Located in Bugesera in the southern province, the village was given the name “Village of Unity and Reconciliation.”
It is no ordinary name. It depicts what is ongoing in the village with survivors of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi living alongside the perpetrators, those that butchered their loved ones.
On arrival, a big number of children is playing in a compound of a house identical to many others that are organized in rows. The compounds have almost knee-short hedges in square shape around them.
The village comprises of forty five houses. In sequence, a survivor’s house is next to that of a perpetrator.
Davidson Mugisha, who doubles as a tour operator and tour guide, on one of his usual searches for tourist attractions discovered the village and made it an integral part of tourism. He frequents the village with tourists.
He is also the sole proprietor of Wildlife Tours Rwanda, a tourism company.Since its discovery, the village has drawn tourists from all over the world as evidence of a peoples’ reconciliation process.
But before 2003 it was an ordinary village. Many pardoned genocide criminals who asked for forgiveness settled in the village.
Upon their release, the number of those without proper housing increased in the country. Some of the survivors and the perpetrators didn’t have where to stay.
A housing project that later gave form to the village of unity and reconciliation was started with a combined and dedicated effort from both survivors and perpetrators.
“We got together (survivors and perpetrators) and started making bricks,” said Jeanette Mukabyagaju, development coordinator of the village.
And this was the first step to the unity and reconciliation village.Prison Fellowship, a local NGO stepped in and used the bricks to erect the houses.
On the day I visited the village; English tourists arrived at the village close to midday. As routinely done, some of the villagers lined up at the entrance of one of the compounds demonstrating a warm welcome to the tourists.
The tourists were later taken for a stroll in the farms.
And Mugisha, the tour guide acquainted them with the improved farming methods and crop breeds adopted by the villagers to step up food security.
They went on to visit different homes in the village in which they were taught how to do a variety of basic chores the African way. Like peeling and cooking matooke.
The tourists had to endure a smoke filled kitchen which is characteristic of Africa.
One of the tourists advised that a chimney be fixed to pave way for the smoke in order to reduce the circulation of smoke and prevent potential cases of suffocation.
Other activities they were taught included quick manufacturing of sisal raw material for weaving basket decorations and containers.
But the most interesting part which I thought the visitors were anxious about, were the testimonies by both a survivor and perpetrator.
But before the testimonies, they were treated to a cultural dance by a combination of children of both the perpetrators and survivors.
It was Tasia Nkundiye a former perpetrator that came first.
“In the years before, there was bad leadership. We were told to hunt down and kill Tutsi. After training we hunted them down. But after the RPF (Rwanda Patriotic Front) took over power we were arrested and put in prison.
I was in prison for eight years. About 2003 came a presidential decree that whoever accepts his crime and seeks forgiveness be released.
We went for civic education. Pastors preached to us about forgiveness and prayed for us. At first we feared that the victims wouldn’t forgive us and that it was a ploy to kill us. But we got together with them and shared something to eat and asked for forgiveness. All of us perpetrators and survivors didn’t have accommodation.
We combined effort and put up these structures (pointing at the houses). Now we live here and the next home is for a survivor. We have been here for five years. There is no Hutu or Tutsi we are one person. I have a wife and four children,” narrated Nkundiye.
Then second was Jackie Mukamana, a survivor.
“After the downing of the plane of the president (Habyarimana), I fled to Nyamata (neighboring Bugesera) but I had to escape at night to Burundi.
All my relatives I left behind didn’t survive. I returned in 1994 immediately after the war. Later, those that killed my relatives were brought to us seeking forgiveness. We decided to forgive them. We now live along side each other,” recalled Mukamana.
One of the tourists who only disclosed himself as Ian, in a speech to the locals lauded the warm welcome and praised the reconciliation process.
“Clearly, this country and people have been through the worst. It seems to me this country has found good leadership. The path you have chosen is difficult but it also seems to me that it is a good path,” he said.
Mugisha explained that 75 percent of the proceeds are given to the villagers. With a tourism company that he started in 2007, driven by the motto, ‘Conserve through Eco-Tourism’, Mugisha is still on the lookout for more discoveries with an aim of conserving the environment and financially assisting the local population.