Every artist needs inspiration for their new artwork; it can be love, hate, ambiguity or even a certain situation they encountered.
For Yolande Mukagasana, an author, historian and a researcher of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, her inspiration came from the scars resulting from her horrific experience during the Genocide against the Tutsi.
Mukagasana was born in 1954, in Huye District in Southern Province. She first witnessed the atrocities and killings committed against the Tutsi as a young child.
She grew up with insecurity, having had no rights like other normal children because of her ethnicity. It was difficult for her to study, as it was to her siblings and other Tutsi children. Her sisters were married to Hutu husbands and some of her relatives are Hutu.
“I remember my young brother was very bright, he was always the first in his class from primary one to primary six but he was not allowed to continue secondary education because we were Tutsi,” she said.
She recalls, that at the time, there were no private schools, no hope for the future, and things became worse as she grew up. Her father, however, continued to motivate them into embracing a culture of reading.
“I remember our father telling us that undervaluing someone’s book is like trampling the brain of a wise person,” she says.
Mukagasana wrote her first manuscript when she was 18. The manuscript sought responses to the many questions that she carried in her heart, on how they were mistreated by their neighbours and authorities because they were Tutsi.
“When I was 16, my eyes opened and I started to see all the problems that we had in the country, what I witnessed in 1959, how our neighbours mistreated us, calling us Tutsi while denigrating us and it was difficult for me to understand,” she narrates.
Her first book was titled ‘What separates us may be what links us.’ Unfortunately, when her father read the book, he immediately tore it because he believed that it would lead to the death to the entire family.
“I was sad and wondered why a person who taught me the importance of books could be the first to discourage me. But now I can understand him, he was protecting us,” she says.
‘I will say it if I survive’
When the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi began, Mukagasana was a mother with a family.
Sadly, she lost all her children, husband and family members. In her pocket, she says, she kept a paper on which she used to write what she saw and heard.
“I didn’t know that I would survive. My children, husband and my whole family were killed. I used to write the dates on which every member of my family was killed, under the title ‘I will say it, if I survive,” she reveals.
One day, a woman who gave her refuge in her house saw the piece of the paper and took it from her so that no one would see it and kill them both.
“I often wondered why I was surviving alone; it was like I was being so selfish to stay alive while all my loved ones were getting killed. Writing helped me to mourn my family,” she says.
Mukagasana as an author
Mukagasana’s first book, La mort ne veut pas de moi (Death Does not Want Me) was released in 1997. In the book, she narrates the sad history of how her whole family was killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and how her brother had predicted it.
The other famous book she wrote, N’aies peur de savoir (Don’t be afraid to know), narrates more about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and denounces the role of superpowers and the international community in the Genocide.
“I couldn’t find the right words to say what I lived and saw, I thought the only thing that could understand me was the writing pad because it couldn’t judge me. It was quite hard to find someone to converse with, as most of the people had fresh wounds in one way or another,” she said.
So far, Mukagasana has published five books about the Genocide and other various works like theater plays and poems, which she says is a way of healing her wounds.
“I don’t think I’m an author. Every day I write because of the state of emotions I’m in. For example, when I feel sad, I write, when I feel happy I write, when there are some issues which are bothering me, I also write,” she says.
Message to the youth
Mukagasana says today’s youth ought to use the available opportunities to create something good that they will leave for their children.
For her, writing is like making records for the family and the nation and it worries her, how the youth are not putting much effort into it.
“How come we have experts talking about Rwanda from western countries? They are not even Africans…today, many revisionists are westerners who most of the time try to hide the truth and invent lies about Rwanda while Rwandans who actually witnessed the truth are silent,” she says.
“For instance,” she adds, Philip Rentjens, a Belgian professor known for supporting genocidaries, participated in writing the constitution which divided Rwandans instead of bringing harmony and peace to all Rwandans. I feel ashamed when I see that he’s referred to as a specialist on Rwanda.”
Mukagasana believes that writing and reading is not destined for a certain group of people because all are mentally equal.
“Our youth are capable. Normally, when a person is discouraged from his tender age, they grow up thinking that they truly can’t. It’s the same technique the colonialisers used in Africa. They told us that we are fools, we can’t do anything and sadly we accepted it.”
She urges the youth to embrace the culture of reading the history of their country, as well as writing to keep records which will be useful in the future.