Kabakobwa:Picking up the pieces after 1994

KABAKOBWA hill is one of the many places where, during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, thousands of Tutsis fleeing machete-wielding militias flocked with hope that they would get protection and safe haven.  Unfortunately, the places were turned into human butcheries, literally. In just weeks, hundreds of Tutsis, who had gathered at the small hill of Kabakobwa, were killed with the worst cruelty imagined: they were shelled, grenades hurled unto them and those who survived the bullets were later killed with machetes, clubs and other traditional weapons, according to testimonies from survivors.
Masons work at a Genocide memorial centre in Kabakobwa. Thousands of fleeing Tutsis from Ngoma commune and the surrounding districts took refuge in a church on the hill, only for the m....
Masons work at a Genocide memorial centre in Kabakobwa. Thousands of fleeing Tutsis from Ngoma commune and the surrounding districts took refuge in a church on the hill, only for the m....

KABAKOBWA hill is one of the many places where, during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, thousands of Tutsis fleeing machete-wielding militias flocked with hope that they would get protection and safe haven.

Unfortunately, the places were turned into human butcheries, literally.

In just weeks, hundreds of Tutsis, who had gathered at the small hill of Kabakobwa, were killed with the worst cruelty imagined: they were shelled, grenades hurled unto them and those who survived the bullets were later killed with machetes, clubs and other traditional weapons, according to testimonies from survivors.

Today, the exact number of those who perished at Kabakobwa remains unknown.

However, testimonies show that thousands of Tutsis had thronged the small hill, located in Huye’s rural Mukura sector and overlooking Kibilizi sector, in the neighbouring Gisagara district. Almost all who took refuge here were massacred, according to sources. Estimates put the number of the dead to ‘over 60,000’.

“Today, only about 200 [of the thousands who had gathered at Kabakobwa hill] are known to have survived,” Bernard Ndayisaba, 28, a survivor, says, closing his eyes and looking down the earth as he struggles to control tears that are wetting his cheeks.

Hope ignited


In April 1994, Ndayisaba was about ten years old. He was too young to understand what was going on, he says, though he witnessed the horrendous atrocities at Kabakobwa where he had sought refuge with his family.

Today, he still has fresh memory of details of what happened there.

Nineteen years down the road, Ndayisaba is a grown-up and mature man. Yet, he still struggles with the consequences of the Genocide.

Nonetheless, that did not deter him from moving forward to building a better life for himself, his few remaining relatives, the community he lives in and the country in general.

Currently, the 28-year-old is completing his Sociology degree at the National University of Rwanda and, at the same time, serves as a teacher at a local secondary school, an occupation, he says, helps him to support his elderly mother with whom he still lives.

“I am still young and I hope there are unlimited opportunities ahead”, Ndayisaba optimistically says.

“Every morning, I thank God for having given me another day to live. When I look back from where we came and where we are today, I smile because I realise that the future reserves the best things. It is promising,” the graduate-to-be student says, with optimism expressed in his look.

Anne Marie Mukarusine, 53, another survivor, said tackling the consequences of the Genocide is a challenging task but added: “We are trying our best to move on”.

“I am trying to exploit available opportunities to make sure that my life moves on. And, I use my efforts to try and better it”, the old woman says.

Responsibility


In the first two weeks of the massacre, hundreds of Tutsis had assembled in various parts of the former Butare Prefecture.

Those who gathered at Kabakobwa hill had for many occasions tried to move through Gisagara and continue to the neighboring Burundi, but local authorities prevented them from continuing the journey, according to survivors’ testimonies.

As the group kept growing, they were surrounded by armed communal police, gendarmes (the equivalent of Police) and Interahamwe militias. And, on April 22, an attack was launched on them.

At first, the gendarmes shelled Kabakobwa with bullets, grenades and bombs—which left several among them refugees dead. Militias wielding traditional weapons, mainly machetes and clubs, then followed to finish off those who were still alive.

“I remember a man who was standing near me, being hit by a bullet when the firing started. He looked to be in his late 20s and wore a green T-shirt,” Ndayisaba vividly recalls. “At Kabakobwa, I witnessed all kinds of death and atrocities.”

Nineteen years after the killings, a Genocide memorial is under construction at the infamous hill and is expected to be complete in weeks to come.

For Ndayisaba, who was a young boy when the Genocide occurred, the memorial serves as a testimony of what happened there and at the same time honours the memories of the victims of Kabakobwa.

“We have waited for it for so long.  At least, those who were killed here will now get a decent burial,” Ndayisaba says.

But for the survivors, another task still needs to be handled: keeping records of the sad events for future generations.

“I have a desire to write about what I witnessed at Kabakobwa. I also want to make a short documentary about it,” he says.

“Though I still lack resources to do it, I am sure that one day I will do it. It is a task I feel I have to complete: telling others what happened here. I owe it to those who died on this hill,” says a determined Ndayisaba, who now lives just a few kilometres from the massacre site.

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