On April 7, as Rwandans started the 24th Genocide commemoration period, the leaders of Eastern Province joined residents of Ngoma District to pay tribute to the victims of Genocide against the Tutsi killed in the area.
The commemoration event was held in Gashanda Sector where a former member of parliament ‘officially’ started the killings in the former Kibungo prefecture by shooting a prominent Tutsi farmer.
Witnesses said that by killing Venuste Barebahimana, alias Rwabigwi, who owned a large herd of cattle, Sylvan Mutabaruka said he was giving an example to the Hutu in the region, whom he subsequently asked to follow in his footsteps by killing all Tutsi with no fear.
“In the morning of April 7, 1994, Sylvan (Mutabaruka) came to our home, and he took my father to the trading centre. When they got there, he paraded my father in front of Interahamwe militia and told them, “Here’s the example I give to you”. He shot my father multiple times, killing him in broad day light,” Angelique Mukaneza, a daughter to Barebahimana told mourners on Saturday.
He then told the Interahamwe to start working (killing the Tutsi), she said. Interahamwe was the former government-backed militia that had been trained and armed ahead of the Genocide; they are blamed for most of the killings, which claimed the lives of over one million people.
“Using my father, who had wronged no one, Mutabaruka instigated extremists to kill their neighbours across Kibungo, Mukaneza added. “If it wasn’t for him maybe Genocide in Kibungo would not have reached the scale it did.”
Mutabaruka, survivors say, remains at large, with some reports indicating that he fled to Malawi. Others say he is in Cameroon.
“We hope one day he’ll be brought to account for his egregious crimes,” Mukaneza told the gathering. Mutabaruka was once a burgomestre (mayor) of the former Sake commune in Kibungo before the Genocide.
“Thanks to Mutabaruka’s actions, Sake became the first commune in Kibungo to participate in the Genocide,” she added.
When the extremists elsewhere in Kibungo saw what was happening in Sake, they also picked machetes, mounted roadblocks, invaded homes and started killing, she recalled.
“Mutabaruka was born here, he grew up here and attended school here. He was an influential person and by killing my father in public he instigated others to join in the killings,” Mukaneza added.
If he had asked the people of Sake not to kill maybe most of our people would be alive today, she said. “He knew almost everyone in Sake, every household, by name; he could have decided to save his people from genocide but he instead launched it here”.
Mukaneza thanks the Rwanda Patriotic Front whose military win, the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), managed to save people in Sake and elsewhere in the country during the Genocide.
Mukaneza, who was 24 in 1994, lost both her parents and four siblings during the Genocide against the Tutsi. Three of her siblings also survived.
“Despite what Mutabaruka and other extremists did in this region, some people were goodhearted, that’s why some of us are alive today,” she added in reference to some Hutu families that hid Tutsi.
The mother of four expressed gratitude to the post-Genocide government for treating all citizens equally. “As a young girl I was denied a chance to go to school but today all children in Rwanda have access to education.”
Egide Karuranga, the rector of University of Kibungo, said the genocidal regime brought shame on Rwandans because their actions made Rwanda one of the three countries in the world that had genocide in their history.
“The savagery witnessed here was worse than Hitler’s,” said Karuranga. But he said Rwandans were now turning the page, citing the gains made in the area of reconciliation.
We have decided to move forward as one people, with no vengeance, he said.
Eastern Province governor Fred Mufulukye paid tribute to Genocide survivors for their resilient spirit which has helped them rebuild their lives with dignity.
“Because of you, criminals like Mutabaruka have failed in their wicked plans,” he said. “He may run but he’s no peace in his heart.”