By Umukundwa Donatha,
From May 1994 I was taking care of my brother Sgt Niyonzima who had been injured by filed mine as he was fighting the enemy in Kigali Ville. I was 15 years then since my family had only three children: my brother Niyonzima, Umukundwa, and our youngest brother Elijah who was 7 years then. Our brother Niyonzima was our hero, our friend, our eldest brother, and our breadwinner. Sgt Niyonzima left school in Gitwe Seventh-Day Adventist College in Gitarama to go to the battle in order to defend the sovereignty of
|WHEN WE WERE CROSSING RWANDAN BORDER|
INTO BUKAVU IN DRC
Rwanda and her independence. However, there was another driving that compelled my brother to join the then Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR). In 1991 when RPF attacked Ruhengeri, they passed through our village in Nyange, Commune Kinigi. Through the process they killed every Hutu they met on their way to Ruhengeri town. That was how they met my hard working dad on his way to the farm and beheaded him. We did not find his head until a year later. Basically we buried our beloved father twice. This traumatized my brother who wanted to defend the country so that there were no other innocent people encountered what befell my dad in 1991. The same year Niyonzima joined the recruitment drive at Camp Mukamira. He was accepted and proceeded for his military education in Buture at "L' Ecole des Sous Officiers" ESO Butare. It was one of the military elitist schools in Rwanda. My brother excelled well and later he was dispatched to Byumba to fight the enemy RPF. He was our hero and a Godly young man. He always encouraged to love school, obey parents, and make God my point of reference.
5 MAY 1994 A DAY I WILL NEVER FORGET
However, the hopes, dreams, love, happiness, and ambitions were shuttered on 5 May 1994. It was early in the morning and he was leading his soldiers in the combat at Rebero Ridge. That was when he sustained shrapnel in his face and lost two of his eyes. He was our only eye and a door to God's merciful nature. When we received this news every life in our home broke into pieces. I was the only person who could be with him in hospital. I was immediately sent to Kigali, a place I had never been before. It was in middle of crisis of bombs explosions and shelling everywhere. I was with a friend and a neighbor called
Premier Sergent Nkinamubanzi who had come for me so that I take care of my brother. It was a hard choice for my mom. I was only 15. A girl from rural area who had never been away from her parents. My mom could have gone to be closer to my brother but my youngest brother was not feeling well so she had to make a bold decision. She sent me instead. Our journey to where my brother Sgt Niyonzima where the unusual one. We were heading to Kigali but we went back toward Gisenyi. Thank God I was with this friend Premier Sgt Nkinamubanzi who used his influence to get around. We went to Camp Muhoza where we boarded a Lorry to Camp Mukamira where we spent two days waiting for transportation to Camp Gitarama. After arriving to Camp Gitarama we met another friend of his whose name I remember, Sgt Major Simbikangwa who also had a friend injured at the battleground in Gikondo and was admitted at Camp Kanombe. He was driving alone he offered to take us to Camp Gako where my brother had been transferred to.
|RWANDAN HUTU REFUGEES IN EASTERN DRC|
THE DAY WE WERE TOLD KIGALI WAS IMPASSABLE
In early morning of May 1995 Sgt Major Simbikangwa, Premier Sgt Nkinamubanzi and myself took to the road heading to Camp Kanombe but few meters away from Camp Gitarama we were told that all casualties in Camp Kanombe and Camp Kigali had been evacuated for Camp Gako. To me I felt good because I knew that we were going to take less time to see my brother whom I thought he needed most as other injured people needed their beloved ones to be with them. Right, we now came back to take the road to South Gitarama to a place where we crossed a long and huge bridge. I don’t remember the name well but it might have been called KURWABUSORO. After crossing we arrived in
Camp Gako. We went straight to the room where my brother was staying. I vividly remember the first 5 seconds conversation when I entered the room. "Hey, that is my sweet sister Dona, I can’t see you anymore but your voice and smells remain untouched by hard days ahead," he said to me. He was wearing solar glasses. He then removed them to show me the reality of his life. "Here I am Dona, no eyes no hope, but I am glad you are here now. God willing you will see my mother again and tell her that after taking her husband from her, they also came back for son's eyes," he said to me. After hearing all that I was inconsolable. I cried day and night. I never saw a light again. All around me was darkness. No matter how hard and scorching the Bugesera sun could have been, it did not matter anymore. I was always feeling cold. Unlike today there were no cellphones so I couldn't communicate to mom anymore. Now I can try and discern how she felt inside her poor heart. There I had started a new life of a 15 year girl. I had to mature to be a rock that my brother needed.
