24 July 2018

Rwanda: How Mother of Two Dragged Husband From FDLR Militia

opinion

She built a house and purchased a piece of land while her husband was still lingering in the forests of DR Congo. She risked her life six times crossing into areas of the insurgence in the soggy forests of DR Congo, masquerading as a dealer in the charcoal syndicate in the forests.

She crossed rivers, which scare armed forces in the Congo to have a chance for her new born baby to be named by the father.

This is Angelique Rukundo, the wife to rtd. Maj. Jean d'Amour Tuyisenge (aka Vitar Mwizerwa) who she relentlessly convinced for eight years to leave FDLR militia group and return to his homeland.

In 2009 Angélique Rukundo stepped onto Rwandan soil for the first time in 15 years having fled to DR Congo in 1994.

Her husband, who she married in the Congo jungles and with whom she had two children, remained with FDLR, which he had joined in 1997.

"We agreed I return to Rwanda because I could no longer handle rebel life with the children," Rukunda said.

Rukundo went to her husband's family at Ryabizige, Cyanzarwe Sector in Rubavu District, Western Province and introduced herself as Tuyisenge's wife.

She started working to sustain the two small boys but loneliness was taking its toll.

Disclosing the secret to authorities

"As time went by, I realised authorities in Rwanda could actually help me to have my husband back and I had told them my husband was a Major in in the FDLR rebel group".

Authorities helped her to get travel documents which she used to travel to Congo in 2012 and a phone to help her communicate with him.

She crossed several danger zones and saw several people killed "especially in the areas of Rucuro," perhaps others like her who were trying to persuade their loved ones to lay down arms.

"But for me, it was more risky even in FDLR territory because I was from Rwanda, a sign that I had different ideas from them which could be paid for with death" she commented.

All the six risky times she pursued her husband, she repeated the same words "we miss you and your country misses you as well" in the same manner of surging tears in her innocent eyes. Tuyisenge resisted the wife's advances dismissing her as a "mere woman".

"Authorities continued renewing my travel documents although I could promise each time I went to my husband that it would be the last time," she remembers.

A new family member

It so happened that when Rukundo visited her husband for the fifth time in 2014, she conceived and expected a baby boy.

Rukundo gave birth to a third child, who after turning 2 years old, she asked her husband for another meeting.

The husband kept on postponing the wife's visit claiming the rebel group had moved too far.

After almost a year, Tuyisenge finally agreed to her coming to meet him for the sixth time.

Rukundo informed authorities again of her journey scheduled September 8, 2017.

Meeting across the river

She travelled as usual following her husband's direction on phone until she came to a place where two Congolese citizens were waiting to escort her to her husband.

"At Kiwanja (in DR Congo), I found a man and woman who were charcoal dealers and was supposed to dress like them to pass through."

"I took off my clothes and wore rugs like them, carried my child on my belly as Congolese do and dusty charcoal sacks on my head" she recalled.

They reached the crocodile-infested Gicuri River which pours into Lake Albert, between DR Congo and Uganda.

"They told me: "your husband is across the river". The charcoal dealers vanished into the water. When they got across, they mocked me that I should turn back if I wished".

After seeing she was determined to cross the river, the Congolese man returned and led her through the water.

After walking for miles, she linked with her husband but met in secret to avoid being noticed by other FDLR militants.

The full measure of devotion

The long weary day journey had its toll on her. She could not afford to request the husband to return home.

"The second day on which I was prepared to tell him about returning, the child contracted diarrhoea and vomiting. They told me it was a cholera," Rukundo recalls.

The husband disclosed the presence of the wife to a few fellow rebels in an effort to get treatment but there was no medicines for young children since there were no children in FDLR.

They had either succumbed to diseases or mothers fled the area for relatively safer places in DR Congo.

It was the first time in life to hold a sick baby, she said.

The boy was in his hands as the last evidence of the full measure of the family's devotion to have him back.

"Emotions gathered in me as I felt guilty for sacrificing my family for my arrogance in a meaningless war," he said.

He wondered how he could have been so stupid to refuse to listen to his wife until this point when it seemed too late for my boy to survive".

Gathering capacity to take the child to a hospital took another day.

The child had showed signs of no recovery but the wife had to go away because it was risky having her among the FDLR anymore.

The motorcycle they had called to come to the river would take her back to Rwanda to bury the boy in his homeland in case he died.

Rukundo asked Tuyisenge: "Why do you want your boy to be buried in Rwanda where you don't want to return?"

Tuyisenge gave the wife all his belongings, including all his clothes in a bulky bag, as a sign that he would follow her soon.

The motorcycle was at the river when the wife crossed back with the child. They decided to go to a health unit at a place called Kibanza where Rukundo would "wait until the child's last breath". Fortunately, the boy recovered.

"I informed my husband all that had happened and we were happy when the boy fully recovered in five days later," she narrated.

The elder boy at home, Aristote Tuyisenge, started noticing that a father was missing in the home.

He asked his mother several times where his father was and the mother could only reply that he had gone to look for work on the other side of Lake Kivu.

"The boy was always imploring that the father should come home. Whenever I could visit their father, I could lie to the boy that I had gone to Kigali for a wedding".

Tuyisenge remembers a situation when they talked on the phone and the 11 year-old son commented "if you were here, I would be helping you in your work".

A hardworking woman

Tuyisenge knows deep in his heart that while he is a proud man, he owes all to his hard working wife, Rukundo.

While his family feared attempting to go to the Congo to convince him to return, Rukundo dared.

She is the one who gathered resources to erect a house in his plot and buy a piece of land for farming.

"I was supposed to begin from nothing but now I and my family have everything we basically need," Tuyisenge said proudly.

The challenge that still lingers in him is to be able to bring ideas together for a certain objective.

"I was used to being commanded and hopeless about tomorrow. Today, I'm challenged that I have to think and find solutions to challenges my family faces."

Three months after his wife's sixth visit, on December 21, 2017, Tuyisenge was received at Rubavu border by authorities in Rwanda.

He was taken to a rehabilitation centre at Mutobo in Musanze District run by the Demobilisation and Rehabilitation Commission (RDRC).

On December 30, 2017, Tuyisenge and his fellow ex-combatants at Mutobo were allowed to meet their families before they began effective demobilisation studies.

He was later received at home at Ryabizige, Cyanzarwe Sector, Rubavu District in Western Province by family and friends.

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