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Excerpt: In Praise of Blood and new revelations from the depths of the Rwandan genocide

One of the cruellest lies peddled by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and repeated ad nauseam by Western journalists and academics is the official narrative of Giti during the genocide. Giti is described in most books and mainstream media as the only commune in Rwanda where Hutus did not commit genocide. Its mayor, in particular, has been lauded for warding off Hutu extremism and preventing the massacre of Tutsis. But I’ve pieced together an account of events in Giti that shows this story to be a startling and effective use of propaganda by the RPF. And it serves as a chilling indicator of the RPF’s modus operandi in other areas of Rwanda before, during and after the genocide.

On April 23, 1994, a little more than two weeks into the genocide, a student of mixed Hutu-Tutsi ethnicity named Clément was in his hometown in Giti commune paying a visit with a friend to an elderly neighbour. At 6 p.m., with daylight fading fast, the neighbour told him and his friend, Gaudence, to head home. “It’s getting late, children. Go now,” she warned. “You never know what could happen after dark.”

Giti residents were on edge. On April 10, RPF forces – the 21st and 101st Battalions – had entered the commune and several Hutu clergy at a nearby seminary had been slaughtered. The killings had set the tone for several days of terror. Yet now, two weeks later, an eerie calm had settled in, and some dared to hope that perhaps the war was over.

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Clément and Gaudence mounted his bike and rode along red ochre paths through Giti’s verdant hillsides. When they reached the main health centre, next to the primary school, they saw RPF forces shepherding a large number of people into the school. Gaudence told Clément she was frightened and they should hurry home. When Clément saw how brutally soldiers were shoving people into the courtyard, he agreed, and he pedalled them away as fast as he could. When he got home, his father, a Hutu lawyer and well-known community leader, was missing. The next morning, just as the dawn haze was lifting, Clément and his brother set off to find him. Fearing the worst, they headed directly to the primary school, where they spotted his abandoned bike. It was so early in the morning, no soldiers stood guard on the building. They dreaded to investigate but forced themselves to creep closer. As they entered the compound, they stopped in shock.

“The courtyard was completely littered with corpses. And the classrooms inside were full,” Clément told me, drawing in a breath. He and his brother soon found their father among the heap of dead. “His head was split open and his ankle was crushed. Looking at him, I felt a kind of fear I can’t describe now. We immediately ran away to a nearby sorghum field.”

When he and his brother collected themselves, they went home to tell their Tutsi mother that their father had been murdered. Clément could not let his father rot in the sun or be devoured by dogs. At nightfall, he went back to the school to steal his father’s body. With the help of a cousin and a neighbor, he carried him home and buried him in secret so that his soul could rest in peace.

Another neighbour, a young Hutu mother, had by some miracle survived the slaughter at the school. She’d been rounded up on April 23 with her baby strapped to her back. She told Clément that RPF units had seized Hutu civilians from their homes and at roadblocks throughout Giti and brought them to the school, packing them in tightly. Around her were Hutu teachers, officials, politicians and businessmen – anyone seen as having wealth or influence. When night had fallen, soldiers selected the most robust of the Hutu men, gave them weapons – agafuni in addition to clubs – and ordered them to kill their own family members and friends, a depraved tactic that Hutu militia also used against Tutsis during the genocide. After these men had killed their loved ones, they begged for a quick death and were given their wish. The young mother was struck on the back of her skull and blacked out. Soldiers must have thought she was no longer alive. When she woke up hours later, she discovered her baby dead beside her.

With the collaboration of their Tutsi neighbours, other prominent Hutus and their families were chased down and killed in the weeks that followed. It took military intelligence units some time to locate one beloved primary-school teacher named Sindambiwe. Before they did, RPA soldiers shoved his wife and children into a banana fermentation pit used to make banana beer, and they drowned. A few days later, they found the teacher hiding in the forest among the acacia and eucalyptus trees and shot him dead.

Clément managed to survive. He had inherited what he describes as “classic Tutsi” features from his mother, although in most Rwandans such physical characteristics are fluid and often difficult to distinguish, especially for outsiders. In the first few days of the RPF’s invasion of the commune, looking like a Tutsi allowed him to evade capture. But when the bloodbath got more intense and widespread, Clément owed his life to his Tutsi godfather, whose son was an RPF soldier who played a key role in singling out Giti residents for elimination. The godfather’s son saw Clément being caught and kicked to the ground by an RPF lieutenant named Jean Jacques Mupenzi. Clément thought Mupenzi was going to shoot him dead on the spot, but the soldier came to his rescue, insisting that Clément “was one of our children.”

The mayor of Giti, Edouard Sebushumba, was Hutu, and went into hiding as soon as word spread that Tutsi soldiers had arrived in the area. Like his constituents who believed “les Inkotanyi vont nous dépecer” (“the Rwandan Patriotic Front are going to butcher us”), the mayor feared the worst. He hid for nearly a month in a shack owned by a poor old lady. When word got out as to where he was, the RPF immediately went to her home, where they found him with his hair and beard grown so long he was barely recognizable.

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By then, though, the RPF was interested in making a deal with him. They told Sebushumba not to be afraid, that he should go back to his house and that the RPF would protect him from here on in. In return, the RPF would declare to the world that Sebushumba was the only mayor in Rwanda who ensured that no genocide against Tutsis had taken place in his commune.

And so it came to pass that the mayor of Giti became famous for warding off Hutu extremism and preventing the massacre of Tutsis in his commune. In most accounts of the genocide, Giti is still described as the only commune in Rwanda where Hutus did not commit genocide. What better camouflage for what happened to Giti’s Hutus than a story of the triumph of good over evil?

Sebushumba has stayed silent about what really happened in Giti, and for his silence he was rewarded, first with his life and then with a political career that would eventually land him a seat in the Rwandan parliament, a post he held until 2008. But Sebushumba was not a “moderate Hutu” – the term usually applied to Hutus who opposed the killing of Tutsis during the genocide. He was an exemplary Hutu – in the service of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. As the only mayor who “prevented genocide,” he is still regarded as a hero in Rwanda.

Excerpted from In Praise of Blood by Judi Rever. Copyright © 2018 Judi Rever. Published by Random House Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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