Catechist confronted Interahamwe in Rusizi to help pregnant woman escape

Aloys Uwemeyimana, a resident of Nzahaha Sector, Rwinzuki Cell in Rusizi District, previously known as Gishoma Commune, was a lay preacher in Rwinzuki Church during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Uwemeyimana tells his story. (Jean de la Croix Tabaro)
Uwemeyimana tells his story. (Jean de la Croix Tabaro)

Aloys Uwemeyimana, a resident of Nzahaha Sector, Rwinzuki Cell in Rusizi District, previously known as Gishoma Commune, was a lay preacher in Rwinzuki Church during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

The catechist used only his faith and trust in the power of God to navigate through difficult situations of the day, to help 120 Tutsi in danger escape the killers by crossing into Zaire (now DR Congo) because he did not want “to see innocent blood being shed.”

Today, Uwemeyimana (one who trusts in God) then catechist of Rwinzuki chapel of the Roman Catholic Church and a volunteer with the Red Cross, still firmly believes that it was only through his trust in the Lord that he managed to evade the rampaging interahamwe.

After the crash of the plane that was carrying president Habyarimana, on April 6, three people took refuge at his house because they were being hunted for being members of the opposition Liberal Party (PL) that Interahamwe had blacklisted as a Tutsi political party.

They were Theoneste Mwemere, who died later of a natural causes; René Irere, now a police officer and Ferdinand Nzagibwami, now a veterinary doctor. They were being hunted by Interahamwe militia in Gishoma commune.

On the evening of April 13, a friend tipped off Uwemeyimana that a plan had been finalised to kill his guests and 63 other Tutsi who were hiding in the chapel. This jolted him into action.

The same night, he went on patrol to track the interahamwe movements, and then brought together 66 people.

After ascertaining the operational plan of the killers, Uwemeyimana mapped a safe route through which he would accompany the Tutsi up to the Rusizi border, where they arrived towards dawn.

“Boat men were interested in money, so, we ferried the group across Rusizi river by boarding two people at a time,” said Uwemeyimana. However, the three members of PL were charged ten times the usual fee.

“They told them if they do not pay more, they would be handed over to Jean Chrisostome Nkubito, the leader of the commune, who was hunting for them. They paid Rwf 1,000 each while others paid Rwf 100.”

During the Genocide, in some instances people would charge the Tutsi some money so to let them escape, but this was not always guaranteed.  

When it was discovered that some people were being bribed to let the Tutsi escape, Yussuf Munyakazi, the Interahamwe chief in Bugarama, deployed men in Gishoma.

Yussuf commanded a group of highly trained militia to intervene wherever interhamwe were not doing their job properly.

Uwemeyimana knew about it and stayed in the bush and could come back home only late at night.

In early May, killings started at the neighbouring Mibirizi Catholic Church, and Father Ignace Kabera, now senior priest at Cyangugu Cathedral managed to save eight people. Amongst them was Fabien Kambanda, 54, now a nurse at Mushaka health centre.

“I was hiding in Mibirizi radiography operations room where the priest called me on the office telephone and notified me that killings were about to start. I managed to reach his place where I found seven other friends. He sent a messenger to Uwemeyimana and pleaded with him to come and try to escort us to safety.”

Uwemeyimana used the same trick to get the eight out of the country.

Upon reaching Bukavu, the capital city of Southern Kivu, Kambanda and his friends took refuge with the congregation of Marists Brothers in Nyangezi neighbourhood.

Two weeks later, Kambanda realized “there was no life; getting food was a headache.”

He managed to go across to Burundi and joined the liberation movement, the Rwanda Patriotic Front.

He served in the army until 2002 when he returned to his medical career.

Even though Uwemeyimana helped as many as 120 Tutsi to evade the killers, there is one incident that hurts him most.

“One day, a pregnant woman who was about to deliver came to me, and I had to help her cross. Upon reaching Rusizi, the interahamwe, who had now intensified their patrols, found us and ran after her. I did not tolerate them, rather I stoned them saying; I am disappointed you cannot even spare a mother in her very challenging situation.”

“At that time, God used Congolese soldiers on the other side who saved me and the woman,” he said.

After the war, Uwemeyimana says, the woman repatriated back home and now lives in Kigali with her husband, and the son who was born later.

Since that time, Uwemeyimana became the most wanted person by the extremists such that, even after the RPF took Cyangugu, Interahamwe from Bukavu refugee camps tried to come back to kill him several times.

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