Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 4

With a little help from his friends… and near strangers October 19, 2012 By Maria Hundreds of thousands of Rwandans

were killed in the genocide of 1994. THEO PANAYIDES meets one who managed to avoid this fate and now works to end conflict Dr. Naasson Munyandamutsa‟s story is a story of being helped – sometimes by friends, sometimes by total strangers. Again and again, as he talks about his life, he lays the emphasis on those who took pains over him and went out of their way to support him, sometimes for no reason at all. I think I can see why he does it – because Naasson‟s life is also a story of miraculous escape. If his life hadn‟t taken a certain path, partly through his own efforts and partly because of those who helped him, he‟d almost certainly have died – like most of his family died – in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Instead he‟s Director of the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace in Rwanda, and now sits talking to me in the symbolic environs of the Home for Co-operation in the buffer zone of Nicosia, having been in Cyprus (along with conflict-resolution experts from all over the world) for an international conference on peace and reconciliation. “I was Tutsi,” he recalls when we talk about Rwanda. “And I still am, I think!” he adds, and giggles. That‟s a bit unexpected – that he‟s such a convivial presence, giggling and joking. “I am so old, I don‟t remember exactly my age,” he laughs when I ask how old he is. He was actually born in 1958, putting him in his mid-50s, though he could pass for younger (Africans seem to age differently) – a slight, bespectacled figure with a thin moustache and cheerful, easy manner, rolling out his stories in slightly tentative English. “My English is a catastrophe,” he says apologetically, and laughs again. Being a Tutsi in Rwanda was no laughing matter, however. The country‟s become a byword for mass murder but it‟s still worth recalling the details of the 1994 genocide, just because the facts are so astonishing. An estimated 800,000 people (most of them Tutsis) were slaughtered by the Hutu majority, which itself is a shocking number – but even more shocking is that all the killing took place in three months, from early April to mid-July, meaning an average of 8,000 people (the population of a small town) were murdered every single day for weeks on end. Even more shocking was the savagery of the killings: even the Holocaust was a relatively impersonal case of machine-guns and gas chambers – but Rwandans were murdered at close quarters, with hammers and machetes. And most shocking of all, finally, is that people were killed by their erstwhile friends and neighbors. “We used to live in the same village,” recalls Naasson, “to

000 he needed to show to . He was in boarding school at the time. “But he had some cows. “It was fantastic. I remember I spent one week in the bush with some of my friends. paying the boy‟s expenses for the rest of his schooldays. My parents didn‟t know if I was alive or not”. there were other angels: a college secretary who interceded to get him transferred to the Faculty of Medicine. In 1973. and by the mid-60s around half of the Tutsi population were living outside the country – which itself added to the problem. when that failed. a businessman friend who lent him the $4.play football together.” marvels Naasson now. during one of the many “crises”. repeating the final year of primary school and going back to his village on weekends. it was a miracle for me. He‟d met Naasson‟s father. but he‟s doing his best. to go to church and pray together. a Protestant priest in a village near Lake Kivu. sparking frequent rumors of impending invasion by Tutsi guerrillas. who dreamed of his seven children being educated (Naasson was the oldest) and refused to back down. a Belgian chemistry teacher who was new at the school. replied Naasson.” How could it happen? One thing to remember – calling to mind our own ethnic problems. who didn‟t care about ethnic identity. in ethnic tension – because it was hard for a Tutsi to get into secondary school. The only catch was that this was a private school. not at all. graduating to the Adventists‟ own secondary school. Things looked grim for a while – but then another of his guardian angels turned up. as we sit in the buffer zone – is that the genocide followed decades of tension between Hutus and Tutsis. No. but since it‟s out there… does he ever feel there was some divine hand in the help he received? After all. opened his pockets to show that he had no more. Rwanda became independent in 1962 (two years after Cyprus) but already there had been massacres. That‟s where he repeated the year yet again (and almost got killed). was he still repeating primary school at 15? The answer lies. a single man. sending him to a boarding school run by Seventh-Day Adventists. “Will he be happy if I pay for you from now on?” asked the Belgian – and so he did. you may wonder. making him repeat the final year – even when Naasson himself wanted to quit school and get a job planting coffee – then. and expensive. “Just a young teacher. even a top student like Naasson. again. when Naasson protested. and the priest must‟ve made an impression because the new teacher asked the boy if his dad found it easy to pay for him.” Selling cows got them through a couple of years of school fees – but there came a day when his dad only gave him part of the necessary sum then.” he replies. Why. they kill everybody. Naasson‟s school came under attack: “They killed kids.” I wasn‟t going to mention the m-word. That‟s where the first of the people who helped him comes in: his own father. Was his father rich? “No.

