Mukiga Cell knows Pio Nyandwi on two extremes; someone who was born and raised in the neighbourhood, but also one who was part of a mob that went about killing dozens of families.
Soon after the beginning of the Genocide against the Tutsi in April 1994, Nyandwi joined the local mob of Interahamwe militia in Mukiga Cell, Nyamiya Sector (in the present day Kamonyi District) to execute Tutsi in the area.
Among those that Nyandwi killed include in-laws of his childhood friend, Bonfrida Kankundiye. Nyandwi and Kankundiye are aged 54 and 53, respectively. They were born in the same neighborhood, attended the same primary school only to be separated when Kankundiye got married at the age of 18.
During the Genocide, Nyandwi was one of the “few people” who knew that his friend’s husband was a Tutsi, according to Kankundiye.
Apparently, Kankundiye was born of a Tutsi mother and Hutu father.
“He (Nyandwi) killed over 50 people from my husband’s family, including my husband,” Kankundiye told The New Times during an interview.
She vividly recalls that rainy afternoon when she was walking from her parents’ home—from where she had hidden her two children. She saw Nyandwi and a gang of about 200 young militia when mobbing and pulling her husband to the place he met his death.
At that time, Kankudiye had a three-month daughter, Tamari, and a 2-year-old son.
“I hid in the bush (by the roadside) and a few minutes down from where I was hiding, they started beating up my husband and mutilating him with machetes. I heard him scream, promising them all the cows we had home if they let him go. Unfortunately, they didn’t spare him,” Kankundiye narrates.
After killing him, they took some money he had and clothes before throwing his body in the bush. After a while Kankundiye went to check whether her husband was still breathing, but he was already dead.
“What hurt me most was knowing that someone I grew up with, someone I sat with in school, is the one who had killed my husband. It was tough,” Kankundiye added.
Turning to offsprings
When almost all the Tutsi had been killed in the area, according to Kankundiye, the perpetrators began pursuing Hutu women who had married in Tutsi families.
“The plan was to make sure that no baby linked to Tutsi was left behind. Not even those who were still in the womb. Interahamwe were to out to finish off the Tutsi ethnic group. Fortunately, some of our parents and sensible members of the community intervened and that’s how some of our kids were spared. But we made sure the kids were hidden all the time until after the Genocide,” she narrated.
Nyandwi says that back then it was “imposed hatred” toward the Tutsi, which he claims was caused by the “political propaganda” and the atmosphere that had been created by the Genocidal regime.
“We grew up with Tutsi, we shared food; they would give us milk but when that time (of Genocide) came, everyone hated Tutsi. Of course, it’s because of what our leaders told us,” he said.
“Killing Kankundiye’s husband and the rest of his family was a result of the indoctrination to finish off all Tutsi. We had been told that they were not Rwandans but intruders, snakes, all sorts of bad things. It was an evil wave of hatred that had swept our country at the time really.”
After killing Kankundiye’s husband and in-laws, Nyandwi went on a rampage, together with his gang, to hunt down all the Tutsi in Mukiga Cell. Soon after the Genocide was brought to a halt by the former RPA rebels, Nyandwi, his fellow gang—and of course, the majority Genocide perpetrators and former government soldiers—fled to eastern DR Congo.
Nyandwi found it difficult living in the unbearable Congo forests and decided to return home in 1998.
Upon reaching his home, he instantly became the most loathed “prodigal son”. He was later reported to authorities, arrested, sentenced and jailed at Muhanga Prison.
Four years later, he was set free under a presidential pardon that saw Genocide perpetrators who had confessed their role in the killings and asked for forgiveness released.
Under the presidential directive, those who were pardoned were inmates who didn’t have indictments, elderly inmates as well are those who confessed their crimes and asked for forgiveness.
Enter Gacaca courts
However, when Gacaca courts commenced across the country in 2004, some of the perpetrators who had been set free were later brought back to face justice,in case of new proof that those who confessed their crimes didn’t honestly do so.
Some of the released convicts who didn’t have indictments were pinned by former neighbours who had proof of their involvement in the Genocide.
“During Gacaca courts, I was rearrested and pinned on several crimes, including the killing of Kankundiye’s in-laws. I asked Kankundiye for forgiveness but she refused. I think the wounds were still fresh. I was sent back to prison to serve 26 years,” Nyandwi narrates.
It’s from that second stint in prison that Nyandwi found “correction and rehabilitation.”
“That’s when we learned about reconciliation and honesty. We got to discover really that what we did was wrong and understood that we were all Rwandans,” he added.
After eight years, Nyandwi appealed the court sentence and was temporality released to serve TIG—unpaid public works done by convicts.
During that time, however, Nyandwi would keep on approaching Kankundiye to find a conciliatory ground with little success.
When the cow ‘intervened’
In 2012, Christian Action for Reconciliation and Social Assistance (CARSA), a non-profit organisation founded to contribute to the restoration and development of Rwanda, introduced the cow-for-peace programme as a socio-economic development avenue through which a perpetrator and survivor would share one cow—with hope that they would find consensus through daily meetings to take care of the cow.
Nyandwi and Kankundiye were given a calf and Kankundiye became the first beneficiary, while she was supposed to give him the first offspring.
From that time, Nyandwi would time and again come to Kakundiye’s home to provide for the cow and, through these frequent visits, the two were able to communicate openly and regularly.
“Besides the cow, Carsa also engaged us in various reconciliatory conversations and biblical teachings about forgiving. That cow acted at a tool for the two of us to implement what we were being taught. After a while, I found mercy and forgave him,” Kankundiye says.
Traditionally, a cow is considered as the ultimate present one would give those they cherish. For Kankundiye, to give Nyandwi a cow, a year later signaled a new beginning in their relationship.
“When the cow gave birth, we would share milk and later she gave me the first male calf it had given birth to. I sold it later and bought a cow, which has since given birth and now they are two. We have moved on since, her children are like mine, we visit each other regularly and help each other on various domestic issues whenever we can,” Nyandwi says.
In 2016 alone, CARSA, in partnership with IFA, distributed 100 cows; 50 in Kamonyi District and 50 in Muhanga District.
Kankundiye is survived by three children. Unfortunately, one of her children died after Genocide.