Eric Nsengiyumva has been looking for his family for years. They were separated at the Rwanda-DRC border in 1997.
Nsengiyumva posted images on his WhatsApp status of when he was a toddler—aged around two. Other photos showed him grown up, and another photo of him today. There was also a phone number through which he could be contacted.
Last month, he launched a social media campaign which was supported by local media, and he found them—or at least he thought he had.
The social media posts accompanied by the photos said he was looking for his parents. They said that he had been picked by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Goma near the Rwandan border.
As his launch went viral, he caught the attention of Anastase Bagirayabo and his wife Yozefa Nyiraneza living in Gashikiri Village in Huye District, Southern Province.
On learning where the humanitarian organisation found him, they were sure that is the area they last saw him. And so they arranged for a meeting.
“They sent me transport to visit them after many calls from members of the family who had the number I shared,” the now 24-year-old Nsengiyumva says.
Naturally, relatives and friends flocked Bagirayabo’s home to welcome his ‘lost son’.
“It was happiness only. We hadn’t seen our son in over 20 years,” Nyiraneza says.
So happy his mother was that she made him sit on her lap in the presence of all the people around—drinks and nyama choma (roasted meat) flowed steadily.
Nsengiyumva, who currently works as a housekeeper in Kimihurura, a Kigali suburb, was then later visited by his ‘new family’ in Kigali.
It is here that the family paid for a DNA test on April 12 at Rwanda Forensic Laboratory for roughly Rwf300, 000.
“To us, the DNA test was just so he would be settled knowing for sure that we’re his parents,” says Bagirayabo.
But the results were not what they expected— there was no biological connection between them.
“The results came out. Doctors told us we were not his parents. Neither me nor my wife,” Bagirayabo recalls cheerlessly.
In a weird twist, the family insists that Nsengiyumva is their son—for many reasons—his name, the place he was found, his age, and the uncanny resemblance to some family members, closest being his supposed twin brother.
A two year old Nsengiyumva after he was found by ICRC.
Nsengiyumva’s story is unclear to say the least. He was separated from his parents around the age of two at the Goma-Gisenyi border. He was being carried on his paternal aunt’s back, identified as Josefa Nyiramugirente, as they walked with many other Rwandans returning to the country after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
According to the family, the aunt must have taken a different route, as the family couldn’t find them after crossing over. ICRC said they found him on the streets of Goma.
“We were a large group and he was on his paternal aunt’s back,” Bagirayabo says.
That is the last they saw of them. Until this year when they met Nsengiyumva.
The day he was picked, he said his name was ‘Eric’ as that is the name he responded to.
The aid agency maintained the name ‘Eric’ but gave him ‘Nsengiyumva’ as his surname.
He was identified as a Rwandan because he spoke Kinyarwanda.
Bagirayabo and his wife Nyiraneza say that they had named him Eric Nizeyimana but only addressed him as Eric at home.
“He knew he was called Eric; his twin is Patrick Nsengimana,” his supposed parents say.
A neighbour of the family, Jean Damascene Mbonabucya, says that they did in fact have a son called Eric who disappeared, and the supposed parents say that they can verify the name from his baptism card at Rugango Catholic Parish.
It is unclear how he ended up abandoned, or where the aunt is to date.
ICRC noted that Nsengiyumva was picked around the age of two which Bagirayabo and Nyiraneza say is accurate.
The family insists that the photo of Nsengiyumva taken by ICRC is exactly what he looked like at the time.
“When we saw a photo of him that was taken when he was found, we realised he was our Eric—the one we lost but have now found,” Bagirayabo says emotionally.
‘He is our son’
“How is it really possible that Eric is not my son?,” Bagirayabo said in an interview. “He looks exactly like me and his twin Patrick. Despite being a poor man, I tried my best to find the money to pay the laboratory for the DNA test and that is the result they gave me?”
A disappointed Bagirayabo said in the same interview that if he had more money, he would seek a DNA test outside Rwanda.
“We would like to go back to the laboratory and try again. Perhaps this time it will give us the right results.”
“I developed a very strong bond with my parents the moment I met them. There is this feeling I cannot explain that I have about them, and which can only be with a biological parent,” Nsengiyumva said in a previous interview. “I don’t think those machines are right.”
“I don’t know anything, apart from what ICRC told me. But according to their explanation, it is possible I am their son. I have never heard such a fitting story, even though the DNA test says something else,” Nsengiyumva says.
As it is now, Nsengiyumva may have to continue the search.