Mukakabego’s new lease of life after self-exile

Geraldine Mukakabego, a third born in a family of 10, grew up in a small village in Huye district. She went to Sovu Primary School and Ecole Sociate in Rulindo where she did her Advanced Level education.
Mukakabego lived a life of phantom fear in exile but now relishes home. The New Times/ T. Kisambira.
Mukakabego lived a life of phantom fear in exile but now relishes home. The New Times/ T. Kisambira.

Geraldine Mukakabego, a third born in a family of 10, grew up in a small village in Huye district. She went to Sovu Primary School and Ecole Sociate in Rulindo where she did her Advanced Level education.

“At the age of 11, I started praying for God’s mercy to see me through. Unlike other adolescents, I was a prayerful and quiet girl,” she says.

During her time, once one passed A-Level with distinctions, they would be allowed to teach in secondary schools. That is how she started teaching Literature and English in her former school.

And all seemed rosy until May 23, 1994. For no apparent reason, she saw it better to flee the country than to keep around. She fled to Goma in DR Congo.

“I was told the people who were taking over power had captured the airport and that they were as bad as the previous government. That scared me,” she said.

She lived with family friends in Goma until she got a job in Katare Refugee Camp as a translator for Doctors Sans Frontiers.

 While in Katare, she found out that none of her family members had left the county, so she moved on to south Kivu and was received by sisters of the Catholic Church.

“The sisters stopped me from returning to the camp, saying it was dangerous for me,” she says.

She later proposed to volunteer as a cook and they gladly accepted. After two months, she was taken back to school, “because she was too brilliant to be a cook.”

“All my life I admired lawyers, but my dad had other reasons. He said I was too open to people and that alone would see me in trouble,” she said.

A priest advised her to study History since she was interested in Rwanda’s past.

“In 1998, I graduated from Lubumbashi Katanga with History,” she says smiling. “I later did a three-year course in journalism in 2000.”

Due to the conflict in DR Congo, she left for Zambia in 2002 and for four years she did charity since her academic transcripts had been confiscated in Kinshasa.

She was able to get back her papers in 2006 and started working as a part-time lecturer at the National University of Zambia in the Department of Adult Education and at the same time at Digitech University College as a part-time lecturer, too.

In 2007, she was appointed a full-time lecturer at Cavendish University and St Eugene Indian Catholic University. However, all her life in exile she was restless.

“I always tried to find out what people thought about Rwanda,” she reminisces.

Thanks to visits in Zambia by delegations from Rwanda, she started reading more and research about her motherland. Soon she was urging her fellow nationals in Lusaka to change their attitude

Her research, she says, had helped her learn that much of what they dwelt on to be bitter were hearsay.

“A big part of my life time was dedicated to help and protect refugees because I knew how it felt being one. I cried with them, ate with them, smiled with them and most importantly, I really wanted them to find a place they can call home,” she says, her cheeks running wet with tears.

In February last year, Mukakabego packed her bags and returned to Rwanda.

Her last message is powerful: “At a cost of my head, I say Rwanda is a safe. Rwandans out there who are still thinking about 1994, that’s gone; come home.”

Subscribe to The New Times E-Paper


You want to chat directly with us? Send us a message on WhatsApp at +250 788 310 999    

 

Follow The New Times on Google News