Oswald Kayihura counts himself as one of the luckiest people in the world because, besides himself, his wife and children survived the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
“It’s God’s grace; I don’t know how it happened. All I know is that the RPA (Rwanda Patriotic Army) snatched us from the claws of our would-be killers, I’m also deeply grateful to my Hutu friends who helped me escape the initial deathtraps,” he said.
Between April 7 and July 4, 1994 machete-wielding Hutu extremists, known as Interahamwe, and then government soldiers killed more than a million people, including Kayihura’s parents and many of his relatives.
Married with five children at the time, Kayihura spent the first weeks of April hiding in his home village in the rural Nyarusange sector, Muhanga District in the Southern Province.
But as violence surged, he feared his ‘hunters’ would finally find him. He therefore decided to take a risky long trek with hope that he will finally find his way to Kabgayi, in Muhanga town, a place he believed was safe.
With the help of three ‘Hutu friends’, Kayihura managed to get to Kabgayi and took refuge there alongside hundreds of other Tutsis. His family members joined him later.
Kayihura recalls how the Interahamwe militia together, with the then government soldiers (FAR) would force dozens of Tutsis into buses, murder them and then dump their bodies in Nyabarongo River.
He remembers one incident when a soldier shot a Tutsi who stood next to him and the same killer asked him if he was not armed.
“Sometimes, only God can explain certain things,” he says.
As pressure from the RPA soldiers mounted on the genocidal regime, members of the interim government headed to Muhanga in the south where they established their bases. Massive killings continued there, according to testimonies.
However, the town was also to fall into the hands of advancing RPA much to the relief of those who were being hunted down by the Interahamwe militia.
“When the RPA arrived in Kabgayi, we thought the Interahamwe had just changed clothes and were now tricking us into emerging from our hideouts,” Kayihura recalls.
He says that they later saw a familiar Tutsi man jubilating as the RPA soldiers patrolled the area.
“That is when we gained courage to come out. We had realised that the RPA was now in full control. We were taken to a safe place and that is how we survived,” Kayihura recounts.
Kayihura describes himself as ‘one of the most lucky survivors’ in the country, having survived along with his wife and children.
However, both his parents and a number of close relatives died in the Genocide.
His property was also destroyed and looted. His four cows were taken while his banana and coffee plantations were destroyed.
So, when the Genocide ended, he had to begin from scratch.
“Life became a nightmare. I struggled to survive,” he recalls.
But Kayihura says he decided not to let the difficult times overwhelm him because he feared giving up could worsen his situation.
“I had worked hard since my childhood and I decided never to give up,” he says.
In 2005, Kayihura’s wife passed away and that further complicated his situation. Some years later, he remarried and got two other children.
Today, Kayihura is involved in modern farming and grows cassava, banana and maize on a large scale.
“I have enough food for my family,” he says of his maize plantations.
Kayihura says he is now putting more effort in banana farming.
Behind his modest but modern house, Kayihura has planted disease-resistant FIA 17 banana varieties. The plantation, which covers an area of about 1.5 hectares, gives Kayihura bananas weighing between 100 and 150 kilogrammes each.
Each banana stalk goes for between Rwf3,000 and 3,500 but he says sometimes it can increase to Rwf4,000 depending on its size.
Though the 55-year-old survivor cannot estimate the total income he gets from his banana plantations, he says his efforts are paying off.
“My life has improved,” he says as he stands next to a banana tree in his farm. Kayihura also keeps a Friesian cow and its calf, which he says are supplementing his income.
“I have hope for a bright future because the Government has ensured peace and stability in the country,” he concludes.