“I was weighed down by the burden of ethnicity” – Hon. Mureshyankwano

After all that had happened, it was inevitable to start questioning all that we had believed for years. What does it meant to be a Hutu, Tutsi or Twa? Isn’t what unites us really greater than what divides us?

Honorable Marie Rose Mureshyankwano said that she was sick but did not realise it. The cancer of genocide ideology had eaten her up to the extent that nothing made sense to her unless it was conceived through the lenses of genocide ideology. She was carrying a burden without knowing it and she got something of an awakening, similar to that which happens to people in the spiritual or religious sense, and from that day she decided to put down the burden and live life as an “ideological born again.” She has since been on this journey in search of converts – Abakristo ba ideology. She said that, as someone who was born inside “Akazu,” she was the most authentic Hutu “unsulfurated even one ounce.” She sees herself as possessing the required credibility for this evangelical journey. ‘I am one of those pure Hutus they used to talk about,’ she tells Pan-African Review when we reached out to the Senator in her office in the Parliamentary Building to tell us more about this ‘new’ religion which she is so obsessed with.

PAR: You said in a previous testimony that before you met the RPF you had been carrying the burden of ethnicity, what does this mean?

Hon. Mureshyankwano: What I said is my testimony and I stand by it because it is the truth. I was born in 1968 in Rwanda. Before the genocide, we were hearing about the RPF and we knew it as something evil. They told us many bad things about it. In 1994 I was a primary school teacher in Rutsiro district, old enough. After the genocide, we fled from the RPF because we thought they would kill us. We had been mobilized by the media, especially RTLM and by leaders that Inkotanyi would kill us if they find us here. So, we fled to Zaire, now DRC, and stayed there from 94 to May 1997, so almost three years. The irony is that we were repatriated by the very people we had fled. But we had to flee because they had taught us that the RPF are Tutsis and they want to harm Hutus. It is also why when they came to repatriate us, we still ran deep into the jungles.

When the RPA came to repatriate refugees, they started with those who had fled to northern Kivu. We heard that they had crossed into Congo but the authorities in the camps didn’t tell us that they were repatriating people. They said they (RPA) were killing all people in the camps and this made us who were in the camps in the South flee. They said, “Inkotanyi are on the way and they will kill you if they find you here.” So, we ran deeper in the Congolese jungles. Some leaders got on planes and were evacuated from the camps. They told us “When you hear shots, run inside the forests.” We were in the forests for 2-3 weeks. We were very many in the group we walked with. We were around 50.

My husband was very ill. No food, nothing. I turned to him and he was barely breathing. A woman I was with said “why don’t you leave him?” I said, “I can’t. Let me wait for him to run out of breath. The moment he breathes his last breath I will go.” She left. The others had already left us. It was around 3pm. I was waiting for his last breath to also go and find them wherever they were in the forests. And that’s when it happened. I saw a man. A tall man walking towards me. Before he could say anything, I said to myself there is no way he wouldn’t be a Tutsi, or Inyenzi as we called them. They had taught us about the characteristics and physical traits of Tutsis in school. He got a bit closer, greeted me and asked why I was seated there alone, with my unconscious husband lying next to me. I was silent. So, he asked again. I then told him: “Please kill me already, we fled to DRC getting away from you, but here we are”.

He laughed and asked: “Why do you think that we are here to kill you?” He asked what had happened to my husband; but, to be honest, the whole time I was asking myself if he was going to shoot me, kill me with a machete, or a knife; the options were endless. He whistled in a specific way, and I knew he was sending a message. A minute later, four men were walking in our direction. I silently told myself that he just didn’t want to kill us alone. Before I knew it, he asked for the small piece of cloth that I used as my blanket; his colleagues started looking for tree branches. Quickly they made a spine board, lifted my dying husband on it. When their leader asked me to follow them, I told myself that they had decided to go kill us in some other place.

At the time and as someone who had been taught that Tutsis were not intelligent and had tails, I felt that their carrying my husband for hours just to kill us at another location was the dumbest thing one could do; they were confirming how daft they were, like we had been told. When we reached the destination, they put my husband and me in a hut, told me they were leaving for a short while but pointed to another hut that was a few meters away, telling me that I should not hesitate reaching out to them there should I need anything. I wanted to roll my eyes. But a part of me was starting to think, although reluctantly, “maybe these people will not kill us after all.” But I was still more worried than reassured.

An hour later, the man came back with a different person who injected a medication intravenously into my husband’s body; but because of all I had been taught about evil Inyenzi, I thought, ‘at last, they had decided to kill him by injecting poison into his body’ and that I was certain I was next in to get poisoned. I had accepted death.

They then went back to their hut and told me to let them know if anything changed. I still thought they were stupid for taking care of us when the plan is to kill us. After a few hours, I saw my husband move his legs, then arms, and that got me worried because I had heard that dying people get better shortly before they get worse and eventually die. He then woke up, looked around and the first thing he asked was: “Zadufashe?” (meaning “Have the Inyenzi captured us?”). I was like “be quiet! I will tell you later.”

