Dear Friend Gasasira, – An Epistolary Short Story By A. Happy UmwagarwaPublished June 24, 2019
Disclaimer: Inspired by historical events, this is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
The opinions expressed are those of the characters and should not be confused with the author’s.
© 2019 A. Happy Umwagarwa
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the author.
Blurb: Habiyakare, a Hutu Rwandan, writes an open letter to his friend Gasasira who was killed during the Genocide against the Tutsi.
Dear friend Gasasira,
Some people say that the dead can hear and see the living, even though the living can neither see nor touch the dead. Although, I’m addressing this letter to you, I guess I simply want to relieve my heart of this burden I have been carrying for 25 years. What I did to your family in 1994 has been haunting my soul day and night. I will never forgive myself for having betrayed our friendship.
Gasasira, we grew up in the same village, in Mbazi commune, Butare prefecture. Even though you were few years older than me, we used to go to the same well to fetch water and the same Catholic parish for our catechism classes. Your father was one of the most respected men in our village. Your family was considered among the richest because you had a big land and many cows. My father was also not poor. He worked as a housekeeper at our village’s parish. We also had a big land and few cows. Although our parents seemed not to be friends, they were not enemies.
When you completed primary school, you did not have the chance to go to the secondary school. That’s the time you left our village and went to live with your maternal aunt in Kigali. Our friendship did not stop from there. We used to send letters to each other via the post office. Whenever I went to church for the Sunday mass, I dropped a letter in the post box of our parish, and checked if you had sent one for me.
It did not take time before I came to study at Saint Andre in Kigali. You had already opened up a convenience shop in Nyamirambo from which I could take anything I needed; soaps, toothpaste, or even candies and biscuits. Your shop kept on growing in size and with more items on the shelves, till when you decided to relocate it to the city center on the road to Nyarugenge market. As much as I envied the wealth you were accumulating, I pitied you for not having gone to school. I used to tell you stories about life in secondary school and the subjects of our studies. You always encouraged me to study hard and said that I should be glad for the privilege I had. I could read blues from your face, but was too selfish to think about the reasons you had not been given the opportunity to study.
In 1983 when you told me you wanted me to be one of your groomsmen at your wedding, I felt very honored. You considered me among your best friends. When you had your first child, I was the first person you called. Your wife Christine called me his brother in law ‘umugabo wacu’, and your children called me their uncle ‘Data wacu’. Whenever I remember how they were slaughtered with machetes in front of my eyes, beetles dance in my brain. I recall the hands of your children pointing at me and their soft voices calling for my help. I hate myself. Even the devil cannot be blamed for what I did to your family.
Gasasira, do you remember the day I told you that I wanted to be a Bourgmestre? Today, they call them mayors. You made a tsk sound, before wishing me good luck. I read disapproval from your eyes, but wondered why you would be against my decision. I sometimes invited you to MRND meetings, and although you often found reasons not to go there with me, you managed to attend a couple of those meetings. You never wanted to comment on politics or on MRND political party. You often reminded me that you were just a businessman, and that politics was for those who went to school, or those who worked for the government. I worked for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but did not want to be just a civil servant. I aimed at becoming a politician. I remember the day I told you I had won the elections for the Bourgmestre of Mbazi. You congratulated me and invited me for a drink. You celebrated my achievement. Few years later, in 1988, I was elected to be a member of the parliament, and once again, we emptied some bottles of beer to celebrate that achievement. By then, you had also become a well respected businessman, and among the richest tycoons of Kigali.
On 01 October 1990, when Inkotanyi attacked Rwanda and the radio announced they were Rwandans who had been refugees in Uganda for years, I immediately thought about your family. I recalled that two of your elder brothers lived in Uganda, and another one in Burundi. I remembered that my parents used to say that your father’s brother was a Chief and that he and his other siblings had also left Rwanda. I recalled that in August 1990, just two months before the war started, I had found a visitor in your house, a young man in his late twenties who could not speak well Kinyarwanda. You told me he was your nephew from Uganda. When I was planning to come to your place so that you could tell me if you knew anything about those who had attacked Rwanda, I learnt that you had been arrested on the 05 October 1990 among those who were suspected of being supporters of Inkotanyi, ibyitso as they called them. I concluded that my suspicions were right, and that you had hidden from me that you had links with the enemies of Rwanda, inyangarwanda as they referred to them. From that day, I stopped counting you among my friends. I concurred with those who used to say Tutsis were not trustworthy. How wrong I was! If I could turn back the clock today.
