50 Kilometres east of Kigali City lies Ntunga village. It is generally a serene location cuddled by Lake Muhazi on one side and high hills on the other.
The great village is the home of a Rwandan liberation hero, Callixte Rwanamiza. Some 14 year ago, Rwanamiza left his home to join a liberation war that was spearheaded by the Rwandan Patriotic Front/Army (RPF/A).
It was such a great adventure that was characterized by great uncertainties, but the man was strong enough to take it by the horns.
Freedom is never free, but fought for, and some situations like the one Rwanamiza was in, you either adapt or die. Callixte Rwanamiza never died, but brilliantly adapted himself amidst one of the most challenging situations, man has ever met. Today he is a successful farmer and recently met The New Time’s RWEMBEHO STEPHEN and took him through his long journey to join the liberation war.
It was one fine evening when a man by the names of Munyemanzi Alfred came to tell me that a group of Hutu youth was mobilizing to kill all Tutsis in our village.
You know after Habyalimana’s death, we knew that the death of Tutsis was imminent and that was no surprise at all. The government and its agencies had declared it.
I therefore never answered the man, because I could read it in his eyes that he was burning with fear for his life. I sat down and contemplated all sorts of alternatives of survival and came out with one; risking a long journey to join the RPF/RPA liberation struggle.
I knew how difficult it was, but I had to try it. There were certainly millions of mountains to climb before one would reach the RPA soldiers. My determination was nonetheless, to die on my way rather than surrender to the Interahamwe militias.
It was getting a little bit dark when I gathered courage to stand. I looked around all sides and there was abnormal calmness and I could sense danger all around me. I headed for my house, picked a spear and a long knife and managed to mobilize six men whom I knew would be instrumental in the struggle I had decided to go through.
Off we left for the long journey. Our next destination was Rwamagana town. On our way, we met pockets of Interahamwe militias. These re the people we knew well, as neighbours, friends and relatives in one way or another.
I was a no-nonsense strong man in the village, all those who had joined the militias, knew me and no one dared to confront us as we passed one group of militia after the other.
Whenever they saw me leading the group, they feared to attack us. We reached Rwamagana, where we joined hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, who had taken refuge in a missionary school.
Children were crying with strong signs of starvation, women giving birth, etcetera and the whole scenario was miserable. I ignored the whole environment, because thinking about it at this material time was meaningless.
With all the strength, I immediately organized a small meeting of very few strong men and women among the refugees.
I had very few words to tell them and only said that; “we are in a terrible situation today and we are hunted not only by the militias you saw, but also by the government. You must stand strong and use your bare hands and anything you pick, to fight our way towards the RPF/RPA territory. It is said that RPA soldiers have now reached Kiramuruzi”.
They all passively nodded in agreement. Like me, they thought the idea was too good to be true. But I had a superior strength in me, backed by the earlier determination that I had. The strength to die while fighting!
Fortunately the group I was addressing had one man, who had sufficient skills of using a gun because he had served in the army. I gave the ex-soldier an assignment of teaching us, just how to shoot in case we land on any gun.
Though he looked adamant and filled with fear, he accepted the assignment. I had an idea of where we could access some arms. There was a nearby strategic administrative center (called Commune by then) that had a local police post, with guns. I thus proposed them to make Muhazi Commune our next destination.
But before we could finish our meeting, grenades were hurled into the crowd, killing three people instantly and injuring a number of others. People scattered and run for their lives. You know human fear is innate, that is why, even when one knows that death is all around him/her, can still feel frightened when it comes.
Though some people went the wrong direction, the majority headed for Muhazi Commune. On reaching, we immediately disarmed the policemen on guard at the station, broke into armourer and took three guns and bullets. I had never handled a gun before, but the excitement with which I held it, surprised me.
The ex-soldier showed some few of us who managed to pick the guns (they were very few), how to load and shoot a bullet. They were old fashioned guns, which only called for loading a single bullet every time you wanted to shoot. But of course they were far better than using stones.
After two days we started experiencing a wave of attacks from a ‘hybrid’ of militias and government soldiers. They attacked us from the valley but with the use of stones and our three newly acquired guns, we offered a very strong resistance.
We were however, overwhelmed and many of our people were slaughtered, before we used the cover of the night to lead those who had survived to the shores of Lake Muhazi.
We had heard that the RPA soldiers had reached the Communes of Kiramuruzi and Murambi.
Our great challenge was to use the only single boat available to sail people across the river before dawn. Other boats had been destroyed to deny us chance to cross the Lake. People were in thousands and the boat had maximum capacity to carry only a few people.
Everyone, as it is nature of human beings, wanted to be the first to be taken across before the killers arrived. Some people I had entrusted with ‘leadership’ to oversee how people were using the boat, started to mess. They were actually using sentiments to offer their relatives first priority to cross.
It was a big challenge and I understood what it meant to leave your sister behind to die and take a stranger for possible safety.
This is when I intervened and ordered them to pick people from the whole group randomly. But the rate at which the boat was transporting people was too slow to serve our purpose to in time.
This is when I betrayed my people for the first time, in our ‘long journey’. I checked on my watch and saw that it was approaching 04. 30Am. It was getting late for me to leave to the other part of the lake.
I sat down and thought so much about the fate of the people I was going to leave behind. I never got any alternative, but to leave them to die, because I was certain that the killers, who were waiting for the sun to rise, would come hunting them.
But my stay wouldn’t have helped either, as I could only die with them. Tears in my eyes, I violently jumped into the boat and ordered a quick sail cross. I remember it was even about to capsize when I heavily landed in it, but I never cared after all I had left thousands of people behind, who were to be slaughtered in a couple of minutes. All of them were indeed killed later.
From the other side of the river, we moved several kilometres meeting some Interahamwe who couldn’t manage to stop us. We had grown too strong and hostile to be stopped by militias.
We then finally breathed a sigh of relief when we found ourselves in the hands of RPA soldiers. This was the final of our ‘long journey’. From that day, I joined the RPA army and was actively involved in the liberation war that ousted the regime of killers.