Well-done Rwandans! You made Africa proud this week, hosting the World Economic Forum with flawless proficiency. As Kigali played good host to thousands of delegates, in neigbouring Uganda, authorities there shutdown social media citing security concerns as President Museveni got sworn-in on Thursday, for his sixth term in office.
Shortly before the shutdown, however, one young lady had used Facebook to reunite Saverio Rukasi a 92-year old Rwandan in Masindi district, mid-western Uganda, with his long lost family, 57 years after being displaced by the 1959 pogroms.
Miriam Kanti is the luminary whose family initially took-in a then younger Rukasi, as a house-help, but after decades of dedicated service, the Rwandan refugee literally became part of the family whom Miriam and her siblings grew up knowing as a grandfather.
In a long Facebook post on April 27, Miriam narrated the story of Saverio Rukasi who was reportedly born in 1924, in Rususa village, Cyanika mission, Kakongoro Parish, Butare district.
Rukasi’s father, Rwarinda and mother, Nyirabarame were both never baptized so they didn’t have Christian names.
Mzee Rukasi had two brothers, Ruvuzandi Kwete and Rwandekwe and a sister, Nyanzaagi. Upon the outbreak of the 1959 massacres against the Tutsi, the family was displaced; he believes his two brothers to have ended up in Burundi while the sister, got married to a soldier.
Rukasi had been briefly married to Cecilia Kankindi who had a brother named Federico Nyakabwa; but the pogrom started three months later and Cecilia decided to return to her family.
King Kigeli V Ndahindurwa, in an effort to save the persecuted Tutsi, advised them to flee, mainly to the Congo, in the Kivu area where many, including Mzee Rukasi lived in camps and worked on tea plantations.
After five years in the Kivu, the Tutsi refugees were kicked out. Thousands of them, including Mzee Rukasi fled to Uganda where camps were set-up for them in Kinyara and Kigumba villages in Masindi district.
During the hustle and bustle to skedaddle, Rukasi, under unclear circumstances, was handed a seven-year old child named Alfunsi Kambanda, who was of Hutu ethnicity and was being raised by a frail grandmother called Teresa who could not afford to flee.
The child became Rukasi’s responsibility until adulthood. The camps in Masindi were crowded and poor hygiene led to outbreak of epidemics that killed hundreds of the refugees; many fled into the neigbouring villages to seek menial jobs on which to survive.
Rukasi, Kambanda and a friend named Biraro escaped and started working as laborers in areas of Masindi and Kigumba. In 1969 the camps were relocated to Kyangwali, in Hoima district but the trio remained behind, in Masindi.
Around 1976 Rukasi started working as a house-help for a young couple called the Kanti family that at the time had 2 children. The young couple was Miriam’s parents who are descendants of Ugandan-Asians.
In 1979 war broke out in Uganda. Rukasi escaped bullets fired at him by President Idi Amin’s soldiers. The Kanti family fled with Rukasi to their farm in Kisuga, a village along Masindi port road; Rukasi worked as farm-hand and operated the family maize mill.
The Kanti family went on to have five more children. Rukasi raised them as his own grand Children. At this point he had become part of the family. With his light skin complexion, Rukasi blended well with the half-caste Kanti family.
In 1983, Kisuga became insecure. The NRA bush war was raging. The Kanti family was compelled to sell the farm and moved back to town with Rukasi by their side. To date, Rukasi has been living with the Kanti family since they met in 1979.
The 92-year old Rukasi now lives in Kijuungu, a suburb of Masindi Municipality, as an honorary grand and great grandfather in the Kanti family.
But before his remarkably adventurous life comes to an end, Miriam Kanti, his adoring grand-daughter, in a hopeful Facebook post, sought to re-unite Mzee Rukasi with his living family members.
The old man’s memory is ironically still young and fresh. He remembers former camp-mates; Tesfoli Rujyenza, Modesto Ruzindana, Paskali Kasabarwa and Mangwa Matyansi, among others. Miriam’s post was shared and re-shared among the Rwandan community on Facebook.
On May 11, shortly before Ugandan authorities’ shutdown of social media, Miriam posted an update: “I am happy to inform you that by the grace of God and many Rwandans especially Ann Anne Abakunzi, we have managed to find my grandpa’s blood brother and the sister.
Both relatives returned to Rwanda where they currently live.”
Thanks to the internet powered social media, Mzee Rukasi shall be re-united with his blood family. As for Miriam, she has given her grandpa perhaps the best news of his long life. Cheers!!