Kwibuka26: The Mwulire massacres in the eyes of Genocide survivor Uwambaye

Mwulire Genocide memorial in Rwamagana District. Courtesy

Mwulire Sector in Rwamagana District is one of the areas where hundreds of the Tutsi fleeing from killers in places such as the former Bicumbi Commune initially sought refuge, in April, 26 years ago. 

They did not know that it would be a major killing site where many would perish at the height of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

 

At the time, the Tutsi were being hunted and killed in many areas of Bicumbi, as well as other areas of Rwamagana and beyond.

 

From April 8 to 18, armed with traditional weapons and survival instincts, the Tutsi who lived in Mwulire and hundreds others who had taken refuge put up a brave fight against the government backed militia, Interahamwe, and troops.

 

On April 18, however, they were outnumbered and overpowered.

On that day, the Interahamwe were reinforced by the then presidential guard brigade and other government troops.

The Tutsi threw everything they could find at the killers. But by noon, they had been defeated.

Very many were killed. Those who survived the onslaught that day fled to different places including Gishari, Nkamba and Ruramira in present day Kayonza.

One of the living survivors, Drocelle Uwambaye, now 40, lives to tell a heart wrenching story.

Today, the mother of three is a happy mother, wife and nursery school teacher living with her husband and children in Kigali.

Drocelle Uwambaye. / Courtesy photo

Sharing with The New Times her vivid memories of sad events over two decades ago, she said that her parents, Isaïe Torero and Astérie Nyirabakora (RIP), had a big family, 11 children.

Four siblings and her mother were killed during the Genocide.

Born in Mwulire, Uwambaye was 14 years old at the peak of the Genocide. 

Due to some key events 26 years ago, she vividly recalls dates and most of what transpired.

April 7, 1994

The evening of April 7, remains etched in her memory. It is a time when, suddenly, sporadic gunfire was heard all around her home area. There was so much chaos and terror.

"We saw homes on a hill next to ours, in Bicumbi Sector, burning. The Tutsi over there fled and took refuge at our Sector in Mwulire."

April 8, 1994

Very early, on the next day, her family along with many others was on the move. They all headed to a big nuns' compound in Rwamagana, for safety. But they were not lucky.

April 12, 1994

On April 12, they were chased away by the manager, a woman known as Sister Godelieve-Marie, a hospital nurse of the Benebikira congregation. Sources say this could have been former president Habyarimana's sister, Joséphine Barushwanubusa.

"We returned to Mwulire and found very many Tutsi camped there. The old or able bodied immediately formed a self-defence group. Children were given the task of gathering stones which they would use in fighting interahamwe and soldiers."

Their community's formerly calm locality changed into a war zone. Everyone within the besieged Tutsi community woke unusually early. The children gathered piles of stones. Stronger young and older men engaged in traditional warrior rehearsals. Everyone, young and old, was briefed on what role they would play once they were attacked.

"At around 8am, the battle would begin. Interahamwe, the communal police and soldiers, from the former Communes of Bicumbi, Rutonde, Muhazi and Gikoro attacked us."

"But we repulsed them and not so few of them actually died. The men in our community, led by one called Gido, used traditional bows and arrows, spears, as weapons. Women and girls used stones which were supplied by all young children."

April 16, 1994

One April 16, Uwambaye recalls, a senior communal police officer of  Bicumbi Commune called Celestin Munyakayanza who led the attackers was killed and his gun taken.

"This is when the interahamwe started spreading rumours saying that there were Inkotanyi soldiers in our community who had come to assist the Tutsi who took refuge in Mwulire.

"During all those days, helicopters hovered all around our locations."

April 18, 1994

Records obtained by The New Times indicate that more than 15,000 Tutsi from Mwulire and the environs were gathered on Gisanza hill and killed on this day.

On this day, Uwambaye said, they were attacked by a bigger force comprising interahamwe, regular soldiers and members of president Habyarimana's republican guard.

"We fought them very hard and, again, many of them died. We captured and burnt their vehicle.  Around 2pm in the afternoon they were defeated and left but about one hour, later, they returned with heavy weapons including guns mounted on military vehicles where they were fired from."

"I remember walking up a hill when delivering stones to two big girls, Kirabirwa and Sumwiza, only to find myself in the midst of a spray of bullets from a big gun which was rotating as it sprayed fire. I couldn't see the girls so I threw away the stones, turned and ran."

As she ran, Uwambaye "kept jumping over dead bodies" of her community's casualties during that battle.

When she reached her camp she was horrified to see soldiers throwing grenades while the interahamwe were killing people using machetes.

