Rwandan Independence Day doesn’t mean much to me – or at least nothing worth celebrating- that’s the day my grandparents were being chased like animals and killed. My real independence is on the 4th of July when, I and my people finally returned to the land of my ancestors after 30 years of exile. Even then, I live it with mixed feelings, because we returned to find that our relatives left behind in Rwanda had all been massacred.. But we were home at last, and that’s what mattered. We were going to build a brand new Rwanda, where all its children would feel at home. As I write this, 23 years later, we are half-way through that dream and I am proud to report that my country and my people are at peace.
For that I pay tribute my favorite uncle Julien Musafiri Ruhumuliza Ntwari, my role model, a great Rwandan hero. He was Inkotanyi of the early hour. He joined the struggle upon the birth of his second son, whom he naturally named Rwigema. That was in 1990. He was a leader of troops, a great soldier and a Rwandan community mobilizer.
At some point towards 1992, RPF cadres from the Kivu, DRC, had eased up on sending young men to the front… My uncle Musafiri was sent back to Goma to mobilize the community and re-energize the flow of young Rwandans from Congo. That’s when I saw him again. Many young men who’d ‘withdrawn’ (a term meaning to escape the front and go back home) returned to us famished, athirst and skeletal; Not him. He looked healthy and handsome as usual, with that irresistible smile which he kept, in fact, he’d passed by Kibumba, an agrarian region in Kivu, Eastern DRC, and bought some broccoli, carrots and other vegetables for us.
My Aunts were hysteric to see him, my grandmother cried; her favorite son had returned, safe and sound. It was only shortly after the celebrations, that he explained to her his mission. She didn’t protest, she was glad she’d seen him one more time, it was more than any mother could have asked for at that time, many never did…
As a senior member of the Karate club of Goma, it was easy for him to access young men and mobilize them. Also, he went and intimidated all the lame ducks among the Rwandan community and settled all the real or rumored intrigues that had led them to hold on sending young troupes.
For my uncle Musafiri, there has never been any doubt on our future return to Rwanda. One day as he was taking his first born, my cousin Papi to Uganda where his mum lived, they had to cross the boarder and take the bus from Gisenyi in Rwanda. He turned to him and said, look around son; all this is ours, this is where we belong and soon we’ll return. That was in 1987!
Him and his comrades won the war and captured Kigali the capital. By the time we got here from DRC, he was Afande Musafiri; a proud soldier, who’d liberated his country and put an end to the last genocide of the twentieth century.
Since then, he has been fighting a different war; one of helping our surviving relatives in Gisenyi to claim back our ancestral land. Before she died, my grand mother said that my mother’s portion will be given to me, so I am a potential owner of a big piece of land….
Today he is retired and is proud to see his children and nephews: us, thrive in the country he conquered for us; the land of our ancestors. I have many uncles who are living heroes, I have many who died on the battlefield. It doesn’t give me a sense of entitlement, but one of responsibility and duty. I feel, since I am standing on the shoulders of giants, I must reach for the stars for my country. It is clear, there is no way I will match their accomplishments, I mean…
But in my small capacity, I will try and do something beneficial to the people of this small, hilly, side of paradise that the almighty God has given to us.
Of all my elders, he is the person I look up to and my favorite evenings are when visit my uncle Julien with a bottle, seat with him on the balcony and listen to stories of war as we watch the sun set..
I will do just that this evening!
– This is an extract of a book I am writing about exile, liberation, the cold war, an impossible love, etc. It has no title yet..