NATIONAL NEWS

25 Years After Genocide, Can Rwanda Heal? 6 Villages Try

Apr 8, 2019, 8:59 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 5:11 pm
KIGALI, RWANDA - APRIL 07: People hold candles during a commemoration ceremony of the 1994 genocide...
KIGALI, RWANDA - APRIL 07: People hold candles during a commemoration ceremony of the 1994 genocide on April 07, 2019 at Amahoro Stadium in Kigali, Rwanda. The country is commemorating the 25th anniversary of the genocide in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed over a 100-day period. (Photo by Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)
MBYO, Rwanda (AP) — Twenty-five years ago, Tasian Nkundiye murdered his neighbor with a machete.

The 43-year-old Hutu and a few other men from his Rwandan village chopped the Tutsi man to pieces — one horrific slaying during a 100-day genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and the Hutus who tried to protect them. Nkundiye was convicted of the killing and other crimes and spent eight years in prison.

Today he lives near the widow of the man he killed. And somehow they are friends — their children and grandchildren play and share lunch together, their cows graze in the same field.

“I am very grateful to her,” Nkundiye, now 68, said of the widow, 58-year-old Laurencia Mukalemera. “Ever since I apologized to her after prison life, confessing to my crimes and asking her for forgiveness, she has accepted me. I even leave my children with her when I am away.”

A quarter century after the 1994 genocide that killed 75% of the country’s ethnic Tutsis, Rwanda has six “reconciliation villages” like Mbyo, where genocide survivors and perpetrators live alongside each other. Convicted killers re-integrate into society by publicly apologizing for their crimes. Survivors profess forgiveness. The villages are showpieces of President Paul Kagame’s policy of ethnic reconciliation, although some critics say the communities are forced and the reconciliation is artificial.

About 3,000 victims and perpetrators live in the villages established by Prison Fellowship Rwanda, a Christian organization, and funded by the U.S. government, the United Nations and other donors to promote healing in Rwanda from the gaping wounds left by the genocide. Those in the villages also get help with housing and school fees.

Rwanda’s genocide was ignited on April 6, 1994, when a plane carrying President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down and crashed in the capital, Kigali, killing the leader, who like most Rwandans was an ethnic Hutu. Rwanda’s Tutsi minority was blamed for the crash, igniting revenge attacks targeting Tutsis across the country of 12 million people.

Jannette Mukabyagaju remembers the words of her father when the family heard the news that the president’s plane had been shot down.

“We are now finished,” he said.

“That is the last time I saw my father. He died with the rest of the family members the following days,” Mukabyagaju, a Tutsi survivor, who is now 42, told The Associated Press. In the family of eight children, only Mukabyagaju, one sister and a brother survived.

Shrill broadcasts in the government media incited the killings, portraying Tutsis as dangerous, bent on dominating Hutus. During the genocide, political and military leaders also encouraged rape to further destroy the Tutsi ethnic group, which today makes up just 14% of the population.

Mukabyagaju’s family lived in Muhanga, a village near a military barracks attached to the president’s office in the capital, Kigali.

“The presidential guards from the military zone descended on the village, accusing all Tutsis, including children, of being behind the death of their president,” she recalls.

“It was useless to tell militiamen the children didn’t have any idea about the president’s death,” said Mukabyagaju, who was 17 at the time. “But as you know, during the genocide, all sense had gone.”

Disguising herself, Mukabyagaju managed to escape to a church in the nearby village of Kabgayi that gave refuge to thousands seeking protection. “The Tutsis working at the church helped us with food, but soon they, too, were killed by the militia,” she said.

For two months she hid in and around the church until the Rwanda Patriotic Front, a rebel group headed by Kagame, seized power, forcing out the Hutu extremists and bringing an end to the genocide.

Mukabyagaju said she asks herself why she survived. “I believe it was God’s mercy that I didn’t die,” she said. “I have decided to let anger go and forgive all people, including those who killed my family.”

Today Mukabyagaju lives in Mbyo, where 54 families of genocide survivors and perpetrators live side by side among the village’s green fields. Rwanda’s dark past is contradicted by the peals of laughter of children descended from both sides of the killing, playing and going to school together.

“We are grateful by the fact that Rwandans are united today,” said Frederick Kazigwemu, another convict released after serving nine years in prison for genocide crimes, including murdering a neighboring family.