|A HUTU KID SEARCHING FOR HER MOM|
AMONG THE CORPSE OF OTHER REFUGEES
FROM CAMP GAKO TO BUTARE UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL IN MAY 1994
Few days later we were told to evacuate the hospital to Butare. At this stage my brother was not looking so bad physically. May be he did not want me to feel scared. He could grab my hand then we start walking around the barracks when the Southern sun started retiring. I was his guide. At first I did not understand how this new role was going to help my brother or help me as a human being. It built this an incredible human relationship that no man can define. Apart from being his new eyes, I became his soul. He shifted his trust from mind and heart and replaced it with my presence. He became my genuine companion at that younger age and taught me tenderness, trust, reliability, and compassion. We built this bond that no one could break. Although he had lost his eyes he knew there was someone right there who shared his grief, despair, hope, and trust. I was the one for my brother. The next day we boarded a medical bus for relocation from Camp Gako in Bugesera to Butare University Referral Hospital. I remember in this journey I was surrounded by people with positive attitude. It was URWENYA all throughout the journey until I forgot that I had a patient who had no eyes. Among the people present on the bus were people I cannot remember their names because of my age then and the situation we were all in. However, I remember some of the guys who made a remarkable impact on me. My brother Sgt Niyonzima, his close friend Sgt Nteziyaremye Damien and another prayerful Sgt both from Commune Mukingo. Another soldier from Tero Kinigi who had lost his limb and one eye. There were also two Sgt Majors from Gikongoro and three other Premier Sgt who were members of medical team. I came to learn later that the entire medical team and operation was headed by one of the distinguished doctors that Rwanda has ever had, Lt. Colonel Mugemanyi Froduard. He was a man and a half. I will come back to him later in this story.
FROM BUTARE UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL TO KIGEME HOSPITAL
When we arrived in Butare hospital we could stay long. There was no food for the patients and life was also hard. However one of the most memorable moments I had in Butare hospital is evening devotion where all of us used to go in turns to teach the world of God. One of the songs that comforted me every evening was a song in Kinyarwanda Adventist Hymnal Book goes like this:
"Azaza, ndabizi kwazagaruka azaza Yes'azaza abagenzi bose barembye bazabona Umwami naza kwima."That was the only thing that we were left with. People were dying every second from injuries. Killing was also going on all over the nation. EX-FAR was losing ground faster, and there were rumors of the Burundian soldiers gathering on the border between Rwanda and Burundi ready to come and support their Tutsi relatives. Definitely our hospital was among the fast target. However, the noble man Lt. Col. Dr. Froduard Mugemanyi was both compassionate and strategist. He thought on his feet and later we were at Kigemi Hospital which was located in Gikongoro. Here, life was miserable but my brother was getting much better. He was no longer in pain. His gauged out eyes' wounds had healed properly but of course he always relied on me for any activities. What I liked most about him he never missed church on Sabbath. When I was weak to go he could find someone to take him to church but he never missed. Later we relocated to Gihundwe Hospital in Cyangugu. It has now dawned on us that we are leaving our forefathers land for the first time in our history. Whereas I was worried about the future of my brother Sgt Niyonzima, he was worried most about my mother and our youngest brother. It had been now almost three months since the last time I waved goodbye to them. We did not know what happened to them in the last two and half months. We are now in Cyangugu and the last news we are having is that the then government of Rwanda and the entire FAR Military Command have relocated to Camp Bigogwe in Gisenyi and some hundreds of thousands have already crossed the border to Goma in Eastern Zaire (DRC). Soon we crossed over into Bukavu, the Southern Capital of South Kivu.