"There were so many cries of agony. There were many very young children walking around, separated from mothers. And the interahamwe used big stones to kill them."

In all that mayhem, Uwambaye and other Tutsi kids scattered to "avoid being caught and killed in one group." Everywhere she ran, she jumped over dead bodies.

That evening the seniors among them reorganized and "it was decided that we find a way to reach" the advancing RPA. The Tutsi by then knew the RPA rebels were already near, in Kayonza District.

Her group then took off towards the direction of Sovu, formerly Rutonde Commune. In Sovu, their lengthy line was pelted by grenades.

"Those behind turned back and returned to Mwulire while those in front marched on. I was with the group that continued. It was a pitch dark night. It was difficult to find our way and whenever we reached crossroads some went left, others right and others elsewhere."

It was when they got to a hill she thinks was called Rutonde, and paused to rest for a while, that the teen realised that none of her parents or close relatives was with her.

"I was with people from Mwulire with but I didn't know their names. But we continued a difficult journey through the bush."

Soon after, unfortunately, they found themselves in a government military camp. Soldiers stopped them and asked for their identification.

On realising who they were, some soldiers said "these are the Tutsi from Mwulire" and another actually said that "get permission from the administrator in Gikaya so that we kill them."

In no time, the interahamwe were upon them.

Do not waste ammunition; kill them using machetes

"They told us that our life had come to the end. An elderly woman called a girl called Laurence and told her to give them money so they could spare us. Laurence counted money and the woman also added more and gave it to the soldiers."

After receiving the money, the soldiers commanded them to sit down. A grenade was hurled in their midst, killing some instantly.

"But one of the soldiers stopped his colleagues from throwing grenades, saying 'do not waste ammunition; kill them using machetes.' Then they started on us, chopping people with machetes, and hitting people with wooden clubs fitted with nails, and small hoes."

"There is a man who stood and pleaded, asking them to kill us honourably since we gave them money. They cut off his arm and used it to beat him until he died."

Earlier when soldiers commanded her group to sit, Uwambaye recalls, she had crumbled down due to extreme fatigue. When the killing ensued, dead bodies fell on her. Here, again, she recalls endless cries of agony as people were brutally chopped to death, all around her.

"They would pull dead bodies and throw them in nearby bushes. I was not pulled and I remained there."

April 19, 1994

The next day, she was woken up by a light rain.

The killers had left. She staggered downhill and met few other people who fled from Mwulire.

She recalls Gilbert, the son of a teacher called Gahurura and Gilbert's aunt, Goretti. The latter saw that Uwambaye's body, and what remained of her clothes, were all drenched in blood.

"Goretti took me to the swamp, and helped me wash. We continued walking but I was always behind because I was injured. Goretti was often comforting and urging me on so that I don't get lost behind them."

But soon after, the party ahead walked into a group of interahamwe which killed them using machetes as she watched from a distance.

She hid in the bushes for a while and then turned back.

They were throwing young children into a pit.

Later that evening she again arrived at another massacre scene where children were lined up to be killed.

"They were throwing young children of about four years old and below into a pit. Then they would haul wheelbarrows of stones into that big hole."

When there were about five children remaining in front of her, the killers were interrupted. Another gang of murderers passed by, with stolen cows.

And for the umpteenth time, her life was spared.

"They told the man who was killing us that they were going to slaughter the cows. Then he told us that he was tired and was going to get himself meat to eat."

Uwambaye escaped and arrived in Rwamagana at night. On arriving at an uncle's home there, she found a roadblock manned by killers at the entrance of his home.

"They had kept him so that they would kill him later after he had been destroyed by sheer anguish. I went to the house of his son who had been killed days earlier and I was informed that killers were supposed to come and kill the entire family the next morning."

"I was asked to go to another family in the neighbourhood which had a woman who was not being hunted. I went and spent a night there."

April 20, 1994

Early the next day, the killers were at the home searching for the woman's Tutsi husband.

The woman told them that there was no other Tutsi in her house apart from Uwambaye, who she immediately handed over.

"They took me to a deep pit nicknamed CND. It was full of people. Many with horrible injuries. They beat me and left. Others came with a pregnant woman who they tortured. They beat me too and threw me in, saying 'go and die from anguish'. When they left I got out and sat near the pit."

Late in the night, she recalls hearing big explosions nearby.

"In the morning, Inkotanyi came and took me along with others who had been rescued."

"They took us to the hospital in Gahini. When we recovered, later, we went to live in Kayonza. I thank Inkotanyi for liberating us from the killers."

jkaruhanga@newtimesrwanda.com

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