By Jean Serge Mandela
(Some names have been modified for security reasons)
Three days earlier,a mourning and curfew were declared and everybody had to abide. Some people started moving from one place to another since hostilities have resumed. Our rural health center was receiving people running away from fighting areas in neighbourhood of Gacuriro, Nyarutarama (near the only golf club) Hills not far from the parliament building base of the RPF battalions.
Around 1500 hours , some bazungu expatriates working for the Radio Deustche Welle came to drop two boys who were bleeding profusely injured by grenades according to them; I recognised them since their father Ildephonse who was working for Deustche Welle and their sister was my former primary classmate.
Kinyinya rural health center was built in late 80’s, jointed efforts of Umuganda and the government. That was some sort of the development Kinyinya sector could talk about. The center came a home of internal displaced people seeking a shelter other injured looking for medical attention. There were some cases of expectant mothers that could have been evacuated to the main hospital in Kigali town city but it was not possible. I came across of a lady whose previously pregnancy was delivered through a ceasar miraculously she managed to deliver normally.
The small Kinyina hill, had 3 kms tarred road from the Deustche welle compound entrance up to the Nyarutarama Golf field and Kami Military barracks on west side.The 1987 Kami Military Barracks brought excitement when it was officially inaugurated since many were expropriated, given money and left to settle somewhere else.
When the October 1990 war/invasion started, our trading center was full of soldiers during the week ends. Since Kami was mainly for Military Police then our misery began; it became a house of deserter soldiers and others waiting to face military discipline hearings. Many fighting incidents became the order of the day in our trading centre taverns.
When the curfew was ordered, in Kinyinya, everybody was scared, the country has no authority that was able to come out and give an order since the only president that has sworn in was killed and a power vacuum created. Was there any legal government? Any parliament? Everybody was waiting the implementation of Arusha Protocol Peace implementation.
Still on 7th April, a Thursday, I manage to phone ( from a Pepsi kiosk near the health center) my friend Sam who was staying in Nyamirambo (a west hill dominant the Kigali City town). The owner of the pepsi kiosk could come and open it but there were no customers. I asked Sam about the prevailing situation in his area since the machine guns were heard throughout the day; he assured me that everything was quite normal and he was worried about our area. I assured him. That was the last call to make since the Rwandatel satellite that was helping us to communicate became non functional when the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) elements started their offensive from the National Parliament building and destroyed it. This led to all numbers that were starting by 08 for instance + 250 (8) 5214 became non operation by the destruction of Gishushu satellite and my area was affected the ones starting by 07 for instance + 250 (7) 5214 were using Nyanza satellite remain functional.
This brought too much anxiety since there was no possibility to know what was taking place in other area of the country; the only source of up to date was Rwanda Radio, the famous newly launched private Radio Television Libre des Milles Collins (RTLM) and rumour mongering.
As by the famous Magayane, the like “psyche Rwandese Paul Octopus”, had predicted, it was going to ” be raining” for three days and for sure it had rained heavily since Thursday; it was not clear, according the “Magayane prophecy” if it was rains of bullet or rains from the sky. It appeared rather to be a race of bullets noises against rains downpour.
On Kinyinya Hills some people were killed, the rains hasten the decomposition of cadavers; the situation was becoming a health hazard and a shame to the living people. In those circumstances, even our Sector Councillor ( our civic leader) was reluctant to come up with any initiative without waiting the instructions from “above”.
Some of us who were able to understand french, the International Radio channels became the only reliable source of up to date, that how we learn the killings of our former and outgoing prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana , Chief justice killed, Socialist Party President and outgoing Minister of Agriculture Frederic Nzamurambaho, the list could go on. Rumormongers could add other people perceived to be too critical to the Habyarimana regime. And by Friday evening, it was clear that the cease fire was history, the Forces Armees Rwandaise (FAR) and RPF have adjourned sine die the Arusha Peace Protocol process.
Easter was special to many of Rwandese , it influenced many social activities as: christening, religious marriages just to mention but a few. During the lent period many social ceremonies were on hold.
On the other side, the month of April was the peak of the “grand raining season” (lasting from March to Mid June) this again was posing a challenge to travel since most dusty roads were impassable, not only that, it was challenging to stage a gathering without being disturbed by the rains downpour.
On 1994 Easter day, many weddings were “adjourned” sine die citing for an ” un-conducive environment prevailing”. Surprisingly this was done without the traditional announcement via radio which was the popular way and reliable for someone to pass on news. My friend Denis who was supposed to tie knots during Easter week end postponed his wedding silently.
Came 10th April, a Sunday, it was not possible to stage any cult. Some “elders” managed to convince our sector councillor to bury decomposing cadavers.
Usually, a death in the rural area was an invitation to every jimmy and jack plying his trade in the area especially the men folk. This noble task in such circumstances became the men assignment. After some consultation, one group was assigned to go to east side of the hill :Binunga cell (a subdivision of a sector was a cell and a sector could be made of 5 cells) east , and the other one to the west i.e Murama cell. What a burial: a group of 30 people to bury a number of more than 20 people, a tomb could be a dig at the knee near where a body was found lying and covered by soil. My friend S. who was a catechist could lead us into pray of just a sign of cross before proceeding to the next body.
The images were very disturbing and nobody was prepared psychologically. Out of curiosity of counter checking I went to see where I have heard that some people were killed on Friday 08th, I took pictures in hurry but one person from the neighbourhood was observing; afterwards he asked me what I was doing; I tried to give him an answer I beg him not to tell anyone. I think he did not tell anybody otherwise I could not have lived to narrate this. I had a small analogue camera of a Russian make “Agate” which I could hold in my one hand. I got it from my friend Emile. I lost it it later on.
At the end of the day (on that Sunday), we had managed to bury a good number of corpses and this continued the following day..
P.S: The image of my “little friend”, I do prefer to named A. is still fresh in my memory.
I knew A. from primary school, I was older than her. Some of her older brothers were my friends since we played chimpombwa together at same school, same church, and so on.
By April 1994, A. was based at one of a south private secondary school in 4th year (lasting 6 years). (in Rwanda, like in other French education system vocational training was done at secondary education level in contrast of the Britain system were it is done at the tertiary level).
A.was light complexion, beautiful and was a bit reserved like any “Rwandese woman of good morals”. We could meet during social gathering , she could ask me why I am “hiding” during school breaks; this could puzzle me since I was rather treating her as my “sister”. It was rumoured that some of her brothers have joined the RPF ranks. On my side, I was spending most of my times at school far from home it was not easy to verify that. Unfortunately, she was not spared. I took an extra dose of courage when I discovered her body decomposing without being buried decently. Finally, A. was buried the very Sunday however I am yet to recover from that trauma.