21 April 2017

Rwanda: Muyumbu, Home to Rwanda's First Genocide Memorial

Muyumbu is one of the emerging townships just outside Kigali. It is increasingly being inhabited by members of the middle and working class families, many of whom with jobs in the capital Kigali.

This small semi-urban village is tucked away in an area that used to be part of the former Kigali Ngali province - in the former Bicumbi commune, currently part of Rwamagana District.

But, other than the fact that it's a fast-growing neighbourhood for especially young families, little is known about Muyumbu. Especially its past.

Muyumbu was the first place where, on November 13, 1994, victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi were officially buried at a memorial site.

That was the beginning of Rwanda's long journey to accord decent farewell to its dead - more than a million of innocent Tutsi brutally killed in a period spanning 100 days between April-July 1994.

After the forces of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) put an end to the Genocide against the Tutsi, it was a time to come to grips with the horror that had had befallen the country.

The bruised and battered survivors were in great pain.

Of priority to them was to urgently find the remains of their loved ones and accord them dignified burial. The country was grieving. Bodies were strewn in the streets, farmlands, hillsides, landfills and across villages. Many others had been dumped in mass graves dug by the Interahamwe militia or the then government forces - two of the groups at the heart of the Genocide.

It was a desperate situation that called for bravery and extraordinary effort to retrieve the bodies and accord each a decent burial.

This taxing exercise kicked off in Muyumbu.

Remains for some 4000 victims were recovered and interred at Muyumbu Genocide memorial. The somber ceremony was graced by top government and military officials.

Charles Munyaneza, a survivor from Muyumbu Sector, recalled that the mass funeral was pulled off thanks to concerted efforts from the new government and residents.

Munyaneza, who was 19 then, told The New Times that some of the 4000 people had been killed at the home of one Theodore Rutabubura, a prominent Tutsi businessman in the area. They included the businessman himself, his family members, neighbours and friends who had gathered there as the killings raged.

Other bodies were recovered from the home of François Mwitirehe, a Tutsi who had given a cow to François Fungamize, then a local (sector) leader.

In the Rwandan culture, a cow is a sign of love and highest respect, and the two had been business associates for a while.

So when the Genocide unfolded, many Tutsi in the area chose to seek refuge at Mwitirehe's, thinking that his home would not be attacked since he had close ties with Fungamize.

Unfortunately, they were wrong.

Rutabubura's home was attacked and Fungamize was among the assailants. Fungamize did not spare even the life of a man who had donated to him a cow.

Burials still on 23 years later

Munyaneza said that another 2,000 bodies were retrieved from a landfill near Muyumbu Health Centre.

The garbage dump had been nicknamed 'CND' -the French acronym for the then official name of the Parliamentary Buildings in Kimihurura, which then housed some 600 Rwanda Patriotic Army troops, who had arrived in the capital Kigali before the Genocide as part of efforts to form a coalition government under the Arusha deal that effectively collapsed when the killings unfolded.

Survivors say that genocide in Rwamagana and the former Bicumbi commune was particularly fueled by extremist Hutu elements who had earlier migrated to the area from the northwestern parts of the country. They included Laurent Semanza, the mayor (bourgmestre) who was an insider in the then Habyarimana regime.

Today, Muyumbu memorial is the resting place for over 14,200 victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi - more than half the sector's current population of over 25,000, according to Muyumbu Sector executive Secretary, David Muhigirwa.

However, the whereabouts of the remains of some Genocide victims remain unknown to date, more than two decades after the slaughter.

Many survivors continue to desperately search for the remains of their loved ones.

Munyaneza says 74 members of his extended family were killed during the Genocide. Yet, he says, only 10 family members were found and given dignified burial.

Only eight people from his extended family, himself inclusive, survived.

The Rwamagana District vice mayor for social affairs, Jeanne Umutoni, lastweek appealed to the area residents, particularly the perpetrators, to help in the effort to locate the whereabouts of the missing victims.

She also urged parents and the community at large to actively fight genocide ideology and not to bequeath extremist ideas to their children.

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