If I could change the past. I would come to your place, pull a chair, and allow you to tell me everything. To tell me how I had ignored your pain for all the years you had been my friend. I would listen to you as you would be narrating to me how your family had been separated by the events of the 1950s and 1960s. You would tell me how you missed your brothers who could not come back to their homeland. You would narrate to me how living as a Tutsi in Rwanda was challenging. Maybe, I would get to understand why you could not be admitted in secondary school. Was I too selfish to read blues on your face?. You had kept silent and allowed me to sing and dance for MRND and the politicians who discriminated you because you were a Tutsi. Yes, I also didn’t like the northerners because I thought they discriminated the southerners. But, I had never pondered about the fact the situation was even worse for Tutsis.
After you were jailed, I decided to cut ties with you. I had my reputation to protect. I had my career to keep. There was no way an MRND parliamentarian would keep ties with a Tutsi supporter of Inyangarwanda. Your wife used to come to my office to beg me to help you get out of jail. I did not have the courage to tell her what I thought about you. I kept on telling her to come back the following day, till when she got tired of knocking on my office every day. During all the six months you spent in jail, I neither paid a visit to you nor to your family. When I told some members of MRND about you, they linked me up with the National Security Service people, who advised me to keep contact with you, not as your friend, but your spy. That’s the reason why when you were released from jail, I was among those who came to welcome you back home.
In our conversations, I told you that I disapproved what Habyarimana and his MRND political party were doing. I told you that I also supported change and that I understood the cause Inkotanyi were fighting for. You did not know that I was spying on you, and that every word you said to me I reported it to the National Security Service (NSS). Although, it took you time before you started trusting me, you finally told me that some of your nephews were among the rebels, and that your brothers were among their political leaders. I did not believe you when you told me that even though you supported the cause and the vision of Inkotanyi, you disapproved the war. I thought you were simply deceiving me with another lie. How could you say you supported Inkotanyi but disapproved the war? That did not make sense in my ears. My doubts were confirmed when some people who worked with the NSS showed me proof that you used to send financial contributions to Inkotanyi, and that in 1993, you even went to Kinihira to visit them. I should have told you that you were being watched, but instead, I decided to condemn you.
When I think about it today, I realize how wrong I was to point fingers to you. The truth is that I had no right to condemn you for supporting the war that I also supported. You sent your financial contributions to Inkotanyi because you believed in their cause. I also sent my financial contributions to the army Inzirabwoba because I wanted them to defeat Inkotanyi I called Tutsi rebels. What moral authority did I have to judge you for supporting the rebels that would probably and finally bring back your brothers, uncles, aunties, nephews and nieces to Rwanda? You used to tell me that you prayed for the war to cease and give way to peaceful resolutions and reminded me that what you supported was only the cause and the vision of Inkotanyi, but not the guns. Maybe, even the financial contributions you sent, you thought you were supporting the mobilization for that cause, not the purchase of weaponries.
When the Arusha accords were signed in August 1993, we shared beer and celebrated the end of the war. We both seemed to be genuinely happy. I couldn’t hide from you that in efforts to spy on you, I had allowed you to convince me about the good cause Inkotanyi fought for. I was glad that an agreement had been signed. The Arusha accords had proven wrong the idea that the Tutsis might have wanted to retake power from the Hutus. The fact that they had signed for power sharing had convinced me that they aimed for peace, democracy and freedom of all citizens in their beloved country Rwanda. On the other hand, I imagined you were also overjoyed by the fact that a peaceful resolution to the conflict had been found and agreed upon by all. I recall how happy you were to welcome the 600 Inkotanyi soldiers to CND. This time around, you had trusted me enough to even tell me that you used to pay visits to them at CND. We were finally free to discuss politics, and we both condemned those who were stuck on what they called ‘Hutu power’, those who seemed to be against the Arusha accords, and who maintained that Inkotanyi should never be trusted. We thought those people were motivated by their hatred against the Tutsi. We condemned what they wrote in their newspapers and what they said on their radios.
My heart broke into pieces the night of 06 April 1994 when I received the news that the plane carrying President Habyarimana had been shot down. I immediately concluded that Inkotanyi were responsible for that act. I felt doomed and deceived. I lost trust in peace. My whole body reprogrammed back to the confrontation, to war, and to the fight. I did not know who to fight and why to fight. I did not know who my enemy was and who wasn’t. I was simply enraged by what had happened. Our political party MRND convened meetings, and instructed us to support the people. By ‘people’, they did not mean all Rwandans. In fact, it was a coded language to tell us that we should side with those who had taken it to the homes of Tutsis to hunt and kill them.
