A friend or a killer: Gacaca raises doubts

You cannot fully understand the evil of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda until you realize that a friend of yours today was a gross killer of yesterday.

You cannot fully understand the evil of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda until you realize that a friend of yours today was a gross killer of yesterday.

I was thunderstruck when I discovered that a close friend of mine participated in the Genocide. He was charged with human rights offences against children and women in his village.

This is someone I had lived with for 14 years. He built my home, advised me on rather important domestic issues, helped in different ceremonies including marriage, and so on. He was someone I could rely on.

He used to tell me how he could not stand people filled with hatred against each other, and particularly condemned the 1994 Tutsi Genocide. Only one thing really bothered me about him. He often boasted that he was a Tutsi.

This to me did not make any difference and I always showed lack of interest when he discussed such things. He however failed to understand my discomfort, or ignored it, and continued talking about it.

This made me sceptical about him, but overall, I gave him a benefit of doubt and counted him as a great friend. Then one cold drizzling Thursday morning, the president of Gacaca in our village rang me and asked if I knew the whereabouts of my friend.

I was very curious, but the judge could not tell me why he was looking for him. He sounded like he urgently needed the man. I was worried.

I had to go the village to find out for myself and find out what was going on. My friend was taking care of my house in my absence. I braved the bad weather and went home.

When I reached my house I found no sign of anyone. It was completely deserted. I went to the scene of Gacaca court proceedings. My friend was tried in absentia and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

What surprised me most was not his trial in absentia but the gross atrocities my former great friend, a self-proclaimed “peace lover”, had supposedly committed.

They said he had gone around armed with a machete, his pockets full of grenades. He had mostly killed children and women because he had been young at the time. I was shocked, speechless.

How could it be possible? I had never hit a goat, and was discovering that I had shared food and a house with a baby slaughterer, a person who used to open the wombs of pregnant mothers. 

I hated myself and everything around me as though I had had a hand in what this killer, my friend, had done. I went back to my house, hired a new watchman, then left.

Friend or foe?

I called it quits with my long-time friend from that time on. To my dismay, I later saw him in a neighbouring country of Rwanda on the street in a busy city.

He did not see me when I called his name. He jumped in fear and was almost running away when I assured him that I was not pursuing him.

He hugged me. We spoke for an hour and he explained why he had run away. He said that “peasants heaped lies against me out of malice and hatred. I committed no crime at all.”

I said goodbye to him and told him that if he really did what I had from the Gacaca, then he was not fit to live above the ground.

Healing through Gacaca

It is from this moment that I started asking myself the why’s and how’s of the Genocide. I am still not able to find an answer. This has compelled me to visit different Gacaca proceedings.

Recently, I saw a prisoner brought to justice. He was charged with having been in charge of all killings in a certain district. All plans that led to torture, maiming and killing of Tutsis were under his command.

He majestically walked to the front and shook his heavy body (he looked to be about 120kg) in preparation for his speech. He started by saying, “Let me take this opportunity to introduce myself, for those who do not know me but have heard of me.

I am the rich and notorious killer you have been hearing of. The first (richness) is true but the second (killer) is just a lie based on malice. During the Genocide, I carried a gun and was escorted by a policeman because I was hiding so many Tutsis in my house...”

Drama however, ensued in when a former member of parliament, a teacher, was mentioned among people whose homes where looted by the accused.

The accused man laughed it off sarcastically and said, “I am surprised that a teacher shamelessly stands on his two legs to claim that I looted him. What could I loot from a poor teacher? If I wanted to loot I would have looted rich men. What does a teacher have? Pieces of chalk! Let us be realistic.”

Later on the teacher and former MP stood up with a vivid hungry face and said, “it is disturbing and disgusting to answer the questions of an arrogant killer. However, for the sake of reconciliation I will cooperate. May ask a question before I proceed?

Can a corporal who uses his gun to kill his people and a teacher who uses his chalk to teach them be compared? But since this question I am asking involves morals, then I am asking the wrong person, and do not need an answer…”

The audience was silent in awe. The tension boiled. Some people’s eyes filled with tears when an old woman stood to testify against the accused.

She said, “This man killed my husband and ordered the death of other Tutsis. He stood supervising death. I am shaking with all my body because of the beatings he ordered on me. You are a devil.”

Her testimony touched the whole audience. The others on trial kept quiet for some time even after she had finished testifying. They could not talk to each other, nor to the accused.

The accused himself sweated and stood stiffly before the woman he wronged. Researchers’ and journalists’ pens froze in their hands. They could not write anything.

The Genocide in Rwanda was hell. There is no doubt that the perpetrators and implementers of the Genocide will find themselves in hell should such a thing exist.

However, I feel the Gacaca courts should no be forced to hasten their closure, but be given more time to complete their work.

People need more to bring their hearts back to their normal positions, at peace. Ending Gacaca prematurely, for whatever reason, is not advisable.


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