Guest Blog Post by my fellow nation-builder Olaboludele Simoyan
Dear Nigerian women,
I would like to start this letter by saying congratulations to the people of Nigeria on the country’s recent celebration of its 100th anniversary as a nation.
In Rwanda, we are also planning and holding many activities for the 20th anniversary of the genocide of almost a million Rwandans. The Rwandan genocide was 100 days plus of killings of fellow citizens. It started in April 1994 and did not end until sometime in July 1994. I am actively involved in the activities of the 20th anniversary of the massacres. And I guess that is why I got up in the early hours of this morning in cold sweat! I woke up sweating, panting and breathless. My heart was beating so fast! My pillow was soaked with sweat. I quickly turned on the lights and was relieved to find myself in my bedroom and not outside on a street full of dead bodies. I had had yet another nightmare which has become a frequent occurrence in my life!
My nightmare is basically the same. In the dream, some militiamen were running after me. I was running as fast as I could and jumping over many dead bodies along the way. I knew intuitively that I couldn’t allow them to catch me because if they did, they would gang -rape me and mutilate my body like they did to so many Rwandan women. So I kept running. One of them finally caught up with me and just as he was reaching out to grab me by the shoulder, I would wake up sweating, panting and breathing heavily. And it is always the same kind of nightmare in one form or the other. Even though it is now a nightmare, unfortunately for me at one point in my life, it was once a part of my reality! And that is why I am writing this letter to you Nigerian women to warn you! You cannot afford to find yourself in the situation Rwandan women found themselves in 20 years ago! You just can’t afford it!
I will tell you my story for emphasis.
I come from a family of seven children. My father was Tutsi and my mother was Hutu. Like many other Rwandan families, ours was a mixed one. My father was a successful businessman and my mother was a housewife. I had two older brothers, three older sisters and a younger brother. My father apparently had pretty strong genes, so all his children end up looking pretty much like Tutsis.
When the genocide started, the ages of my siblings were 24 and 21 years for my older brothers, 19, 15 and 13 years for my sisters and five years for my little brother. And I was just 10 years of age. We were in my father’s village when the crisis started in April. In the early hours of the morning while we were still asleep we were awoken by a loud sound and a lot of noise and commotion. People were running helter-skelter outside our compound. They were shouting in our language “They’re coming! They’re coming!! They want to kill us! RUN! RUN!! RUN for your life!!!”
My father had heard on TV about the president’s plane being shot down and the crisis that ensued in Kigali but he never imagined or expected that it would get to our village so soon. Before we knew what was happening, we started hearing gun-shots and grenades exploding! As we peeped through the window, we saw terrified villagers shouting, screaming and running for their lives.
My father had to think fast and he was thinking aloud. He said “If we run out, we could get killed in the stampede, so let’s hide in the house. If they come in and see nobody, they will think we ran away. My parents had two big laundry baskets in their room. My father quickly took out some clothes from both baskets and put my little brother in one and put me in the other and threw some clothes over us to make sure we couldn’t be seen. He told my mother and my 13- year -old sister to hide under the bed in my parents’ room. Running from the room, he told my other two sisters to go and hide under the beds in their room. My father and my brothers also went to hide somewhere in the house.
We were hiding for what seemed like hours but it was in fact just some minutes before the militia let themselves into our house by breaking the door . I heard their footsteps (many footsteps) walking all over the house kicking things over. I was praying and hoping they would not come into my parents’ bedroom where I was hiding with my little brother, my mother and my sister. Unfortunately for us, they did. They walked into the room looked around, saw the unmade bed with rumpled bed sheets, the laundry baskets with clothes spilling over, the dresser with cosmetics, bottles of perfume etc. and a wardrobe full of clothes, shoes and many other things.
For a split second, one of the militia looked straight at the laundry baskets with clothes spilling over the side. I could see him through some holes in the basket I was in. My heart skipped a bit. He then looked elsewhere. They looked into my parents’ wardrobe and stole the money there. They took some other things which I couldn’t see and then they started leaving the room one by one. As they were leaving, one of them ran back to take a bottle of perfume from the dresser. He sprayed it on his wrist and smelt it before he put it in his backpack. He was the last to leave the master bedroom. On his way out, he heard a muffled sneeze. So he stopped and listened again and this time he heard someone sneeze. My 13- year -old sister was the one that sneezed; she was asthmatic and the smell of the perfume caused her to sneeze. He turned, looked around and then looked under the bed and he saw my mum and sister hiding there shaking in fear with terrified looks on their faces. He called the others to come and see what he found.
