With just months into its implementation, a casual stroll in any village across the country will not take you long to realise that the soul-searching campaign dubbed “Ndi Umunyarwanda” is already bearing fruits.
Jeanne Nyirabenda and Jeanne Bampire, respectively 30 and 25 years have this countrywide Campaign to thank for bringing them together, 20 years after the two young women avoided crossing paths, an uphill task since they all had to live in the same small village in Gisagara District.
The two have been neighbours before 1994, but Nyirabenda still nurses wounds from the Genocide against the Tutsi, because Bampire’s father, Mathew Ntahobwikera killed two of her four family members.
Despite being only five during the Genocide, Bampire has had to endure scorn from Nyirabenda and other survivors in the area over crimes committed by her father.
“I loathed Bampire to the extent that I would miss church whenever I knew she was in attendance. I simply never wanted to meet her or any of her siblings anywhere, I hated them for what their father did to my family,” said Nyirabenda.
In 1997 when her family repatriated from Burundi where they fled to during the Genocide, Bampire saw men being arrested but as an eight-year old at the time, she did not know why they were being arrested.
When she asked her father what it was all about, he shouted at her and said she should never ask such questions again.
In 2000, when Bampire was in Primary Four, her father was also arrested and jailed at the nearest police station, before being transferred to Mpanga Prison in Nyanza district, over his role in the Genocide.
“After the arrest of my father, I was always embarrassed, mainly at school. Classmates used to abuse me and my siblings mocking us that we belonged to an Interahamwe father.”
In 2005, Bampire decided to go to prison to convince her father to come clean and seek forgiveness from the families whose people he killed. He was sentenced to 30 years in jail, which he is still serving.
After convincing her father to confess, she thought at the time that the sentence meted out on him was rather harsh and she blamed herself. “I also hated the Tutsi for their responsibility in having my father jailed for that long.”
When the gap was bridged
The two ladies got out of the shackles of hatred in May last year, during a YouthKonnect forum, where the idea of Ndi Umunyarwanda campaign was mooted.
The forum aimed at bringing the youth together to discuss their role in nation-building and these sessions were taken to all districts in the country, including Gisagara.
“After a lecture, we were told that whoever had any form of shame that they wanted to redeem themselves of, especially concerning the way the Genocide affected their families, should voluntarily come forth and testify,” Bampire recalled.
Nyirabenda was among the first to stand and she apologised to Bampire for the distain she had felt towards her for all those years.
“Through the lecture, I got to understand that Bampire and her family should not be blamed for crimes committed by their father,” she said during an interview held at the former’s home, with the two ladies sitting next to each other on a mat.
“Her testimony helped me understand that after all, my father committed crimes that he should be answerable for individually. I also stood up and apologised. Since then, I have regained my confidence and returned to school,,” said Bampire.
The two neighbours say they have since become best friends and this is just but one story among the many testimonies.
Ndi Umunyarwanda campaign
When it started, Ndi Umunyarwanda was confused by some, saying it targeted Hutus to apologise for the Genocide irrespective of the role they played.
Officials have since been making countrywide sensitisation campaigns to set the record straight — that this process is about healing wounds caused by the Genocide, and has nothing to do with heaping guilt on the Hutu.
According to Bishop John Rucyahana, the chairman of National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, “the programme will last until the end of the world and it intends to make a reality the healing that the country needs, after the Genocide tragedy.”
“It is only after one has healed from the wounds of the past that they can fully embrace development activities and work together with other members of the community,” Rucyana noted.
He said the Ndi Umunyarwanda spirit has been in existence for decades, explaining that it motivated RPF Inkotanyi to claim the right to their country after being sidelined by successive regimes.
The Ministry of Youth and ICT is a direct partner of NURC in implementing the Ndi Umunyarwanda campaign.
Rosemary Mbabazi, the permanent secretary in this ministry, said, Ndi Umunyarwanda is already bearing fruits.
“It has reached all the strata of the society — from the leaders and academics to the grassroots. It is currently discussed at an institutional level — government, private sector and civil society. The discussions have also gone beyond our borders to Rwandans in the Diaspora,” Mbabazi noted, adding that dialogue would cement reconciliation and restore trust among people.