“Seeking forgiveness from a family where you killed relatives is an act of courage. But after turning your heart to God, this was possible,” said Kazigwemu, who today is Mbyo’s village leader.

Not all Rwandans think reconciliation has succeeded. Sam Nshimirimana, a Rwandan genocide expert and survivor, said forgiveness would be more meaningful if it were initiated by the survivors and perpetrators themselves and not promoted by the government or charitable organizations.

“The government tells perpetrators that once they apologize to the victims, they will be released” from prison, he told the AP. “Obviously, they apologize in order to be released. This is an artificial apology.”

At the same time, “many survivors forgive because they are poor and need shelters or school fees,” Nshimirimana said.

Ethnic reconciliation is a cornerstone of the rule of Kagame, Rwanda’s de facto leader since the genocide ended in 1994 and the country’s president since 2000, who is credited with bringing Rwanda stability, economic growth, improved health and education. Kagame also has pushed to have more women in political office and 64% of the representatives in Rwanda’s parliament are women, the highest percentage of any country in the world.

In the early 2000s, Kagame’s government enacted the laws that allowed those convicted of genocide crimes to walk out of prison if they apologized to survivors and sought their forgiveness. Both Nkundiye and Kizigwemu were released from prison under this arrangement.

However, Kagame’s critics charge that he is intolerant of criticism and his government is repressive, jailing opposition leaders. Some opponents say that Rwanda’s reconciliation is forced.

In Mbyo, however, it is hard to argue that the community is artificial.

“What we did was horrible,” said Nkundiye, who remains haunted by memories of the screams of helpless women and children and the sight of Tutsi men throwing themselves into rivers to drown rather than be chopped to death by machetes.

As for Mukalemera, the widow of the man he killed, “I didn’t know that it was Nkundiye who killed my husband. He came and told me he did it and showed me where my husband’s body was buried. When he confessed and apologized, I forgave him.”

She hugged Ndundiye in greeting as they met to discuss the upcoming planting season. “I found I could not live with anger forever,” she said.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

The TSA agent finding the orange stowaway in the bag. (TSA)...
Michael Houck

Cat’s out of the bag when TSA finds stowaway feline at JFK

NEW YORK (AP) — Don’t accuse the TSA of catnapping on the job. When an alert agent at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport noticed tufts of orange fur poking out of a slightly unzipped suitcase, it gave him pause. As the bag went through the X-ray unit Nov. 16, the Transportation Security Administration agent […]
12 hours ago
The pilot and passenger survived and are OK, according to rescue officials. (Pete Piringer/mcfrsPIO...
Emma Tucker, Rashard Rose and Pete Muntean, CNN

2 rescued after plane hits power lines in Maryland

A pilot and passenger who were stuck in a small plane for nearly seven hours after it crashed Sunday into power lines in Montgomery County, Maryland, before being rescued.
12 hours ago
FILE - Gas lamps illuminate St. Louis' Gaslight Square on April 2, 1962. "Gaslighting" — mind man...
Leanne Italie, Associated Press

‘Gaslighting’ is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2022

Merriam-Webster has chosen “gaslighting” as its word of the year for 2022. Lookups for “gaslighting” on the dictionary company's website increased this year by 1,740% over 2021.
12 hours ago
FILE: Payton Gendron arrives for a hearing at the Erie County Courthouse on May 19, 2022, in Buffal...
Carolyn Thompson, Associated Press

Buffalo gunman pleads guilty in racist supermarket massacre

The white gunman who massacred 10 Black shoppers and workers at a Buffalo supermarket pleaded guilty Monday to murder and hate-motivated terrorism charges.
12 hours ago
This image provided by the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory shows a view from a research camera on...
Associated Press

Hawaii’s Mauna Loa starts to erupt, sending ash nearby

Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, has started to erupt for the first time in nearly four decades, prompting volcanic ash and debris to fall nearby.
12 hours ago
Flowers and stuffed animals are lined up outside the University of Idaho to pay tribute to four stu...
Elizabeth Wolfe and Eric Levenson, CNN

University of Idaho students return to campus from break with still no arrest in quadruple killings

University of Idaho students are expected to return to campus Monday from Thanksgiving break despite the lack of a suspect or arrest in the stabbing deaths of four students at an off-campus home.
12 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
25 Years After Genocide, Can Rwanda Heal? 6 Villages Try