Aimable Kabanda does not exhibit the poise, oomph and aura of a middle aged man at the prime of is life. At 46, his mannerism is timid and somewhat suspicious.
While addressing a public gathering, his body constantly darts around anxiously as he struggles to get acquainted to the many faces staring at him.
Nonetheless Kabanda is president of ‘IBUKA’ in Ngororero district, Western province, an association that brings together over 1110 surviving families of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Somewhat painstakingly, he narrated his horrific ordeal at the hands of Interahamwe militia which all began on 10th April 1994, a few days after the plane carrying former president Juvenile Habyarimana had been brought down.
“I was coming from Kabwayi by bus where I had taken my wife and our three children to seek refuge at the Catholic Church. It was about 4p.m as we crossed the Nyabarongo river in my home district when the bus we were travelling in was stopped at a roadblock,” Kabanda begins his story.
Army officers and armed civilians entered the bus and ordered everybody out. They searched the bus and started separating the occupants using their national identity cards.
It was like the proverbial story of sorting the wheat from the chaft, as one group was allowed back into the bus.
The other group waited outside for their fate. Had it not been for the fact that he had not torn his national identity card, Kabanda would not have been allowed back into the bus.
“As I tried to re-enter, I was stopped and pulled aside forcefully. But when I assured them that I belonged to the group in the bus, they let me in.”
Tears well up in his eyes as he remembers leaving behind his friends, Calipofoli Munyambonwa and Joseph Rwakana, who were eventually murdered in cold blood under shower bullets.
During the next part of the journey, there was a radio announcement by André Ntagerura, the sitting Minister for Transport and Communications requesting to meet all his ‘subordinates.’
The next day a meeting was convened to lay strategies of how best to execute the mission and was attended by influential names like Jean Baptiste Nteziryayo (leader of former Kibirira Commune), and Sylivestre Mudacumura a.k.a Muhutu among others.
Though he might have appeared lucky, Kabanda’s worst predicaments were yet to come. Without food or anything to drink, he only had his life to save and he would go as far as it was necessary after surviving what would have been a gruesome murder.
“I was hungry and thirsty but there was nothing to eat. At this point all that mattered was safety for which so many of us at night run towards the church hoping to get protection from the church leaders and thankfully they did their honest part.”
Life was not any better at the church because when a priest called Francois Rwigenza made a phone call demanding for help, things took a turn for the worse.
Helpless targets were all confiding in the care of the bishop Gasore Louis who was good enough because when the killers finally arrived after a tip off, he protected them; he was the first to be killed.
“He exhibited a lot of courage because he refused to leave even when he had a chance to. Instead he offered to die with his people and to me he is one of the catholic clergymen who led by example,” Kabanda recalls.
After shooting Gasore as thousands of people including Kabanda looked on, it was time to turn the barrel to them and it would have been impossible to imagine any survivors after the incident.
Just as fast as they aimed and fired, people dropped dead on the floor. The killers only stopped firing when no one was left standing.
“I have never been so afraid and so shaken. I suppose it is this fear that shook me off my feet and onto the ground even before a bullet hit me. I lay among the dead, for what seemed like an eternity, and only got up after the sound of wails amidst the bullets had died down. It was then that I discovered only three of us had survived the massacre.”
The physical torment this recollection has on his body is evident. He wreathes as if in pain when he remembers the horror.
He lost his appetite for meat and constantly lives in fear and agony over the innocent lives that were claimed.
Without much to claim and everything to lament about, Kabanda is still unhappy that fifteen years down the road, some perpetrators he witnessed kill people have never been brought to book despite the wide range of evidence against them.
He is however determined not to let the killers get the better or him, as he treats each day as a fresh opportunity for hope, peace and reconciliation.