What happened next is better imagined than seen. What I remember is a bit fuzzy in my mind because I passed out some time during the attack on my family. They dragged out my mum and my 13- year -old sister and they were kicking, screaming, fighting, crying and shouting for help. They also found my other two sisters and brought them into the room. They started to rape my mum and sisters. My sisters were all hysterical and screaming from the pain. My 13- year -old sister immediately blacked out and became unconscious. The other two sisters soon after passed out too. But that didn’t stop them as they just continued to rape them until they had satisfied themselves.
Far off, I heard the voices of my father and my brothers. I guess they had heard the screaming and had come to save my mum and my sisters from the rapists.There was a fight outside my parents’ room, I heard my father shouting angrily in our language “But you know me! How can you do this to my family?” All of a sudden, I heard gunshots for about two minutes but seemed more than two hours of gunshots. I couldn’t see them, so I really didn’t know what actually happened apart from hearing voices and gunshots. I was trembling with fear not knowing what to expect next! After a while, it all stopped and I heard my father and brothers’ voices no more. The only voices I heard were the angry voices of the militiamen shouting at each other.
I passed out soon after the shoot-out only to be awakened some hours afterwards by my little brother crying for me to wake up. He was pulling my arm, crying and saying “Please wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Please don’t leave me alone! Please wake up!”
I managed to drag myself out of the laundry basket. What I saw was appalling, awful and unbearable. My mum and my sisters were all dead. After raping them, they slit their throats and mutilated their bodies. They didn’t spare their breasts and vaginas. It was a horrible sight to behold! There was blood all over the carpet.There was blood on the bed. There was blood on the walls. There was blood everywhere in that master bedroom. It was shocking and repulsive! I couldn’t even cry!My brother whimpered and was shell shocked! He too couldn’t cry. We tried not to look again as we quickly stepped over their half-naked mutilated bodies and ran to the corridor.
My father and my big brothers’ dead bodies were in the corridor not too far from my parents’ room. They had multiple gunshot wounds. Their bodies also had been mutilated with machete and nail-studded clubs known as masu.I grabbed my little brother’s hand and ran outside the house and compound as fast as we could. When we got outside, we saw more dead bodies on the roadside. We ran to the family house and met with more dead bodies of our relatives. Nobody in the family house survived the attack. I guess because my father was a well-known businessman in Rwanda, his house and his extended family’s house had been targeted in the attacks on our village.
I knew that we had to get out of our village as fast as possible. But where do we go. Confused and bewildered, we walked to three villages nearby. It was the same story – dead mutilated bodies scattered all over the deserted villages. In the fourth village we got to, we saw the panic- stricken faces of the villagers. They had heard the news about our village and other surrounding villages. Many of them were packing basic essentials and were heading for any safe place they could find (in most cases, safe places were schools or churches). My brother and I joined them in the long walk to safety not knowing where we were going or if we would make it out of all this alive.
We walked for days and begged for food to eat and water to drink. Our numbers grew as more people abandoned their villages for fear of being attacked by the militia.
We finally got to Kabuye Hill which we were told was a safe sanctuary. We arrived in Kabuye Hill in the early hours of the morning. However, later on that day in the evening, just as we were settling down to sleep for the night, we were attacked again by a team of militia (men and women) known as Interahamwe (meaning “those who fight/work/attack together) they were led by “believe or not” a pregnant Hutu woman. She was shouting orders to her team while shooting into the crowd of villagers and throwing grenades at us refugees. She and her team of killers were throwing the grenades as if they were throwing corn seeds to feed chickens. We were now refugees in our own country under attack by fellow Rwandan citizens.
On this Kabuye Hill, the so-called safe spot, over 40,000 men, women and children were killed! 40,000 Tutsis were killed! 40,000Rwandan citizens were killed! On that hill, 40,000 human beings lost their lives to ethnic cleansing!
We had fled here in the hope of safety and here we were being slaughtered and hacked to death by machete-wielding militia. How grotesque does life get?