At sunrise, two men walked into our hut. They presented us with porridge and fish soup and they asked how we were both doing. After I had fed my husband, he regained his full consciousness. We stayed at that place for 3 days, being fed, until my husband got really better. The man that had found us first came one morning to talk to me. He asked if we were crossing that forest alone or if we were in the company of others. I told him that we were with dozens of other refugees that had been with us for 3 weeks. He asked if I knew where the others had gone and requested that I show them.

I accepted to go with them to find the other refugees since at that time I had no reason whatsoever to think that they wanted to kill us. We left my husband behind. Several meters away from where the other refugees were, they stopped and told me to go first and confirm that the others are well. This is because if any of them had suspected that Inyenzi were nearby, they would have alerted the others, which would have led to a stampede and people being wounded.

When I reached where the others were, one of my friends asked why I had finally decided to join them. Afraid, I lied that my husband had passed on, so I had no reason to continue to stay where they had left us. A few minutes later, Inkotanyi soldiers surrounded us and instructed the 50 people there to start walking in one direction. On the way, people were whispering: “Inyenzi have finally captured us; we are dead”. In my mind, I thought that they were taking us to stay where I had left my husband, but they instead took us to the airport and brought us back to Rwanda. The truth is that if they had left us alone there, we would all have perished! People were dying of diseases like malaria and hunger was around us.

As I reflected on that flight back home, I could not believe that these were the people our ideology of Hutu power made us run from. Moreover, it was impossible for us to think that Inkotanyi wouldn’t revenge for their loved ones who were, as we witnessed, brutally massacred by Interahamwe. But then we reached Rwanda safe and sound, and went back to our respective homes.

I questioned everything I grew up believing

After all that had happened, it was inevitable to start questioning all that we had believed for years. What does it meant to be a Hutu, Tutsi or Twa?  Isn’t what unites us really greater than what divides us? The people we thought were supposed to kill us turned out to be the ones to give us care when it was most needed. They protected us; transported us back into the country; gave us back our houses and properties; offered us jobs or reintegrated some of us into the institutions where we worked before the genocide, etc. All of that felt surreal!

My village was in Nyabihu, a former Karago commune – a place which was also known as “mu kazu” where Habyarimana originated from. People from this commune had enjoyed privileges and oppressed others for many years. Moreover, the majority of the genocide masterminds originated from there. So, when people got to know that the RPF was about to liberate the country, everyone including those who had not participated in the killings fled and left the place. My mother, however, was paraplegic at the time and had to stay in the house alone.

Knowing the love of a child for her mother, you will understand that my first stop was to go check on her. I was in tears when I found her alive and well. I was curious to know how that was even possible. She told me that when Inkotanyi got to Karago, they established a camp not far from our house and checked every house for people who stayed behind, to know if they needed help; that was how they got to my mother’s house. When they mentioned to her that they were Inkotanyi, she told them that she was relieved that, at last, she was going to be killed by them rather than die of hunger. They told her that they were not there to kill her; but to rehabilitate her. Since that day, they would come help her with the toilet, feed her, give her medications and take her out for sunlight. She was always surprised that every time she was out and rain threatened, a soldier would come in time to take her back inside. They never got tired of doing that.

This humanitarian spirit healed me from the toxic ideology of the Hutus-Tutsis-Twas divide, which I had been taught in school. It healed me from the inferiority and superiority complex of my Hutuness and made me embrace my Rwandan identity.

PAR: How can we make sure that the clarity you have now is shared with others? As you mentioned, living with the Parmehutu ideology is like living with cancer eating up every cell of your body.

Hon. Mureshyankwano: There is a need indeed to have the right ideology spread as far as the bad one had reached. That is why I decided I will share my journey with others every chance that I get, on different platforms including radio, YouTube, etc. The written version of my testimony into Kinyarwanda will soon be out and I hope that it can get translated to other languages to make it accessible to as many people as possible, including Rwandan children in the diaspora. I would encourage everyone else to do the same: share their transformation journey and denounce the genocide ideology because it heals not only the person giving the testimony but also others, and it educates the youth, the next generations to come to feel Rwandan and protect Rwandan interests.

PAR: You said that you have healed from the burden of ethnicity. How can we prevent other people, especially young people, from being infected with that toxic genocide ideology?

Hon. Mureshyankwano: Given the vision that today’s Rwanda has set for itself, teaching your child the genocide ideology is like giving them poison that will kill them slowly. I know every parent wishes well for their children, so they should really stop destroying their children’s future by teaching them nonsense, intoxicating them. I like to direct my teachings and energy to young people though. I tell them: It is okay and recommended to love and respect your parent. But they would not send you to kill and you find nothing wrong with it. I tell them not to accept and consume teachings filled with hatred, division and discrimination. It will only lead you to commit crimes and orchestrate your own death. They should understand that Rwandans would always unite to fight anyone threatening their unity. We need to go back to that. We are lucky to have a leadership that cares for all Rwandans and unites all of us around a healthy ideology. The future is bright; I am really hopeful.

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