Last Sunday 1st November was quiet, unfortunately. I only saw one reaction to it that was in a blogging forum by a lady who was only a toddler in the 1950s.
Ms Yolande Mukagasana was bemoaning the date as a reminder of the day that saw the sudden rupture of the Rwandan family in 1959.
I am one of an increasingly thinning group of witnesses to that gory occurrence.
Indeed, all Rwandans should remember that Monday morning on 1st November 1959 as a day that did not only commemorate another All Saints Day for Catholics in Rwanda but also saw the rip-up of the tenuously resistant cohesion-cord that had bound all Rwandans together.
As July 4th 1994 saw the rebirth of Rwanda, so did 1st November 1959 see the beginning of the death of this country, a death that had been carefully crafted by colonialists.
Possessed of young, budding brains then, we could not begin to appreciate the import of the undercurrents at play then. At our age, we only saw what were called “turbulences” in our area.
Still, they were turbulences that were revealing as we had never before seen a Munyarwanda attack a countryman.
Yet now, as we young ones were carried or herded across the border, it was being explained that we had to run away from some Banyarwanda who had suddenly turned into killers.
So, from the safety of exile in Uganda, we watched in perplexity as houses on ridges inside Rwanda smouldered in fires and listened to accounts of bloody assaults on Banyarwanda by fellow Banyarwanda, accounts as reported by survivors.
How I vividly remember as if it was only yesterday! Uncle Muginga’s house, top on the ridge north just bellow Mount Muhabura, Uncle Ruziga’s house on the side of the ridge, south down near Lake Bulera, all crumbling to the ground, consumed by hungry fires.
How I remember the maniacal cries of the men with spears and machetes, who looked like hungry hounds running for the kill, as they chased their fellow villagers! We could see as they caught up with their victims and chopped up their limbs, ouch!
From across the border, we could feel it when Belgian soldiers fired guns on innocent men in mid-flight, felling them as they groaned in anguish. We could see when helicopters were flown upside down and their blades beheaded the fleeing men.
And so it was that we never saw many of our uncles and elder brothers ever again as they were arrowed, speared, ‘macheted’, helicopter-chopped or machine-gunned in their hundreds of thousands.
The wounded survivors bled their way into neighbouring countries to join us in the miserable life of refugees.
A miserable refugee life that would still prove much easier than the lot that awaited those who were captured and gang-led into transit camps inside Rwanda.
From internally displaced persons’ camps all over Rwanda, they were stuffed into lorries and dumped in the tsetse-infested grasslands of Bugesera and left at the mercy of the elements, diseases and gnawing hunger.
Understandably, the elements, diseases and hunger ended up triumphant and only a few survivors lived to tell the tale of death cycles that would follow.
Meanwhile, those who had miraculously found their way into neighbouring countries were not having it any easier. Hostile forests in which they were dumped hewed them down like insecticide does pests.
They died in hordes in the killer jungles of foreign lands like Oruchinga and Kinyara in Uganda, Masisi in D.R. Congo, Mushiha in Burundi and Mwese in Tanzania. Our people died in many areas, many times.
As we survived and grew older, the gory truth slowly began to emerge. The colonialist, in an attempt to perpetuate his reign, had devised a divide-and-rule strategy that inculcated into Banyarwanda the notion that they belonged to three tribes: Bahutu, Batutsi and Batwa.
We all know the gruesome details that were the result. They are for the history books, and I hope they are sufficiently elaborated in the just launched History book for Rwandan schools.
Anyway, their upshot is that after helping the hardliners among Bahutu to oust or kill Batutsi, the colonialists had accomplished their duty and left Rwandans to go ahead and conclude the disembowelment of their society.
Even then, I doubt that the colonialists had envisioned the zeal with which these latter would go about that business. Still, they were accomplices and had to cover their coached hardliners in their “practice genocides”.
Thus, colonialists and all their cousins in the West looked the other way when Bahutu hardliners led their people in repeated slaughters of Batutsi in Bugesera, Bigogwe and everywhere in Rwanda.
The grand, apocalyptic finale of the genocide against Batutsi in 1994 didn’t jolt them enough, colonialists or hardliners. Or else génocidaires would not find sanctuary or sympathy in this ‘civilised’ world of today.
The world must never forget that black Monday 1st November 1959. It marked the beginning of the pogroms against Batutsi that culminated in the 1994 genocide.