
After that war, I realized the infiltrators were getting weaker by the day and losing the battle…but there was one thing that surprised me, when I returned to Rwanda. I found all my relatives were in school. By the way, I had fled with two of my sisters but before that we were studying in a private secondary school.
The reason we were in a private school is because the school nearby in Kanombe used to list children of soldiers who originated from Ruhengeri and Gisenyi so that they cheat for them to pass exams.
My family originated from the then Kigali-ngali and my father Celestine Nkinamubazi was a soldier with a rank of WOII by then.My father died of sickness in 1990 and we had to get out of the barracks.
So upon returning from refuge, I asked my mother to brief me about the situation. She told me that my sisters were studying and I asked her how she managed to put them in public schools to the extent that one was even in the University on government sponsorship.
She told me that things had changed completely and that education changes were part of larger changes within the society.
Do you have any relative who participated in the genocide?
Yes, my twin sister who was called Louise Mukasine. She was actually an Interahamwe. Her fiancé was former President Juvenal Habyarimana’s houseboy who dragged her into that business. She attended all the prime meeting meant to prepare the massacres. She later died in the DRC together with her husband and the rumor we heard is that she was killed by her own husband who also killed their child and later committed suicide.
You are currently holding a top post in the government, how did you join this government and how exactly did you rise in ranks?
When I returned home, I had convinced myself that I will never get a job based on what the Hutus did in this country. To make matters worse even my parents reinforced my fears by reminding me as a Hutu chances of my advancement were practically slim.
I am not ashamed of saying this but I remember the first job I got was to be a cleaner yet I was a high school graduate.
Gisenyi was a very dirty city by then and the local authorities were offering jobs to cleaners. I could spend the whole day sweeping the streets because I thought that was the best job I could get. I kept sweeping the streets and in return I could be paid food.
Time came and I decided to apply for a job of an accountant at Commune Rwerere. I remember my husband was the first person I told that I got the job but I told him that people were telling me that it was not going to be easy for me working with the RPF government.
My husband motivated me and told me to disregard whatever people were telling me and I focus on my job which I did. I later rose in ranks and I was elected the Vice Mayor in charge of Gender affairs.
Later I was elected a Member of Parliament which came as a surprise to me.
I remember I tendered in my candidature a day before the final closure and I told my husband about it, he thought it was a joke but I went ahead and did it. I remember I even told my brothers but they laughed it off.
After my election more so as a woman, I truly believed the new policy of this country was about what someone is capable of doing not the origin or background of someone.
How would you rate currently the state of unity and reconciliation in the country?
Today, I have seen a lot being done in that regard. The fact that all Rwandan share equal rights as stated in the constitution is a major step. The establishment of the National Unity and reconciliation Commission(NURC) is an indication that the government is interested in uniting Rwandans.
Regarding post Genocide justice Gacaca courts provided the only viable avenue for sorting out justice.
Although there cases of people who have not openly spoken out, I believe truth will reveal itself, whoever participated in the Genocide will have to be punished.
At least Gacaca made people believe that whoever committed a crime will have to be punished and those that committed no crime are not punished in the name of being Hutus. I am a living example since I did not participate I have not been singled out.
With all these achievements, I don’t think someone who has been outside the country for this long should just jet in and start criticizing the gains registered over 15 years.
I normally hear criticisms in foreign media against the government and the policies but the fact is that those people shouting know nothing about the Rwandan history.
You praise Gacaca, your government’s policies and its achievements but of late new political figures including the president FDU Inkingi, Victoire Ingabire have strongly criticizes some of these policies, what is your take on their political approach?
Personally I can only say that this lady Victoire is actually ignorant and arrogant about the whole situation. She doesn’t value the current achievements because she knows nothing about Rwanda and its history.
She doesn’t know Rwanda because she has never lived here. She has not witnessed first hand the transformation of our country. She only hears and knows Rwanda through rumors. She doesn’t have real facts of what has been happening on the ground.
To me, I believe she should actually first learn about the country before stepping out to make such baseless statements.
She doesn’t give value to the progress made simply because she doesn’t know anything going on as I speak. She should compare the Rwanda she left 16 years ago and the Rwanda she found when she came back. At least she should have talked to Rwandans in the country side top gauge the mood.
We as Rwandans, we know the values of our achievements, we now have hope to live and live with each other in harmony. So, regarding Ingabire, as someone who fled the country and did not bother monitoring what was going on, she doesn’t know Rwanda at all.
Ingabire should know that the Genocide which took place here in Rwanda was targeting Tutsis and claimed lives of Tutsis.
On the issue of setting up a Hutu memorial site as Ingabire wishes, I would like to ask her how she would go about it practically. For instance is she going to separate Hutu remains from those of Tutsi? I wonder how she will go about it if at all she is allowed.
By the way, if the RPF Inkotanyi had decided to take revenge after the genocide, no Hutu would still be living in this country. I’m very sure of that.
I have a testimony of my relatives who lived in the Eastern part of the country where the RPF attack started from. They were not hurt at all. The soldiers could tell them to keep indoors as the fighting went out. To me I attach no value at all to Ingabire’s arguments.
What do you think about the upcoming presidential election?
In my understanding, every Rwandan has a right to come and vie for presidency. But the onus is upon us to elect someone of importance to us.
This precisely means that if this lady wants to stand for presidency, she should show us what she has done for us.
Personally I think that if there are tangible things which she has done so far for the country then she could be given a chance to enter the race.