Why genocide survivors need to document their experiences

Eric Irivuzumugabe was 16 years old and living in what is today Mukarange Sector in Kayonza District when the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi started.

Eric Irivuzumugabe was 16 years old and living in what is today Mukarange Sector in Kayonza District when the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi started.

As his family fled in disarray in a desperate attempt to evade the killers who combed villagers for their victims, he separated and lost contact with his parents and three sisters.

As the killings continued, Irivuzumugabe and two brothers traversed bushes, hills and valleys in search of safety until they came across a leafy cypress tree that became their home for 15 days and nights.

They had to defy both malaria-carrying mosquitoes and gravity as they hung unto the tree branches, getting more exhausted by the day.

Occasionally, they would climb down late at night to catch a few hours sleep, before climbing back again to their leafy sanctuary. They survived mainly on rainwater and, ever so often, would sneak into a nearby garden and dig up and eat raw cassava. Unfortunately the tubers gave them terrible stomachache and they gave them up.

Several times the murderous gangs would get close to the tree but thanks to the tree’s foliage, the Interahamwe were not able to detect their presence.

The three brothers held on until the Rwanda Patriotic Army liberated the area. By the time that happened they were weak and heavily emaciated. They never heard from their parents and sisters again.

Irivuzumugabe, now 38, is not only married with two children, but is also a self-sponsored college graduate, who has also helped his two siblings achieve similar educational goals.

This story is the abridged version of Irivuzumugabe’s genocide memoir ‘My Father, Maker of the Trees’. The 215-page book chronicles not only how he survived the Genocide, but also how he managed to put together the broken pieces of his life and move on.

The author says that writing the book not only preserved his account of the Genocide but is also making a global impact; the book is still making considerable sales in the U.S two years after it was first published.

Irivuzumugabe says that writing did not only give him an opportunity to share his account, but also helped him deal with the trauma he faced. The writer, who lost over 70 relatives both sides of his family, believes that documenting the experience is the best way to pay tribute to the departed.

As Rwandans we need to see more genocide survivors emulate Irivuzumugabe’s gesture and start documenting their accounts. It doesn’t have to be through writing a book; it can also be in the form of poetry, art, songs, documentaries and the archiving of photos of slain loved ones. This way the future generation will have chance to learn about the human catastrophe, so it can avoid similar mistakes.

I’m also be confident that with documentation there will be little chance for the kind of revision and distortion of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi that we saw in the BBC documentary, ‘Rwanda: The Untold Story’.

Also, with ample recorded testimonies from victims, perhaps countries that had a major role in the Genocide, like France, will finally take ownership.

I believe that with every genocide story filed, perhaps the world will eventually be forced to bring suspected genocide perpetrators who are still at large such as Eugène Rwamucyo, Sosthène Munyemana, and Father Gabriel Maindron, a French priest, among others, to book, since there will be irresistible evidence against them.