Hyppolite Ntigurirwa was seven years old when the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi broke out. He was staying with his family in Mibilizi in the former Cyangugu prefecture (in the current Rusizi district) when it all started.
By the time the killings ended he had lost over 30 members of his family, including his father.
Ntigurirwa has since come of age.
At 32, he now knows that genocide is a cruel evil that’s planned over a long time by those in positions of influence.
Like many Rwandans, he has come to learn that the situation that prevailed in the country for so many decades prior to the Genocide against the Tutsi was the result of hate and politics of exclusion and division, and is committed to playing his part in ensuring that such a tragedy never happens in Rwanda again.
“I have been thinking about my contribution toward a better Rwanda,” he tells Saturday Times.
Seeds of peace
“I have decided to walk around Rwanda for peace and to walk in honour of those who were forced to walk long distances before they were killed because of how they were born.”
He says he wants to walk around Rwanda, district by district.
“I want to dedicate my time and energy during this commemoration period to the memory of my family and over a million other Rwandans that were killed.”
He says he’ll embark on his nationwide journey on Monday, April 15, and predicts that walking around Rwanda will take him 100 days, the same period of time that genocide was committed.
The slaughter was set in motion by the genocidal regime on April 7, 1994 through July 4, 1994 when it was brought to an end by the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), the former military wing of the governing Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF)-Inkotanyi.
RPA, who were under the command of current President Paul Kagame, abandoned the Arusha Peace Accords when the then government troops and a pro-government militia, known as Interahamwe, started mounting roadblocks, and rounding up and slaughtering Tutsi in a systematic killing spree.
“The Genocide happened because of hate,” Ntigurirwa says. “For a long time people were taught to hate their compatriots”
He says the young generation has a duty to sow seeds of love and peace to ensure that the tragic events of the past never happen again. “Each one of us can do something to contribute to peace and harmony.”
During his walk, he says, he will be making stop-overs in communities to hear testimonies related to Genocide and the progress hitherto made in the rebuilding and healing process.
“I have been to countries where many people think that Rwandans are perpetually a divided people, that we lost our humanity for good,” he says.
“They think that we are no longer capable of living together as a people, that we can’t support each other anymore…that’s not true.”
His three-month walk across the length and breadth of the country, he says, will prove that Rwandans are emerging from that tragic past stronger and united more than ever.
“I know that Rwandans in any village I’ll go to will receive me with open hands, we will interact and talk about our country, our past and our shared aspirations for the future.”
He says the walk will start from his home village in Mibilizi in Cyangugu and then to Kibuye, Gisenyi, Ruhengeri, Byumba, Umutara, Kibungo, Kigali Ngali, Gikongoro and Gitarama, before concluding the journey in the capital Kigali.
All these were places what was called then what was called prefectures.
Ntigurirwa says anyone is welcome to join him on the walk, during which he says he’ll also collect testimonies from Genocide survivors and other witnesses both about the killings and heroic acts of rescue.
“We will compile and document all the testimonies and later share them with Rwandans and the rest of the world,” he says.
The same testimonies, he says, will be read out during this year’s Mashirika Ubumuntu Festival in July, and during an exhibition in memory of his childhood friends murdered during the Genocide.
On whether he has a sponsor he says, “No, I don’t have one, but I have my tent, cooker and upkeep and will be cooking wherever I will pitch camp.”
Why start the journey from his birthplace?
“My family was killed in Mibilizi by our neighbours, people whom they had known for so many years, but I will be going back home to start my journey there as a way of sowing seeds of peace and new friendships,” he says.
“Mibilizi is close to my heart, it’s where I grew up as a kid in a big family and with so many friends, all that changed with the Genocide because I lost my family and friends.”
When neighbours turn killers
“Unlike towns and cities like this (Kigali) where perpetrators were often peopled ferried in from other places to come and kill those already identified, in rural areas like Mibilizi, the killers were the same people we had been living together for so long,” he says.
“Nonetheless, I have come through all this and am now an adult. Promoting peace is the only way I can honour the memory of my loved ones.”
His walk is dubbed ‘Be The Peace Walk’. “It is an invitation to seed kindness.”
Ntigurirwa is a theater artist and researcher who identifies himself as an everyday peace activist. He founded an organisation – Be The Peace – dedicated to preventing intergenerational transmission of hate.
His work focuses on using arts to halt the intergenerational transmission of hate.
He says his survival is a miracle because he and his brother had been captured by the Interahamwe militia who held them captive for about a month before they managed to escape.
“My elder brother and I were captured by Interahamwe militia who turned us into their slaves for over one month. We used to fetch water and firewood for them, and did all the chores,” he recalls.
“When they came back from killing, they would return with meat from cows that belonged to Tutsi and we were forced to prepare meals for them.”
Luckily, they managed to flee from the militia and ended up at Mibilizi parish “where we saw so many people, including our childhoods friends, being killed.”
They later went to another camp for internally displaced people in a place called Nyarushishi and this is from where they were rescued.