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Life Reflections

Tribute to our old mamas and papas who suffered untold tribulations

By November 8, 2021June 6th, 2023No Comments

November 5, 2021

Except for practicing Catholics, last Monday, November 1, passed without notice in this country. Nonetheless, it is a date that should forever remain etched on the conscience of this society.

It should remind everybody that their eyes opened to the fact that colonialism had torn them apart for the first time in their history to an extent that most, if not all, had not properly perceived. They had known their societal differences, all right, but these were minuscule in comparison.

In spite of it all, Rwandans knew the imported and implanted division, however deep, could not totally break the centuries-old compact cord that linked them.  

Or so they thought. For when November 1, 1959, came, it shook them to their bone marrow.

In overwhelmingly Catholic Rwanda, that day was All Saints’ Day. A day when the Christian solemnity is celebrated in honour of all saints. In truth, that Sunday turned out to be All Demons’ Day. All Archfiends of hell descended onto the country, as someone would later say, and for the next 35-plus years, this land would remain gripped in evil, as if in a vice.

My toddler-memory of the time is of my old man rushing home, wearing a wild, scared look. Pointing to the ridges across, where we could see plumes of fire and billows of smoke, he shouted to everybody to carry whatever they could and head for the border. Our old mamas quickly dispersed from their group to go fulfil the startling bidding.

Laden with the little we carried, we trooped across the border and sought shelter in a neighbouring country. From there, we watched as our livestock and property were looted or destroyed in a mad frenzy by Rwandans transported from distant areas. Our neighbours, informed they were not targeted, stuck with us to help us carry our things across, despite the reprisals they faced.

Now imagine the targeted who did not live near any border. Hundreds were butchered by fellow countrymen/women and many more were wounded, trying to fight back or simply to flee. Fighting proved futile, anyway; the satanic killers were backed by colonial helicopters.

Few survivors made it to the neighbouring countries for asylum. Meanwhile, the survivors who remained inside the country were herded into transit open spaces, where they were ravaged by the elements. Many perished while survivors were whipped into settling in a tsetse-riven Siberia that was Bugesera.

The pain and anguish wrought upon our elders, while trudging into exile or into that Siberia, as at the same time they tried to feed wailing babies and care for older children, none can imagine except those who went through similar death, agony and savagery.

Take the first situation of exile for these hapless citizens, disowned and dislodged by their compatriots as wilfully guided by a colonial master.

As soon as they reached the first area of exile, they realised it was too small also for its own citizens and decided to shepherd families to a vast scarcely populated neighbouring country.

However, when they thought they were going to settle, the country itself was convulsed in a war for which they were blamed and again it was violent eviction for all refugees.

For trying to defend their families, our elders were again slaughtered and only a few survived to herd their families to yet another country of exile.

Always survivors, they were put in inhabitable wide savannah-lands that were crawling with indescribable diseases as they were ‘mercifully’ assisted with foods they had never known. By the time they got used to cooking them properly, they had lost many lives.

To this death toll, add yet another one at the hands of those unknown diseases. By now you’ll be wondering: were there any surviving elders?

Well, there always were, by some unknown miracle. Who, when they thought this time they had found a home, were engulfed in yet another upheaval of their host country.

And again they were blamed for a country’s troubles whose cause and origin they had no idea about or interest in. Survivors for eternity, however, those still around gathered their surviving families and it was on the crippling road again.

And off to another round of death, humiliation, hunger, disease, squalor and all inconceivable misery.

The grand Lucifer of all succubus’s, however, was in the second situation. The one involving said internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Thrown into tsetse-infested Bugesera, it was believed they would all sleep to their death.

However, our ever-resilient parents put up a sterling fight, amid periodic killings, and turned Bugesera into a bread basket until the Genocide against the Tutsi came and all but wiped them out. Those who had managed to stick it out and remain in Rwanda but not in the IDPs camp met the same end.

So, when we count victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi, we should never forget to add those of the creeping genocide that preceded it.

As for our elders, three cheers for being ejected out of comfort and managing to brave heart-stopping degradations for as long as you did, in defence of family and compatriot!

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