Do not applaude the arrest of the queen’s killer

In a modest brick house with a reed enclosure in the city of Butare, southern Rwanda, she lived with her centenarian mother, some young women and girls who kept them company and helped them with chores.  A devout Catholic, she spent her days in prayer, reciting the Rosary.
Ildephonse Nizeyimana
Ildephonse Nizeyimana

In a modest brick house with a reed enclosure in the city of Butare, southern Rwanda, she lived with her centenarian mother, some young women and girls who kept them company and helped them with chores.  A devout Catholic, she spent her days in prayer, reciting the Rosary.

She was revered by all who addressed her with courtesy. Her grey hair and fragility added to her regal status to form an aura of mystery.

She had been a widow for 35 years but all knew her as the Queen, the widow to Umwami Mutara Rudahigwa III.

Even at the height of Hutu madness of 1959-1962 she survived unscathed as rabid bands of bloodthirsty killers pillaged, burned houses and killed ethnic Tutsi men, women and children. During the second pogroms of 1973 against the Tutsi, particularly in Butare, she survived even though her modest home was a stone’s throw from the National University where Tutsi intellectuals were hunted down and murdered and where the killings were most intense and the nearby military school. She was Rosalie Gicandi who was more than eighty years in 1994.

On 20th April, 1994, Capt. Ildephonse Nizeyimana, the second in Command of (Military) School for Junior Officer (Ecole des Sous-Officiers [ESO]) a couple of hundred meters  from her home past the Hospital of Butare sent a group of military soldiers led by  Private 1st Class Aloys Mazimphaka  and commanded by Lt. Pierre Bizimana head of Ngoma camp to kill Gicanda.

He sent soldiers, and not militiamen, because no local person could, at that point in time, dare kill the old lady.

Even the soldiers had to limp-walk the old lady, together with the young women who had been attending to her, to behind the museaum from where they raped them and shot them dead.

They could not look her in the eyes and butcher her like they did to hundreds of thousands. Her mother, the centenarian, was murdered the next day.

The murder of Gicanda sent shock throughout Butare and the neighbouring Prefectures and achieved the desired effect Nizeyimana wanted.

Even the evil Prefect Kanyabashi of Butare gave authority for the body of Gicanda to be buried in contrast to the thousands who were butchered and their bodies left where they were killed.

Many ordinary people in Butare were unsure about what to do when urged by their local leaders and Radio Rwanda and RTLM the FM station that broadcast the hate messages and urged them to kill their Tutsi neighbours, relatives and friends. Only youth wingers of some extremist factions of parties had been trained and knew what do.

They had been transported in ONATRACOM buses and other vehicles and taken to Gabiro, Gako and other military establishments where hatred was indoctrinated and trained in the art of killing Tutsi.

They had practiced on the Tutsis in Bigogwe and Bugesera.

The many competing gangs of unemployed youth in the different political parties wanted political identity as politicians jostled for power with the factions of MDR, PSD and PL accusing each other of being less anti Tutsi.

For example Bernadette Mukarurangwa, deputy to the national assembly and Dominique Ntawukuriryayo, sub-prefect of Gisagara, though both deeply involved in arguing people to carry out the Genocide, did not share a common strategy. The Genocide had started elsewhere but not in Butare.

People from the north and northwest of Rwanda who formed the nucleus of the ruling elite and made big of their relationship to those in power felt insecure in the south of the country.

Their accent and arrogance made them unpopular to the local. Northerners resident in Butare had been frightened by the outpouring of anger against them following the February assassination of Felicien Gatabazi, a popular politician in the south by state functionaries which was blamed on Northerners.

Northerners doubted the loyalty of people from the south while southerners feared that the northerners would end by excluding them from power. On April 27, some 600 secondary school students from the Groupe Scolaire, Byumba, most of them northerners, were installed in the buildings of the Butare veterinary school, fearful of locals.

At this time the head of SORWAL, Alphonse Higaniro, run away to Gisenyi unsure of what would happen to Northerners who were in the south and came back only in May.

Capt. Nizeyimana therefore had various sinister reasons when he ordered the murder of Gicanda.

The murder of Gicanda was breaking a taboo, like breaking the milk gourd comparable only to the “bravely and patriotism” of the National leader of Interahamwe who killed his Tutsi mother in a bid to save Hutus from “enemies within”.

It was a licence to murder; if Gicanda could be murdered no Tutsi should survive. It was a symbol that the authorities had sanctioned the Genocide and killers could walk scot-free.

The murder of Gicanda meant that all Tutsis young and old were “enemies” and had to die as RTLM and Radio Rwanda was announcing.

The Murder of Gicanda was meant to reassure northerners that their kin were in power, even in the south. The murder of Gicanda was meant to stir Hutus everywhere in Butare into “action” after the most revered Tutsi had been killed.

The murder of Gicanda was a sign to Lt. Tharcisse  Muvunyi who commanded the ESO as to who was from the inner circle of the ruling class; whereas Muvunyi was a Hutu from Byumba, Nizeyimana was from Gisenyi the home of the ruling clique.

Indeed soon after the death of Gicanda the hunting and slaughter of Tutsis started in earnest. Many southerners competed with northerners in the looting of murdered Tutsi property as roadblocks and barriers were erected to stop fleeing Tutsis while search gangs moved from house to house.

By the time the RPA arrived in Butare in early July, 1994, Capt. Nizeyimana had been transferred to a military training program at Mata, Gikongoro where he oversaw even worse acts of genocide.

He was flown by the French to Zaire and was instrumental in the activities of Hutu armed groups which have wrecked havoc in Northern Rwanda and for decades Congo. The Ethnic Banyamulenge and others in North Kivu in Eastern Congo may never forget the atrocities against them committed under his command.

On November 27, 2000, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) issued an indictment against Nizeyimana, charging him with “genocide, or in the alternative complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, and crimes against humanity.”

Specifically, the indictment alleged that during the genocide, Nizeyimana had “instigated, encouraged, facilitated, or acquiesced to [...], the Interahamwe committing killings, kidnappings and the destruction of property.

It has been reported that Nizeyimana had recently sent envoys to MONUC base in Eastern, Congo, to negotiate his surrender and the terms of the surrender was that the 5,000,000 dollars the US Government put up as reward for his capture be paid to his family.

Do not applaud the arrest of Muvunyi, he is worth far less.