READ PART III: Hearing about the genocide
Then came in more stories. A fellow Ugandan and a colleague at the KBO, Justin Kiyimba, who lived in Remera, not far from Kanombe Airport, also gave us his account of what was happening on that side of Kigali. He had been holed up in his house since morning and did not know much about what was happening elsewhere, but had been informed that some of our Rwandan employees who lived in his neighbourhood had already been murdered.
These were Sudi Nshogoza, our mechanic Odette Ntarabwe, our secretary, both Tutsi. From what he been told by his domestic workers, Sudi and Odette had been killed by pro-government mobs in that area.
He told us that his personal safety was in a balance, because the killing mobs had earlier visited his house and had threatened to kill him, simply because he was a Mugande[ Ugandan].
I called Kamonyo, my houseboy, once again. He told me that the Interahamwe had returned at dawn, but this time around, they also wanted Boniface, my night watchman, who was a Tutsi. Like in my case, they could not see Boniface either, because he had climbed into the ceiling, where he had spent the night. The gang had then systematically looted my house of everything they could lift, and maliciously damaged whatever they failed or did not want to take.
Lilian’s Peugeot survived just because when they tried to drive it away after breaking into it and connecting some wires to have it started, the steering lock simply jammed. Their leader had then instructed Kamonyo to watch ‘his’ car for him until he would be back.
A trembling Kamonyo told me that the Interahamwe had revealed to him that they were eliminating all the Inyenzi [Tutsi] and their accomplices, including the Bagande, because that lot had killed the president. They, however, reassured him that they would not kill him, because they had no grudge against the Batwa. Kamonyo was from the minority Batwa ethic group. That was the last time I spoke to Kamonyo.
From Peter’s compound in Kiyovu, we could see several pickup trucks, loaded with soldiers, crisscrossing the Kimihurura residential neighbourhood, just across the valley. Those must have been the squads of killers that operated within that area, with a mission to find and kill opposition dignitaries and Tutsi, as well as moderate Hutu who lived in that part of town, which mainly accommodated the elite and the rich of Kigali.
From time to time, we would hear sporadic gunfire around us in Kiyovu, from the directions of Gikondo, Kicukiro and Muhima, and from the town centre area. We later learnt that in some cases, the Presidential Guard soldiers had met with resistance from their potential victims and had to kill them in a direct shootout. At the time, there were so many guns in Kigali that you would not know who was armed and who was not! It could have been possible that some opposition leaders and opposition youth wingers held guns clandestinely and could have attempted to resist arrest.
Around 11am, we called our Kenyan friends, Mang’oli, the Kenya Airways manager, Makanga and Makokha, both diplomats at the Kenyan Embassy. All three lived in Kimihurura. They told us that the soldiers had besieged a house in their vicinity and were apparently trying to flush out some people, but a serious exchange of fire was going on.
I called Melanie, a Rwandan lady we used to work with at KBO, who also resided in Kimihurura with her husband and children. She confirmed to me the death of Danie and her husband. Danie was a very close friend of hers. Regarding her own family, she told me that the Presidential Guard soldiers had already been to their house and had threatened to kill the entire family, accusing them of being RPF supporters. They were still alive only because they had given the soldiers some money. She told me that they were trying to find a way out to the Mille Collines Hotel, because they were sure more soldiers would come to kill them. I never heard of Melanie and her family again, until after the war. They had miraculously survived…!
Around 1pm that Thursday, fierce fighting broke out in Kimihurura. We learnt that the RPF soldiers had stormed out of their cantonment at the CND and were trying to capture the Presidential Guard barracks, a few metres across the street. The RPF were certainly aware of the atrocities the GP soldiers were already committing and wanted to neutralise them. That must have been the RPF’s first battle in Kigali and the fighting went on for several hours. From where we were in Kiyovu (on a road known as Rue de Masaka, just above the Rugunga School), we could see smoke billowing from the area around the GP barracks; and a few stray bullets hit our windows. One shell fell not far from our gate.
The power of media
The RTLM radio was quick to report what was happening, telling its listeners that the Presidential Guard was punishing the RPF soldiers who had attempted to sneak out of their confinement at the CND compound. The broadcast added that the population, especially the residents of Remera, Kimihurura and Kacyiru, should not panic, because the gallant soldiers of the Rwandan Armed Forces had killed all the Inyenzi that had been stationed in the CND complex. It also called on all the residents of Kigali to arrest and kill any suspicious characters they saw in their respective neighbourhoods, because “some of the Inyenzi from the CND” had escaped and were desperately looking for refuge. Kantano, one of the most virulent reporters on RTLM, kept urging the people, “Ni muzifate izo inyenzi, kandi ni muzice. Ni mutazica ni akazi kanyu. Mutazavuga ngo ntabwo twababwiye!”, meaning: “Catch them, those cockroaches; and kill them. It’s up to you if you do not kill them. Tomorrow, don’t say that we did not tell you!”