The killings went on for several days. In the evening of each day, the killers would go home to eat and sleep. And by daybreak of the following morning, they would be back to continue the madness and massacre of fellow Rwandans. To make sure the wounded were immobilised and couldn’t escape at night, the militia would often cut the victim’s Achilles tendon trapping them like a rat in a rat trap. Sometimes, the wounded were left for days to die a slow painful death and some others were thrown into a mass grave with the dead and ended up suffocating to death.
Somehow we survived the first evening of the attack. That night, I smeared myself with blood and told my brother to do the same. We hid amongst the corpses pretending to be dead. We were too scared to move, to breathe or to cry. We laid there under the corpses for days. I don’t know how many days it was. It seemed more like years to me.
My little brother ended up dying. He had been hit by a bullet but we didn’t know and he bled to death while we were hiding under the corpses.
I lost every member of my family in the genocide.
I escaped from this massacre with a Hutu woman who had also lost her family in the attacks that took place in her Tutsi husband’s village. The truth of the matter (regardless of which ethnic group you may come from) is that women and children always end up being the worst affected victims of genocides and wars. We end up paying a high price for these conflicts that we did not cause! We end up being offered as the sacrifice for the fighting amongst our people. We end up becoming collateral damage in the hostilities.
This Hutu woman I call “My angel”adopted me and raised me as her own child. She sent me to secondary school and university. Today, I am one of the youngest serving members of parliament. And I am playing an active part in our 20th anniversary activities. And that is why I have written this letter to tell Nigerian women my story.
I am really upset with Nigerian women. I can see that your country Nigeria seems to be heading in the same direction my country was 20 years ago. You can see from my story that you just cannot afford to allow that to happen! You just cannot afford to let your country continue to slide down that slippery slope of disaster. Please do whatever you can to stop the downhill ride to tragedy, ruin and catastrophe! Please do something now to stop it! And do it with a great sense of urgency!
A great human rights advocate, Alison Des Forges, once wrote this about the Rwandan genocide, “This genocide was not an uncontrollable outburst of rage by a people consumed by ‘ancient tribal hatred’. Nor was it the preordained result of the impersonal forces of poverty and over-population. This genocide resulted from the deliberate choice of a modern elite to foster hatred and fear to keep itself in power.”
In the years leading up to the genocide, Rwandans were been conditioned into a climate of ethnic hatred, terror, fear, and impunity which was created by extremists in government, politicians and the intelligentsia. Doesn’t that sound quite similar to what is happening today in your country, Nigeria?
In Rwanda, a climate of impunity was deliberately fostered on Rwandans by the Hutu power drunk politicians and elite. In the early 90s, Tutsis were blamed for all kinds of problems and evils in the country. Brutal and violent attacks against the Tutsi people and their property went unpunished. The Tutsis ended up becoming public enemy number one and they were made easy targets for violent attacks by fellow citizens. They even gave Tutsis a derogatory name “inyenzi” meaning cockroaches and they also called Tutsis snakes, filth, cannibals etc.
Nigerian women, read the handwriting is on the Nigerian wall. I just heard that 59 Nigerian children were murdered in their sleep in their hostels. You have to stop the madness NOW! You have time to stop the madness going on in your country. Now is the time to stop it!
We Rwandan women also had time to stop the madness but we didn’t do enough and we paid the price! A very high price as you can see from my personal story! We had over two years of warning signs before the genocide took place. Almost a million of our people were massacred in the genocide before we (Rwandan women) realised that we had to get involved. Nigerian women, please don’t make the same mistakes we made; learn from our mistakes. Rwanda now has a law that states that 30% of the decision makers must be women. Today, 56% of our decision makers are women and that is the highest in the world.
I will end with what humanitarian, Carl Wilkens, said about Rwanda’s recovery. He said, “One of the things you can point to in the recovery is women”. He added, “A lot of people ask, How do you get accountability? How do you fight corruption? And I say ‘Women.’”
As the world celebrated the International Women’s day on the 8th of March, as Rwanda lines up activities for the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide and as Nigeria also celebrated 100 years as a nation, I know that Rwandan women will play their part. And I am sure as Nigerian women read this letter, they will be emboldened to also play their part in building the GREAT NEW NIGERIA Africa deserves!
I am counting on you Nigerian women!
Rwandan women are counting on you Nigerian women!
African women too are counting on you, Nigerian women!
God bless Rwanda!
God bless Nigeria! And God bless Africa!!!
•From a concerned Rwandan woman