CROSSING THE RWANDO-CONGOLESE BORDER FOR THE FIRST TIME (24/7/1994)
On the evening we crossed into Zaire there were around 1000 wounded soldiers, civilians, and their families. They all totaled about 5,000 people who crossed the border and were led to Camp Panzi. It was a military camp in South of Bukavu. It was in a pathetic conditions, which immediately reminded me that indeed we had left Rwanda. It also reminded me the loss of a man who had made us proud of our country Rwanda. It
reminded me all modern barracks Habyarimana had erected around the country. Full of clean and intelligent soldiers. People who never demanded anything from the citizens people who made each young Rwandan wants to be part of the Rwanda Armed Forces (FAR). Camp Panzi was like an abandoned ruin but to my surprised eyes, there were people living in those ruined houses. "Sergent look, there are people inside there!" I shouted to my brother trying to show him those Congolese soldiers. "I can’t see do you remember?" he posed. This was the place we were going to spend the next two years. Congolese soldiers and people were generous tough poor they were. They immediately blended well with BaRwandais as they used to refer to us. I was growing up too. Though my brother had no eyes, he had healed and accepted his fate. He was happy I was with him. Though I was I teen in a foreign country, with a lot of temptations from men of my age and older, I stayed true to my brother's expectations. He had been hurt enough I did not want to add salt into his fresh wounds.
|A HUTU ORPHANED REFUGEE IN DRC 1994|
FATHER FRANCO, BROTHER PAUL, AND COL. DR. FRODUARD MUGEMANYI
Later Caritas International in cooperation with the Catholic Diocese of Bukavu helped to establish a medical camp for all the wounded people in the camp. Panzi camp became a solace for me and my brother because Dr. Mugemanyi took us in and we stayed at the hospital for all time we spent in Bukavu. Dr. Mugemanyi did all he could to make sure that all the wounded warriors and their families don’t go hungry. Dr. Mugemanyi is the only man who stayed clean in all the process and sacrificed his life for the wounded warriors. Without him many wounded EX-FAR could have died because of tetanus and other infectious diseases. I remember one day his family who lived in Belgium came together with the kids so that they could see their dad and implored him to go with them but he told them these words. "Je vous aime mes petit jolies, vous etes toujours dans mon coeur. Jour et nuit je pense à vous. Je rêve à ta jolie maman. Je me souviens notre enfance. Je vous visiterai quand Je peux. Je suis sure que votre maman et toujours là pour vous, mais ici il y'a des gens misérables que le monde ne veut pas. Leur future reste avec moi. Le Bon Dieu les a mis dans mes bras. Je ne veux pas les abandoner." Roughly translated "I love you and cherish you my beloved young ones. You are and will always be in my heart. I think of you day and night. I dream about your beautiful mom. I think about our young age, our childhood. Whenever I can I will visit you wherever you might be. I know and trust that your mom will take care of you well. There are other people here who have been hated by the world. No one cares about them. God has put them in my hands and they have no other help. I can’t leave them now. Please forgive me. They need me most. That is how much Dr. Mugemanyi Froduard sacrificed for all the wounded warriors in 1995. Dr. Mugemanyi went out of his way to advocate us whereas every body else was running away from us. Please see his interview here with TERRY LEONARD of the Associated Press.
