Photos of victims of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide on display at the Kigali Memorial Centre at Kigali, Rwanda ( Rex )
In June 1994, I witnessed the massacre of three Catholic bishops and a number of priests by soldiers of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. One of those murdered was my uncle.
At the time I was a newspaper editor in Rwanda. I had written previously about the persistent problem of injustice in the country where killers are promoted within military ranks and the government administration, and allowed to go on killing thousands of innocent people. This itself had brought me to the attention of government, but after the murder of my uncle, the pressure intensified.
My laptop – which contained details of articles I was writing – was stolen. I was followed, spat on and beaten up in front of colleagues at a conference for journalists. I received death threats, and I feared for my life and that of my family. Initially, I was determined not to let them beat me but after many years of harassment, it became too much.
I will never forget the day that I decided to leave my beloved nation. It was a very difficult decision to make. I felt like I was lost in space. I couldn’t believe I was being forced out of my ancestral home. I was devastated, my wife was too, but I asked her to have faith in me.
One night, my wife and I packed what few belongings we could carry and set off with our three young daughters on the long journey to Uganda. We arrived in the capital, Kampala, in the dead of night. We knew no one, and didn’t know where to go. We were scared, and worried about what the future held.
We decided to ask the local police for help. After hearing my story, they sent us to a refugee camp some 245 miles away in northern Uganda, close to the border with southern Sudan. We were very tired, without any hope of life, and felt almost dead.
While we waited for our official paperwork to be prepared, we stayed in the transit camp. Life there was extremely complicated with so many challenges. Water was a problem. Washing was a problem. There was just one toilet for more than 2,000 people. We met people from the Congo, Sudan, Somalia, Burundi and Rwanda. It was a large mix of culture and tradition without any organisation or structure – everyone did what they wanted. It was dirty, crowded and chaotic.
To help my wife, I would fetch water and wash my daughters, something that made me the source of much ridicule among the other refugee women, who laughed at me for being a man who washed his children. This is not Africa’s tradition, they would say. But I respect my family and it was no problem for me to do this.
After two months of waiting, my refugee identification card arrived, which meant it was time to relocate inside the camp. However, the people who had been threatening me in Rwanda had followed me and so my family still was still in danger. I needed to find a safe house. However, we had nothing. No money, no clothes, no fork or spoon. We needed to pay rent, buy household items, school uniforms for my daughters…
We were so happy when we heard that Reporters without Borders could help us. They provided us with a small amount of money so that we could move into a safe house. They also helped connect me with people who could speed up my resettlement, but due to corruption in Uganda it took over four years before we were able to move.
The money from Reporters without Borders lasted for one year, but then we had nothing again. I wasn’t able to work. We still lived in fear. I was desperate for help.
Then Reporters without Borders connected me to Prisoners of Conscience. They heard my concerns and quickly understood what was needed. They gave us money to help pay for basic needs, such as food, rent, electricity and water.
Eventually, word came that we were to be resettled in Australia. We were so happy that we would be able to live in a place where we no longer had to look over our shoulder for fear of who was behind us.
But Australia is expensive compared to Uganda and Rwanda, and it was recommended that we buy clothes, shoes and bags before we left. Again, Prisoners of Conscience was able to help. I cannot tell you how grateful we are to the charity for their kindness. They helped us when we needed them most.
I was once a pioneer of democracy in Rwanda. I am now in exile because I stood up for the rights of my people. My family is now safe and my girls are educated. I am able to work, and we have been able to rebuild our lives, thanks to the help of so many people along the way. But we shouldn’t have had to experience all the fear and pain that we have.
In an Africa led by dictators, it is so important that press freedom is protected. Expression of ideas is an important part of a healthy society – a key factor of democracy. Journalists have an important role to play in advocating on behalf of the people. We should not be persecuted for performing this role.
The government in Rwanda continues to be an obstacle. Even though it has threatened me thousands of times, I do not want revenge. I want change. I want a regime where every citizen is equal and where everyone has the freedom to express their thoughts and ideas without fear of punishment.