Returning to Rwanda 'too dangerous'

CHRIS HYDE
Last updated 12:36 04/04/2014
Rwanda
MURRAY WILSON/Fairfax NZ

TWENTY YEARS: Joseph Kimenyi had hoped to take his children to Rwanda by now, but ongoing tensions in the area make it impossible.

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The last drive Palmerston North man Joseph Kimenyi made to Kilgali International Airport lives on behind his eyelids.

Thousands of mutilated corpses didn't just line the familiar road, they covered it. Many were bloated.

"There was no way to pass them by. We just had to close our eyes and drive over them," Kimenyi said.

On Sunday it will be 20 years since the worst mass-murder event of modern times was triggered in Rwanda - a three-month massacre that left 800,000 minority Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus dead.

It forced Kimenyi, a Hutu himself and son of Rwanda's first president Dominique Mbonyumutwa, to repatriate to Kenya and then New Zealand with his family two years later.

The night the genocide began, Kimenyi, managing a fleet of 400 cars for the United Nations in Kilgali, dropped a cohort of Bangladeshis off at Kilgali Airport and drove back to the UN compound to finish his shift.

"Gunshots started to be fired and I was waiting for them to stop so I could go home but it just got worse and worse," Kimenyi said.

Kimenyi could not go home. He was holed up in the sandbagged five-storey compound eating biscuit rations until May 18, more than a month after fighting began, when he was transported by the UN to the airport and then Kenya.

Twenty years on Kimenyi, now 58, wishes he and his adult-age children could go back to his former country. See the mountains, walk the streets, reprogramme the memories.

That is not possible under the current Tutsi-led government, which he says is still marginalising the Hutu population and silencing those abroad who speak up about it.

"I had hoped that those who took over power would have learned from the mistakes of other governments. I had thought it would be five, maybe 10 years, but now 20 has gone by and still there's problems."

The Manawatu Standard spoke to Kimenyi in 2010 after a BBC correspondent contacted him to tell him his father's body had been dug up.

After his death in 1986, Mbonyumutwa was buried at Democracy Stadium in Gitarama - the place where Rwanda's Hutu leaders announced the Tutsi monarchy would be abolished.

The exact location of Mbonyumutwa body's is unknown but he is understood to have been moved to a public cemetery. Kimenyi said that was just one example of the government's attempt to rewrite history to exclude the suffering of Hutu during the genocide.

"There's still no acknowledgement of the Hutu that have put their lives at risk to protect Tutsi.

"It is heartbreaking for me - there can't be reconciliation if the government continues to change our history.

"I feel I have to make a choice. Do I let myself be silenced or do I speak and face the consequences?"

Kimenyi said his criticism of the government was far easier for him to do in New Zealand than if he were in Rwanda but he could never be certain of his safety.

"That's why I'll probably never get back to Rwanda. I do wish to go back some day. The weather is beautiful."

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- Manawatu Standard

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