At Panzi Hospital they were other Good Samaritan like Father Franco, and another Senior Father who organized the assistance of people like my brother. All these clergies were killed by RPF in Shimanga when they were fleeing RPF in October 1996. However, there was another group I wanted to talk about in this article. The UNITED METHODIST CHURCH ORGANIZATION FOR REFUGEES (UMCOR). This is an American based charity organization affiliated to the Methodist Church of America. This organization in disguise of charity infiltrated into Panzi Camp in the name of bringing medical assistance to wounded warriors in Camp Panzi. However, this UMCOR had ulterior motives of coming into refugee camps. It was a gang of spies. American spies who were collecting information on daily basis for RPF and US. Some of the people I still remember are other so called missionaries who worked for UMCOR Bukavu and spent most of their times spying on refugees. They used to bring firewood in the Camp Panzi but their mission was to spy the EX-FAR activities and report to Kigali. Among the team were Gene and Jan Jones who spent most of their time navigating between Bukavu, Goma, Nairobi, and Kigali. These people can later be found working in Afghanistan after their mission in DR Congo ended in July 1996 when they knew beforehand that RPF was going to attack Zaire. These people went to work in Afghanistan as it is seen on this web:http://mediasense.com/blog/archives/75. All of us know well what happened to Rwandan Hutu refugees in Eastern DRC in 1996. The war by RPF, Burundi, and Uganda backed by US started in Uvira and Nyangezi spread into Camp Panzi and continued to all refugee camps in Eastern DRC.
HOW UMCOR CAUSED THE DEATHS OF MILLION HUTU REFUGEES IN ZAIRE
During the time Rwandan refugees stayed in Bukavu and Eastern DRC, UMCOR provided a haven for US spies in Eastern DRC and created a zone for future RPF invasion. Dr. Mugemanyi had worked hard to save most of injuries that we had in Camp Panzi. Most of them had recovered and doing well. Some of them went on to find love and found happiness again. Caritas International through Panzi Parish where catholic brothers were staying, provided me with opportunity to go back to school so that I could
|CAMP PANZI IN BUKAVU DRC IN 1995|
become useful to myself but also to my now blind brother Sgt Niyonzima. I joined a school in Bukavu and my brother could now stay at the medical tent where other patients could help me him walk around and come back in the evening to sleep. I was now an adult clocking 18 years. I had hopes for myself but also for my brother. I had become his best friend, a sister, and a mother. Guys in the camp were so nice to me. They could help him take a shower since our Rwandan culture does not allow a mature girl to see her brother naked, so they could come in whenever it is needed and make sure my brother is comfortable. People from UMCOR USA also used to show interests in my brother who was blind but could speak some English since he had gone to an Adventist school in Rwankeri Northern Rwanda. They could bring some little gifts just to make them look like people who were interested in helping but for sure what they wanted was information. They were plotting to make us suffer again. It did not take long in less than a month they all disappeared in a thin air. They had collected and provided all information they needed about EX-FAR, FAZ, and our soldiers who were quarantined in Camp Bulonge in DRC. The UMCOR team never came back to Bukavu because they had accomplished their mission of setting us up for more butchering. The work of UMCOR spying in the refugee camps in Eastern DRC gave birth to the deaths of 8 million Rwandan and Congolese refugees in DRC. It was also the beginning of filling RPF dreams of putting as much Hutus in prison as possible.
WHEN RPF BUTCHERED FATHER FRANCO, CATHOLIC BROTHERS, AND RWANDAN WOUNDED REFUGEES FROM CAMP PANZI IN SHIMANGA
When we fled from Bukavu toward Nyamibwe we were thousands of both Rwandan and Congolese refugees. The bus which was carrying wounded refugees and medical equipment had to follow the road as if it was leading to Goma. However, there was no clear road that would have allowed them to proceed to Goma. I had kissed the last good bye to my brother because he was supposed to go by bus so that he reaches as farthest as he could in his state. I fled on foot together with other refugees. However, I did not know that was the last time I saw my beloved brother. As they fled by bus it was stuck in the mud somewhere passed Bukavu. Those who could walk fled on foot but those who were blind and other crippled ones who couldn’t walk were left in the bus hoping that the RPF murderer will feel pity and let them go back home to Rwanda. It never happened. When RPF and Burundian soldiers arrived there they set the bus on fire and all people inside. I learned about my brother's inferno death a month later when I arrived in Walikale. That is how UMCOR contributed in the deaths of millions of innocent Rwandan refugees. I hope when the Heavens open when the time for judgment comes and righteous ones are reunited again I will be all smiles as I hold my brother tight again. Love you brother.