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Rwanda: The Aftermath

by Kim Harrisberg / 18.02.2014

Hassan Mutabazi is one of the many Rwandan Genocide victims that gathered in a small mud house in the village of Kabuga, Rwanda last month.

Initially, his age is hard to decipher. He is short and slight, with a thick moustache that seems at odds with his young face. “I am 26,” he tells me as we walk away from the group of teenagers hovering quietly near the entrance of the house. Mutabazi is the only one willing to talk to me. Possibly because his story is different to the other Genocide victims gathered that day. Unlike the others, he does not worry about the implications of sharing his mother’s story. She is no longer alive and so, if he does not tell it, no one will.

What soon becomes obvious, is that the crowd is made up of only women and children, Mutabazi being one of the oldest and is one of few men. The Best Hope Rwanda organisation, a grassroots NGO that had been growing incrementally over the past two years, is holding a meeting to collect the names of Genocide victims seeking assistance.

Although the name lacks originality (post 1994 saw the birth of an array of ‘Best Hopes’, ‘Good Hopes’, ‘Rwanda’s Best Good Hopes etc), this organisation is unique in that it caters specifically to women subjected to mass rape during the genocide, and to their children born from these rapes. Despite the social and emotional implications of this unusual mother-child relationship, the complications of taxonomy is another reason these women are here today: children born post 1994 are not considered Genocide victims, by both national and international standards.

“I remember hearing Habyarimanya’s plane crash,” says Mutabazi. The shooting down of the then president’s plane was seen by many as the final catalyst in the Genocide eruption. He recalls then, the arrival of the Hutu soldiers with a list of Tutsi names.

“That was when I ran with my mother.”

Mutabazi’s father was killed, but he managed to survive with his mother because she “was very beautiful”. The Hutu soldiers took a liking to her,  keeping her as a sex slave to be raped, at times in front of Mutabazi.

His younger brother was born from these rapes, and is now living with HIV. His mother died from Aids related illnesses in 1998.

Mutabazi is attending this meeting alone. “My brother is ill. I have come to ask for medicine and I am looking for help too.”

Best Hope Rwanda assists with healthcare, counseling and education for 80 women and 110 children. The founder of the organisation, Dieudonne Gahizi Ganza, decided to start Best Hope Rwanda after shooting a documentary that told of the suffering the families were subjected to over a space of 19 years.

“Some women were still suffering physically and emotionally from rape during the Genocide. Many of them were still bleeding because they had not received proper medical care,” explains Ganze. He lost many relatives during the Genocide, and at the age of 26, he decided to dedicate himself to the cause full-time.
“Before, these children were called ‘little killers’ and ‘children of bad memories’ but this is now changing,” he says.

The names of the growing number of beneficiaries are taken down. There are no lines formed and, with everything spoken in Kinyarawandan and voices competing with one another, it seems chaotic. But, somehow, every person is documented and every angst recorded, including Mutabazi’s.

Canadian journalist Sue Montgomery had come along to connect with the women and children through cooking. “Rwanda has the most incredible vegetables and I wanted to show the women how to make the most of this,” Montgomery says. She had brought a big bag of the carrots, tomatoes, celery and green peppers that are sold along most Rwandan pavements, and the chopping began. She confesses that she can’t stomach a single more helping of cassava, rice or posho (the South African equivalent of pap).

Initial intermittent laughter soon turns into a food fight, instigated by Montgomery.
“Cooking is a way of bringing people together. Everyone loves eating,” she says.

“It is rare that these women can laugh so easily, ” admits Ganza. “One cannot imagine how difficult it is to be a rape survivor.”

Mutabazi hovers on the outskirts of the group. Laughing occasionally but keeping his distance from both the mothers and the other children. For someone like Mutabazi, the lines guiding post-Genocide support are blurred. He has no mother to attend the Best Hope meetings, nor was he born out of rape. After school, he trained as an electrician but he has yet to find a job. Both him and his brother are HIV-positive.

“Ganza helps my brother with schooling and medicine,” Mutabazi says. But the question remains, who will help Mutabazi?

When I visit Ezra Mutwara, he shakes my hand emphatically before listening intently to the dilemmas of the people it is his job to support. Mutwara is the Director of Finance and Administration for FARG. This French acronym roughly translates to Fund for Rwandan Genocide Survivors and aims to assist survivors financially, emotionally and otherwise.

Beginning in January, FARG has earmarked Rwf60 million (the equivalent of around R1 million) to help female victims of the Genocide. As mentioned earlier, according to public policy, the children born out of rape after 1994 are not considered Genocide victims. “We feel that the children will be indirectly supported through the support FARG offers the mothers,” says Mutwara.

I ask Mutwara why there’s such a pertinent need for charities like Best Hope Rwanda and how they can collaborate with FARG.

“Although we cannot fund an organisation that is not working within the FARG framework, if a charity like Best Hope was to work closely with local administration, we could help with phase-by-phase funding as we monitor the progress,” he explains.

It sounds like bureaucratic lingo. Seeing the subtle frown that formed on my face, he adds: “There are so many victims. We need to make sure that those existing organisations have the right intentions.”

I relayed Mutabazi’s story to both Ganza and Mutwara.“The question surrounding Mutabazi is a valid one. We hope to help all victims of the Genocide in the future. For now, we are working on getting funding, both from FARG and private donors,” Ganza says.

“He [Mutabazi] is clearly a victim of the Genocide, and therefore a definite FARG beneficiary,” says Mutwara enthusiastically. “He has been misinformed! He should approach FARG for further training. Give him my number!  Tell him to call me! ”

With the growing number of Genocide victims reaching out for help, the value of both public and private assistance is of evident equal urgency. “We applaud organisations like Best Hope,” Mutwara says. He realises that there is only so much that each organisation can achieve.

Fully aware of this limitation, Ganza was one of the speakers at the National Dialogue earlier this month. His message was pressing: “The counselling of women and children is something that has been overlooked. If this is not dealt with now, the impact of this trauma on the children will become a bigger problem in the future.”

However Mutabazi’s story fell through the cracks. Since the publishing of this article in Rwandan press, he has since been registered for further vocational training. Undoubtedly, his story is one of many and perhaps a lesson for organisations and Genocide victims alike.

With the SURF Survivors Fund estimating 300,000 to 400,000 survivors of the Genocide, the collaboration of a variety of organisations is vital for Rwanda’s continued journey of reconciliation.

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