Do your best to become somebody. a good one. Naasson went to Arusha as part of his job. and asked to see his friend. I did the same. His father may have planned his education. I am an almost-heathen”. but the friend said no. and then you can decide to come back. there is such a thing as being blessed – “and. Naasson‟s life would be radically different – and probably cut short 18 years ago.” he replies. where he went to study Psychiatry in 1989. my mother used to pray for me every day.” That was in 1992. Still. where he lived for a while with a woman. the others hid in the mountains and “tried to resist for weeks”.” they insisted.‟ And he said: „I will not kill you. at least to the capital Kigali. “Does he . many (or most) of the killers were “normal people”. “they went to the house of a Hutu and said: „You can kill us. she sadly urged him out of Rwanda: “Please go. His mother was bludgeoned to death with a hammer. “he used to come and sleep at my home. If any one of these people hadn‟t acted as they did. the brother moved to nearby Burundi – and. Finally. who‟d been sent to stay with his father when the trouble started (they thought that “because he‟s a priest. where he was being kept in atrocious conditions. Naasson heard about it from a cousin. along with Naasson. is now awaiting trial at Arusha. even if I am not a good Christian. and we want you to kill us. Naasson‟s childhood friend. recalls Naasson. amidst all the savagery? Hard to say. then thrown in a communal grave. Was it just dumb luck? He shrugs affably. But during the genocide he killed people – a doctor! – then afterwards he left and was arrested”. they will not kill him”). “and don‟t come back until you become somebody. Now. Because we don‟t have any possibility of being alive. a town in Tanzania where the International Tribunal for Rwanda is based. but they stayed put: “We‟ll find a solution.” he says. Just to visit was “a very big risk. loved everybody”. Did he feel guilty? “I think if you commit genocide you are destroyed in yourself.” he recalls her saying.” How many such tiny acts of kindness were there. he adds. Nyungwe National Park. He was already in Switzerland with his wife and kids (he has four. He begged his family to move away.get a visa to Switzerland. “my friends in Geneva told me „You are crazy‟”. “the best friend I ever had”. but in vain. was the only member of the family to survive the genocide. Our house was always open for everybody – she helped everybody.” he recalls. I will protect you‟. The cousin survived by going deep into the forest. We were very close. and she was such an amazing lady. but it was his “beautiful” mum who offered moral support. weary and emaciated. “I was at that time a Christian. after all. Maybe it‟s hard to believe in a God who‟d allow the horrors of 1994 to take place. the oldest about to graduate as a doctor). “but no longer. They were together from primary school to medical school. The last time he saw her. He did manage to get one of his brothers released from jail. and Rwanda was already in turmoil. surviving on grass and roots. The others were all killed. thinking back to his youth.

“and during the period of hypnosis” – he shrugs sadly – “no barriers. But from my village I can‟t. it is difficult. peddling a clear and odious message: “It is not about choice. Does he see his old Hutu friends? “Yes. Above all. “but I have many regrets. many of them. Need to die. my help. A relatively small country (less than three times the size of Cyprus) that was very well organized – “You have a chief of village. as he himself was helped. And to overcome that is difficult.” . years of racist propaganda including the notorious Radio Mille Collines (“that radio. Because I know them”. no limits. but I try – if I meet somebody who needs my support. But I think some kind of ideology – a special genocide ideology – killed men in a deeper way. Decades of tension. muses Naasson. and I have. “I don‟t succeed every time. there‟s something very steely in Dr. behind the jokes and affable manner. Because for me he was a normal person. Because when I went in ‟92. in his job as psychiatrist and conflict-resolution expert. friendly man in front of me? “I don‟t feel guilty. helping re-build the shattered country. but now it is difficult to have…” He pauses. “Because this is my story as well. “and he knows everybody” – making it almost impossible to hide one‟s ethnic identity. Does he have survivor‟s guilt? What feelings seethe and churn beneath the cheerful surface of the thin. that abominable radio!”). And I didn‟t talk enough. He‟s been back in Rwanda for years now. And this is the story of my mum. Easier to say he was lucky.” He himself escaped. Tutsi in your village need to go away.” explains Naasson. I saw the signs”. “I try in my life. I do that.hate me? He doesn‟t love me any longer? I don‟t know. This is necessary”. but I can see why he‟d want to emphasize the role of other people in forging his destiny. All he can do now is help. he knows what they did. A culture that emphasized blind obedience to authority. Saying that he did it all himself – making him the architect of his own survival – risks being an insult to those who died. as already mentioned. good contact with Hutus.” he says.” Several factors played a part in Rwanda. More importantly. help other people. How I wasn‟t convincing enough with my family to go outside [the country]. Naasson Munyandamutsa? I‟m no psychologist. Everything is possible. Was it just good fortune? Or was it due to his own perseverance that he ended up in Geneva? Could it be that. not wishing to give the wrong impression: “I can.” he replies carefully. It was like mass hypnosis.

Centres d'intérêt liés