A part of my brain whispered to me that Tutsis were not to be blamed for what had happened, but another part of the brain convinced me that I should not trust anybody. I thought about you and the fact that you should also have been deceived by what had happened because you believed so much in the Arusha accords, but another evil voice whispered to me that maybe you had also played with my mind. I allowed my subconscious brain to bring back everything my parents had told me about Tutsis, the history we had learnt in school about the Tutsi monarchy, and all the hate speeches that were made by politicians. I believed in what they had said to me as if I was a new believer who had read the hatred bible for the first time. I drunk a full bottle of whisky, wore MRND Kitenge clothes, and convinced myself I could metamorphose into a wild animal and start hunting humans.
I avoided taking the direction to your house because even though I knew you were going to be among the first people to be killed, I had no strength to be the one to end your life. We had shared a lot in life that I couldn’t find the courage to face your dying eyes. The day, some people told me that the militias had attacked your house, I immediately decided to come to your home. I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe I wanted to save you. Maybe I wanted to see you dying. I simply don’t know what was on my mind. When I arrived, you were already lying dead in a river of blood. When your wife caught sight of me, she called my name and reminded me that you considered me not just a friend, but a brother. Your children screamed calling me uncle. All eyes were on me. One militiaman said, “Depute, are you also a Tutsi?” I said ‘no’ and added that all snakes (referring to Tutsis) should die, then turned my back and left your wife and children to be tortured and killed. Till today, I see their innocent faces and their begging eyes in my nightmares.
Few weeks after, I left Kigali because the war was advancing. Few months later, Inkotanyi won the war and captured Kigali. That’s when I ended up in Zaire in the refugee camps. People in the camps called me ‘Depute’ despite the fact that I had nothing to eat, no bed to lay my body on and only two outfits to wear. I will not bother you with the life in the camps. I simply want to tell you that what kept me strong in the camps was to think about what your family had endured in 1959 and the years that followed. I recalled that some of them had good lives, cows and domestics in Rwanda before they were exiled. I imagined how they had been received by forests and uninhabited lands, and how they struggled to live despite the misery. I had no news about my family, my parents and my siblings. Everything that I considered to be the rock of my life had been destroyed. Two of my children got sick of cholera and succumbed to death. When a war broke out in Zaire, the camps were attacked and my wife got hit by a bullet. She succumbed to the injuries. I managed to walk through the Congo forests and reached Angola, and few years after I was lucky to be selected among those who were received by France as refugees.
I did not come to France with all my family members. I left my two elder sons in Congo, formerly Zaire. They are with my two brothers, the only survivors of my family. I don’t know the circumstances of the death of my parents and my other siblings. Do you know what? The same way you did not have the courage to tell me what your family had gone through in the 1960s and the discrimination and marginalization you endured in the years that followed the 1959 revolution, I don’t think I have any right to tell you about my miserable life today. When I remember how Tutsis were hunted and killed, I simply feel like maybe I’m living the curse of what we did to our compatriots.
Today, when I think about myself, I see you. I understand you now. I feel the pain you lived with, despite the smile you kept on your face. I blamed you for having links with members of your family who were refugees in other lands. Today, my family members are in all corners of the world and they are called refugees. Some of them are even engaged in politics. Some of them are in the forests of Congo as rebels who might attack Rwanda, God forbid. Like you, I believe we should restrain from violence and wars, but once again like you, I continue to talk to my relatives who may be engaging in wars. Should I also be killed because I’m a Hutu? No. Should I also be killed because I speak to my sons and brothers who are members of FDRL? No. My friend, you did not deserve to be killed for any reason whatsoever. Those who committed the genocide against the Tutsi, including myself, should be punished for what they did to all of us, I mean to Rwanda and all her citizens.
The time has come for me to do what I should have done many years ago. I should be punished for the crimes I committed. I’m turning myself in, and I’m ready to go to Rwanda to be tried by the courts of my homeland. Yes, I did not kill anybody with my own hands, but I was part of the killers. I allowed my soul to swallow the hatred against the Tutsi. I chose to believe those who preached hatred instead of believing the love you proved to me. I did not save you from the hands of the killers who called me their leader. You were killed because you were a Tutsi as if being a Tutsi was a sin. You were killed because you supported those who were fighting to bring back home your family members, as if you had no freedom of association. May you continue to rest in peace, my friend Gasasira.
Since I don’t know what heaven to find you in, I am sending this as an open letter to all. Maybe one or two Rwandans shall learn something from our story.
Yours Always, Habiyakare.
Thanks for reading
My name is Umwagarwa
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Below is the trailer of Hearts Among Ourselves.