Twenty years ago, a group of young men and women paid the ultimate price for rejecting the divisive politics that were inculcated among Rwandans for many years by the colonialists.
This was to later be a major tool in the Genocide against the Tutsi.
On March 18, 1997, around 8pm, at St Joseph’s boarding secondary school in Nyange, Western Rwanda, students had just finished their evening meal, and as usual, had returned to their respective classrooms to revise their notes.
The students were older than normal for secondary school. The youngest was eighteen years old. This is because conflict had disrupted their education, just like their peers across the country.
Some had joined the school from refugee camps, others had had their own local schools destroyed, or had missed their schooling because of institutionalised ethnic discrimination which had existed everywhere, including schools.
In 1997, the then Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) was still battling the genocidal forces which, thanks to the support of the French government, had set up bases in what was then Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, from where they launched attacks against Rwanda, generally aiming at civilian targets.
These infiltrators belonged to an outfit that at the time was called ALIR (Armee pour la Liberation du Rwanda), composed of former members of the Interahamwe militia and the vanquished Juvenal Habyarimana’s Armed Forces (Ex-FAR).
It is the same that later metamorphosed into the so-called Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which remains a marauding ragtag outfit in the DR Congo.
Just like the FDLR, ALIR was not only armed with guns, bullets and grenades. It still primed with a divisive ideology which they still carry with hope to complete evil agenda that they were not let to accomplish 23 years ago.
Large parts of the country, including the West and North-western regions were particularly vulnerable to these attacks.
Back to the school, on that day, a group of heavily armed men, some carrying heavy machine guns, entered the school’s compund, firing indiscriminately.
The skeleton staff at that time of the evening, took cover as did the students who lay or crouched under their desks.
But, as they waited, hopefully for the danger to pass, one of the armed militia stormed into one of the classrooms, his colleague manning the exit door. The man in the classroom demanded that the Batutsi go to the right and Bahutu to the left.
After three short years of learning their recent history of Genocide, the students no longer felt divided along ethnic lines. One of them, Marie Chantal Mujawamahoro, to the fury of the attacker standing in front of their classroom, stood up and said, “We are all Rwandans.”
With the words, “you will learn who we are”, the attacker instantly shot her, and she fell, never to rise again. Closing the door of the classroom behind him, the attack joined his colleagues who had surrounded the classroom.
He then tossed a hand grenade into the classroom. This was followed by successive gun fire through the windows, from around the classroom. By the time they stopped, at least six of Mujawamahoro’s class mates lay dead, alongside her lifeless body. Many more were injured.
Many were maimed to an extent that, 20 years on, some have missing limbs. But one thing stands out:
These young boys and girls in their late teens and early twenties stood the ground and disobeyed the order telling the band of killers that “Turi Abanyarwanda/We are Rwandans.”
It is, therefore, necessary to pay homage to these young Rwandans, whom – both living and dead – have befittingly been decorated as national heroes, under the category of Imena.
The author is a Rwandan researcher. He specialises in genocide ideology and genocide denial.