Chapter 1


No one really knows what happened in Rwanda, but I can tell you with certainty that on the evening of April 6th, 1994, my life’s trajectory was forever altered. The twelve passengers on the presidential airplane weren’t the only ones whose lives were shot down that night. My dreams for the future – and the dreams of over eight million other Rwandans – were crushed in the events triggered by this assassination.

The death of President Habyarimana was the final straw in what had been a protracted and violent battle for power between Rwanda’s two dominant ethnic groups, the Hutu and the Tutsi. Hatred and violence between them is deep-rooted. Over four centuries {1} of intermittent power struggles have left a legacy of bitterness. In 1959 that bitterness erupted into what was called the Social Revolution, but was, in reality, a Hutu Revolution that killed many thousands of Tutsi, some Hutu, and a few number of expatriates in seven years of sporadic fighting with the Tutsi insurgency, forcing many others into exile in neighbouring Uganda. A thirty-year hiatus followed, during which conflicts lay relatively dormant and the economy boomed. But the Tutsi exiles in Uganda were eager to return to their country of birth, and in Rwanda, tensions between the remaining minority Tutsi and the majority Hutu still smouldered. In 1990, Tutsi who had been embedded in the Ugandan army invaded Rwanda and began a civil war. The war had been going on for four years when the plane carrying two Hutu presidents {2} was shot down. There could be no doubt that much bloodshed was to follow.

Throughout the evening of April 6th and long through the night I stayed glued to the radio. I wasn’t alone: my whole university {3} of about 1,500 students was frozen in anxiety. Hour after hour we hung on to the national radio broadcast, hoping vainly for more information. We stayed up the whole night waiting for news, far too burdened by imagined dangers to sleep. By the morning of April 7th, ominous rumours were circulating about political assassinations in the capital, Kigali. And on the morning of the next day, April 8th, the threats of violence became real for us; by noon our once beautiful Mudende campus was littered with corpses. The bloodcurdling screams had left little to imagine; the dead bodies of classmates strewn across the grounds removed all doubt. The sight and smell of blood was overpowering, and waves of terror and grief went rippling through the campus.

Tutsi students and staff members were being brutally struck down with sticks, stones, machetes, clubs and whatever weapons came to hand. Those who had not yet been identified as Tutsi were frozen in fear; Hutu students were too terrified to intervene to prevent further bloodshed.

In Rwanda today, as I write this, it is the Hutu who take the blame for the horrible acts of the 1994 Tutsi genocide, and it is taboo to make any reference to the 1996 Hutu genocide that followed. However, you cannot blame an entire ethnic group for either of these despicable acts. At the Adventist University of Central Africa Mudende, a few Hutu rose to the occasion to help save Tutsi and vulnerable Hutu alike. We risked our own lives, and managed to spare quite a few. But in the narrative that has been constructed since the 1994 genocide, those who did as we did have been ignored or used as scapegoats and hunted down by Kagame’s regime, and the demonization of Hutu is thus complete.

I had nothing to do with the Tutsi genocide; I organized an evacuation from Mudende that saved many of my fellow students, both Tutsi and Hutu. But like so many others, I have endured years—and now decades—of discrimination and persecution. Rwanda can only heal as a nation when Hutu and Tutsi stop blaming one another for what happened. We must stop the cycle of lies, blame, and demonization that perpetuate hatred.

A few months after the start of the 1994 genocide, I began a life of exile. Like countless other Rwandans, I can never go back to the life I had. Twenty-five years later, the road of exile still stretches before me.

{1} Tutsi king Ruganzu II Ndoli, 1510-1543, is said to have annihilated almost all the Hutu kings, or Abahinza. The Northern Hutu kingdoms such as Mulera in the modern Ruhengeri province, and Bushiru, in the modern province of Gisenyi, resisted annexation and remained independent until about 1912, when German troops helped the Tutsi king Musinga invade and annex them.

{2} Both President Habyarimana of Rwanda and President Ntaryamira of Burundi were on the airplane. Both countries were 84% Hutu, and the assassination was seen as an attack on the Hutu people of all the African Great Lakes Region (Rwanda, Burundi, Congo DRC, Uganda and Tanzania). The assassination was believed by Hutu to have been carried out by Tutsi RPF forces under the direction of Major Paul Kagame.

{3} Adventist University of Central Africa Mudende was established in 1978 in the province of Gisenyi, but officially opened on October 15,1984. The campus closed in April 1994 due to genocide, but was reestablished in 1996 in Kigali.