WHEN HE MOVED onto the stage, everyone expected him to narrate how he hacked several Tutsis to death during the 1994 Genocide and plead for mercy for his evil acts.
But he preferred to talk about how his acts during the Genocide haunted him, compelling him to attempt suicide on several occasions.
Dominique Mukeshimana, 41, a resident of Nsanga cell in Rugendabari Sector, Muhanga District in the Southern Province was a young, energetic man at the time of the Genocide, and like many among his peers at the time, he participated in the killings without analysing the implications at personal and community level.
So when he was asked to join other extremist Hutus in the hunt and murder of Tutsis, he did not hesitate. He thought he was contributing to ‘building a safe country’, he said.
Indeed, Mukeshimana was part of a generation of youths who had for long been indoctrinated with the hate ideology and considered Tutsis as enemies who should be exterminated.
“While growing up, our parents taught us to hate some of our neighbours and fellow countrymen,” Mukeshimana narrated.
“We were always told that Tutsis were bad people. When the killings erupted, some of the then leaders spread messages that the enemy is the Tutsis. That, coupled with the bad lessons from our parents, pushed me into the killings,” he added.
Mukeshimana says during the Genocide, he took part in several attacks on Tutsis, though he maintains he personally never killed anyone.
His task, he told The New Times, was to man road-blocks, identify or hunt down Tutsis and then hand them over to the killers for execution.
Mukeshimana says he was particularly active in the hills of Ndiza in the former Gitarama prefecture where he helped hunt down Tutsis.
“I did not kill any Tutsis with my hands. My only crime was handing them over to the killers,” he says.
He particularly remembers one Clarisse Mukamana, a Tutsi girl he knew well. He found her hidden in a bush and handed her over to the killers, who executed her on the spot.
“I thought I was helping the country get rid of its enemies, but I was wrong,” he says.
Four years in a trench
After the Genocide, Mukeshimana knew his acts would land him in jail since efforts to track down the killers and their accomplices were gaining momentum by the day.
He, therefore, decided to hide in a trench so as to evade justice. That was during the last months of 1994.
Mukeshimana found shelter in an old abandoned mine and remained there for four years.
“I lived like a wild animal. I ate uncooked cassava, sweet potatoes or banana stalks that I stole from people’s fields at night,” he recalled.
He didn’t wash, change clothes, shave or have his hair cut. Sometimes he could ‘see’ the faces of the Tutsis he hunted down in nightmares.
“My hair grew and fell on my back. I looked like an animal,” he recalls, noting that no one knew where he was hiding, including his mother.
Eleven suicide attempts
As days went by, the situation became unbearable for Mukeshimana who then decided to put an end to his suffering. He first attempted to drown himself in the Nyabarongo River.
“I took off my jacket but when I dived into the river, I swum and returned to the shores,” he says.
On another occasion, he says he climbed a high-voltage power tower with hope that he will be electrocuted.
“When I reached the top, I realised there was power failure that day,” he said.
He then decided to climb down and hand himself over to the authorities. That was 1998.
“I thought I was going to be killed but it was not the case,” Mukeshimana said.
In the weeks that followed, Mukeshimana approached survivors and sought forgiveness, which he was granted.
In the early 2000s when the community-based Gacaca courts started to try Genocide suspects, Mukeshimana was among the key witnesses who publicly spoke and identified fellow perpetrators, including those who were still living within the community.
As a result of his confession and testimony, Mukeshimana was given a lenient sentence of seven years in jail. He spent part of it in jail and spent the other half doing Works for General Interests (TIG).
“Today life is better and I can sit on the same table with those I offended,” Mukeshimana says, adding that some of them are even godparents of his children.