Rwandan Killers and Survivors Talk About Paris Genocide Trial

Rwandan Killers and Survivors Talk About Paris Genocide Trial©DR
Memorial in Kabarondo. The sign says "Kabarondo Sector 22nd Commemoration of the Anti-Tutsi Genocide. Let us Fight Genocide Ideology"
3 min 17Approximate reading time

Kabarondo, a small town in eastern Rwanda, is located 83 km from Kigali, along a paved road linking this small country to neighbouring Tanzania. On the left of the entrance to the shopping centre, below the road, is the local church, an unspectacular building with red walls and roof. Red like “the blood of our loved ones shed by mayors Tito Barahira, Octavien Ngenzi and their men,” says Jean-Damascène Rutagungira (known as “Burayi”), one of the rare survivors of April 13, 1994, the date of the worst massacre in Kabarondo.

In this rural commune in eastern Rwanda, administered in turn by Tito Barahira and Octavien Ngenzi who are currently on trial for genocide in Paris, victims and even some of the killers hold their former mayors responsible. Relatives of the two accused prefer to wait for the outcome of the trial.

Even if the church building remains silent on what happened, everyone is talking, whether they be victims or repentant killers, Hutu or Tutsi, Christian or not. They are talking about their mayors, the trial in Paris, but also their expectations. Others, sometimes former militiamen, are remaining stubbornly silent.

“My mother died here from a machete blow to the head,” murmurs Rutagungira, suddenly moved, pointing to the steps of the church entrance where his elderly mother collapsed and died. His wife and their three children also died, along with all his family.

“You Are Eating the Animals With the Owners Still Alive”

Other survivors think this trial is full of lessons, even if they would have preferred it to take place close to the victims. “After 22 years of waiting, we can finally hope for justice,” says Alexandre Higiro, a former neighbour of Octavien Ngenzi who was long persecuted and lost all his family.  Samuel Ndoba, who was chief of the communal police under the two mayors and several times in disagreement with them, thinks this trial “resets the clock”. “As accused persons, whether they are found guilty or not, they will be made to understand that they always took the wrong path,” he says.

Barahira’s 52-year-old niece Jacqueline Mukabugingo hears what is being said around her. “We cannot change what happened or what is going to happen,” she says calmly. “Whatever the outcome of the trial may be, we will know the truth and it will be one less problem.”

Just before the massacre, former mayor Barahira saved the family members of Léopold Gahongayire, a Hutu with a Tutsi mother. Gahongayire gives thanks to God and asks why Barahira did not use that same influence to save Tutsis. And what was he doing with Ngenzi, the mayor at the time, on that morning of April 13 (1994) in front of the church or in the market place? What was the purpose of their meeting before the massacres with Colonel Pierre-Célestin Rwagafirita, who was at the time the most influential person in Kibungo, the  prefecture of which Kabarondo commune was part?

Etienne Gakwaya, a former local councillor in the Rundu sector, has more than suspicions. When the Rubira sector, where Ngenzi comes from, attacked his Rundu sector, Etienne Gakwaya called on the mayor for reinforcements. When Ngenzi arrived there, he expressed surprise that Hutus were eating the goats of Tutsis before killing the latter. “You are eating the animals with the owners still alive and watching you!” the mayor exclaimed, according to his former councillor. These words, confirmed by the Ndoba communal chief of police, mean, according to the two witnesses “you should kill the Tutsis first and eat their animals afterwards”.


“Get to work” 

Police chief Ndoba also remembers the mayor’s order to stop hiding Tutsis. “Why are you interfering in the affairs of the population?” he apparently said. Softening his tone, the mayor took some injured refugees, saying he was going to care for them. But, according to Ndoba, they were killed at the Kabarondo health centre.

And what about Ngenzi’s predecessor Barahira? Léonard Gatera, a repentant killer, spoke about the events of April 13, 1994. “Get to work, elsewhere thy have already finished it!” he quoted Barahira as saying. He said Barahira also offered three jerrycans of banana wine to motivate people. “He manipulated us, he used us to exterminate friends and good neighbours,” Gatera continued. “He should be made to pay a heavy price, or beg forgiveness on bended knee.”

In Kabarondo, everyone knows everyone, and everyone talks, notably about Colonel Pierre-Célestin Rwagafirita, who is described as the “patron” of Kibungo prefecture. People say it was he who hired and fired people, from the Prefect to local councillors. Everyone had to show blind obedience to him. And, according to the old adage, the enemies of the Colonel were also the enemies of his protégés Barahira et Ngenzi. “We argued (with Ngenzi) because I refused to kill a trader who was on bad terms with a friend of the Colonel,” says former communal police chief Ndoba, who paints Ngenzi as a brutal man. He believes his former bosses Barahira et Ngenzi were unable to turn back after the genocide was unleashed. He says they had often “helped the Colonel” to “prepare the final phase” in Kibungo, and could not but see it through to the end.