Musambira: Divided in Genocide, reunited by newfound Rwandanness

THE RECONCILIATION TALE of residents in Ruseke and Giheta villages in Musambira Sector, Kamonyi District, is stunning, thought-provoking and inspiring. On a recent visit to the villages, Jean Pierre Bucyensenge talked to the residents about their journey from a divided community to becoming one family. 
Annonciata Mukaleta, 62,  Genocide survivor
Annonciata Mukaleta, 62, Genocide survivor

THE RECONCILIATION TALE of residents in Ruseke and Giheta villages in Musambira Sector, Kamonyi District, is stunning, thought-provoking and inspiring.

On a recent visit to the villages, Jean Pierre Bucyensenge talked to the residents about their journey from a divided community to becoming one family. Through pathways in a farm, the reporter, accompanied by five men, walked from Giheta to Ruseke, discussing the journey the villagers had to take to make reconciliation a success despite their bitter past.

During the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Giheta residents took up arms and launched attacks against their neighbours in Ruseke, a village that was predominantly Tutsi. After the Genocide, relations between Ruseke survivors and their neighbours was stone-cold.

But about a decade ago, the residents agreed to mend their relationships and, ever since, their reconciliation journey is one of the tales that arouse admiration, and optimism for a united Rwanda.

In this story, four individuals who include both Genocide perpetrators and survivors, talk about their journey to repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation and unravelling unity.

Annonciata Mukaleta, 62, Genocide survivor

When the Genocide was stopped, I was hesitant to return to this village. I was not only afraid, but had also been traumatised by the killings. However, my heart kept telling me to return and settle on the land of my ancestors. So, two years after the Genocide, I started building a new house here because the previous one had been demolished during the Genocide.

When I returned, I looked at neighbours as savage, killers and evil people. I didn’t wish to meet them. Even they were ashamed of encountering me. We lived like that for years until they decided to apologise.

It was a nightmare, always seeing images of the killings like in a movie. It was hard to bear. At least forgiveness relieved me from that. At first, I doubted their sincerity. But with time, I was relieved from the yoke of anguish. Today, we live and work together to improve our livelihood.

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Joel Mugabowindekwe, 51, Genocide perpetrator

During the Genocide, I participated in killings and looting. Today I still regret what I did and continue to ask forgiveness for it. After the Genocide I didn’t expect to be forgiven because I knew what we did was evil. It was extremely evil and the one thing I expected was death. In the mid-2000s, when the Gacaca courts were initiated, I pleaded guilty and owned up. As a result of my cooperation with the court, I was handed a lenient sentence of three years. As part of the ruling, half of the sentence was suspended, while the remaining was to be served doing works for general interest (TIG). I served my sentence with dedication because I knew I was paying for my mistakes and the anguish I had caused.

Later, I realised that was not enough. I realised that I had to personally seek forgiveness from the people I offended because for me that was the only way to regain a normal life. So when my colleagues and I went to seek forgiveness and survivors heard our pleas and guaranteed us unconditional clemency, I felt relieved from that burden that weighed on me was finally no more.

“Today, we have moved from being enemies to becoming close, indeed intimate friends. We share every success and every tribulation we meet in our lives and support each other. We came from so far but the only thing that pleases me is to see us united while I used to think that it was not possible. Thanks to our unity, I believe life will even continue to be better and more sustainable.

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Innocent Bayenzi, 58, Genocide survivor

What we endured during the Genocide is appalling. Being betrayed by the same people we used to share everything with was the last thing I expected. The journey to healing, forgiveness and reconciliation was not easy.

However, I believe that to move on with life, we must come together, discuss what happened and root for penitence and reconciliation. When they came to seek forgiveness, I told them I had already forgiven them. However, their initiative opened a new chapter in our relations. We are now one people; we have buried that dark past to work for a common good.

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Jonas Munyaneza, killer and looter

These people [of Ruseke] used to be our neighbours, they were like our brothers and sisters. We lived together and shared everything. I used to come to work for them, particularly in their fields, and I got paid and I earned a living. But when all hell broke loose and massive killings of Tutsi started, I was among those who attacked them. I don’t know what pushed me to act like that. Maybe it was a result of the hatred ideology that had been preached for years. So, I found myself among looters and killers. We took their property, removed tiles from the roof of their houses and stole their belongings. There  was no pity.

It was only when the Genocide was stopped that I realised that I had committed evil. I felt guilty. I couldn’t face the survivors; I was ashamed. Most of the time, I avoided meeting with survivors at all cost. Whenever I saw them, I used to run away or take another direction. Sometimes when we met unexpectedly I looked down and said ‘hi’ with lots of shame. I was embarrassed and haunted by my acts.

When I heard of the idea to seek forgiveness, I felt relieved because I knew it would at least ease the heavy weight on my shoulders. The day we came to this village to seek forgiveness and the survivors accepted to listen to our pleas remains the best in my life. I was so happy that they had granted us forgiveness.

Today, I am reintegrated. Our relations have been mended, our ties were restored and we are brothers once more. Some of us even didn’t have the capacity to pay back what we destroyed and looted. But the survivors forgave us unconditionally.

We are now a family. My heart is at ease because though I committed evil acts against my neighbours two decades ago, they have accepted my sincere request for forgiveness and, together, we are moving on with life. They are my best friends with whom we share everything.

 

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