Just before nightfall, we tried to call some people in Remera, but the lines were off. We then came to learn that all lines starting with digit eight were inaccessible, because the telephone exchange in Kacyiru (not far from the Kimihurura roundabout) had been knocked out of service during the day’s fighting. That was the end of our contacts service during the day’s fighting. That was the end of our contacts with people in Remera, Kacyiru, Kimihurura and Kanombe. Luckily, the main telephone exchange in town seems to have remained intact until mid-June, which enabled us to remain in contact with the outside world and with all local numbers starting with digit seven.
Living to their standards as battle-hardened and experienced guerilla fighters, the RPF soldiers at the CND must have taken advantage of the skirmishes of Thursday, April 7 with the Presidential Guard battalion at Kimihurura, to fan out of their encampment into several unknown directions. By that evening, companies of RPF fighters were already being reported in Kacyiru, Nyarutarama and parts of Remera.
Now, back to the incidents of April 7. Late that evening, we started receiving news of what had happened in Nyamirambo, the most populous residential neighbourhood of Kigali, which was then known to accommodate many Tutsi, as well as several Hutu from the Opposition.
The killings there had started in the early hours of the morning and by the end of the day, there were already reports of corpses lying along the road, starting from around Gitega, through ONATRACOM, Biryogo, all the way to Nyamirambo Stadium.
The happenings of Thursday, April 7 were so well organised that no one could be duped into believing that it was a spontaneous reaction of the public as a result of the President’s death, as several leading extremist leaders were later to claim. Everything seemed to have been carefully planned and was being meticulously executed.
The restriction requiring everybody to remain indoors seems to have applied to only a few, because several unruly gangs, armed with clubs, spears and machetes, had started roaming the town and all its neighbourhoods and openly attacking innocent civilians, quite early that Thursday morning.
By the next morning, matters had soured even further, tempers on both sides had flared and the language had changed from verbal exchanges to military confrontation.
In Kigali, foreigners were making frantic arrangements to leave the country. A number of frightened Tanzanians started flocking into Peter’s compound for safety and eventual evacuation. They all told of atrocious events they had witnessed, either in their immediate neighbourhoods, or on their way to Kiyovu. Some of them had seen entire families being wiped out. A group that had walked all the way from Nyamirambo told us that they had seen several corpses littering the streets, especially in a place called Gitega, along the stretch between ONATRACOM and the junction to Kigali Hospital.
In the meantime, Peter’s compound was quickly turning into a mini refugee centre. Simultaneously, while many of his countrymen flocked into his residence with their families, many others sought refuge at the Tanzanian Embassy, a few streets away.
It so happened that the Tanzanian Ambassador himself was not in Rwanda when the whole saga started. Peter was in charge of the Embassy and automatically the man responsible for the security and safety of his countrymen. He had to find a way home for them!
Somehow, Peter had been tipped about a possible convoy being organised by the American Embassy to evacuate its nationals to Bujumbura in Burundi. If he managed to link up with the Americans and they accepted to include his vehicles in the convoy, this offered him a golden opportunity to evacuate his people as well. He decided to go to his office to make the necessary contacts.
That was good news for Fred and I, because we could jump on the Tanzanians’ bandwagon, travel to Tanzania, and eventually find our way into Uganda.
But we were in a dilemma; we did not have any travel documents on us, since we had left our homes without any intention of traveling. All we had in our possession were our KBO identity cards. But looking critically at the situation, we came to the sad conclusion that even if we did have our passports, as Ugandans, that would only serve to compound our problem; it would be suicidal to disclose our nationality!
These were among the casualties in Nyamirambo. They included:
Célestin Kabanda. An employee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was a fellow interpreter and translator. I had worked with him on several occasions in Kigali and in Arusha during the Rwanda Peace Talks.
Laurent Musoni. The country manager of DHL. He initially resided in Remera. He had shifted to Nyamirambo hardly two weeks earlier. We were told that after killing him, the Interahamwe used his body as a‘roadblock’, claiming that it was a long enough ‘object’ to obstruct traffic when put across the road!
Rwasubutare. A free-lance translator. He was a Hutu, but an uncompromising critic of the MRND and CDR ideology and practices. Earlier on, just before the start of the genocide, he had narrowly escaped death when an angry Interahamwe mob nearly lynched him during a demonstration in Kacyiru.
Théophile. Someone we only knew by his Christian name, an employee of the BCR (Commercial Bank of Rwanda).
Claude. A prominent businessman and a personal friend of mine. A Tutsi and bitter opponent of the Habyarimana regime, he had earlier spent six months in prison between the 1990s.October 1990 and March 1991, when the government imprisoned the Ibyitso, following the RPF invasion. Rose, his wife, told us on telephone that her husband had been killed early that morning.
However, the man had only managed to mysteriously elude the killers without his wife’s knowledge and was hiding somewhere. He later resurfaced and we remained in telephone contact until he disappeared again. Two months later, he nearly caused our death! I will talk talk about it later.]
The book, 90 Days in Hell is published by the author and is on sale in leading bookstores.