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Rwandan Genocide: 12 Years Later

Aired April 8, 2006 - 12:30:00   ET


FEMI OKE, HOST (voice-over): This week on INSIDE AFRICA: 100 days of terror; 12 years on, Rwanda remembers the genocide. We'll look at a documentary which chronicles the story of survivors, and speak to an author who tells her story in the book "Left to Tell." Plus, an Egyptian oasis that dates back centuries and is now dealing with modern problems. That's all on INSIDE AFRICA today.


OKE: Hello, I'm Femi Oke. Welcome to INSIDE AFRICA, our weekly look at news and life on the continent.

Now, in the spring of 1994, the country of Rwanda endured months of bloody chaos. Hutu extremists, knows as the Interahamwe -- loosely translated "those who work or kill together" -- well, they set off on a savage campaign bent on exterminating minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus. They shot, clubbed, hacked and butchered them. And in the space of just 100 days, an estimated 800,000 people were killed while the world watched.

CNN's Africa correspondent Jeff Koinange looks back. Let me just warn you that some of his report contains disturbing images.


ROMEO DALLAIRE, FORMER U.N. COMMANDER: The devil exists, it came to paradise, and it took over. There were no more human, those eyes were not eyes of human beings' eyes. They were the devil.

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What retired U.N. General Romeo Dallaire is referring to is the horror he witnessed in Rwanda in the spring of 1994.

DALLAIRE: It was cold, it was callous, and it was real.

KOINANGE: A dozen years later, the scars of genocide are everywhere here. This is the picturesque village of Nharama, a two-hour drive outside the capital Kigali. In this mostly Christian country, churches like this were often seen as the ultimate sanctuaries of peace and security. But that was not to be. The Interahamwe entered the building and began to massacre the helpless worshippers. By the time the orgy of killing was over, more than 5,000 Tutsis laid dead and scattered across the church's benches and even on the altar.

In the sleepy town of Kibuye in the country's west, Madeline Mukarimira hadn't attended the church service in a dozen years. Going to church, she says, brings back painful memories of a past she'd rather forget.

"God was absent the day the killings began," she says. "God forgot about Rwanda."

The green hills of Gikongoro in the east bear some of the deepest scars of the genocide. Thousands of Tutsis were lured into this technical school by Hutu officials with promises of safe heaven from the Hutu extremists. Locals estimate more than 50,000 Tutsis were killed here. Most were left to rot in these killing fields.

Only after the Interahamwe were driven from the country by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF, were the bodies exhumed. They were sprinkled with limestone dust for preservation and placed inside these classrooms. The result: A macabre memorial, where the stench of death still lingers and pain still frozen on the victims' faces.

Like this man, seemingly trying to defend himself from an axe blow. Or this woman, shielding her face from a machete.

"They used to take babies by the legs and slam them against the walls right in front of their mothers," says genocide survivor Emmanuel Murangira.

Even more than a decade later, children living in the area are warned to stay away from these classrooms, where, they are told, horrible things happened.

And it's the same in city after city: Scenes of unspeakable horror. Like this Catholic church in Nyamata, two hours outside Kigali. The Interahamwe forced their way inside the compound with grenades and Kalashnikovs. When their ammunition was exhausted, they began slaughtering the innocent using clubs, axes, even bows and arrows, and leaving thousands dead. A recent exhumation of scores of bodies adds to the already rancid smell inside the church.

A dozen years later, a nation continues to bury its dead in memorials like this, just completed across the nation.

This one, in the capital Kigali, is the largest. More than a quarter of a million remains so far recovered, and there could be many more. Each of these coffins bears the remains of anywhere from 25 to 50 victims, unearthed in swamps, pit latrines and even in open fields.

Eventually, all the victims will have names, names inscribed on this wall, never to be forgotten.

Romeo Dallaire, too, says the world must never forget what happened here on that horrible April morning in 1994.

DALLAIRE: The world has blood on its hands; every one of them has blood, and they will never wash it off. And the aim is, and certainly my ambitions have been since then, is to make damn sure that nobody lets the Rwandan genocide die.

KOINANGE: More than a decade after the genocide, Rwandans are only just beginning to stumble out of their collective nightmare. But perhaps the agonies of the past will only be truly buried when Rwanda's children, those who didn't witness history, grow up.

Jeff Koinange, CNN, Johannesburg.


OKE: This week, the United Nations marked the 12th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide with a call for the international community to act in Darfur, Sudan. It's a call echoed by Rwandan filmmaker, who chronicled the massacre in his country in a documentary. CNN's senior United Nations correspondent Richard Roth took a look at the film and spoke to the director.


RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The film "Keepers of Memory" didn't garner the attention the movie "Hotel Rwanda" received, but this raw documentary lets the people of Rwanda, instead of actors, speak for themselves about the horrors endured.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My family and my in-laws are all here. But it is a place that awaking sadness in all of us.

ROTH: The director, Eric Kabera is a Rwandan, a Tutsi, who was just across the border in Congo when the killings began 12 years ago.

ERIC KABERA, DIRECTOR: The heart of this film are the survivors themselves. I talked to the survivors for the last 12 years or so.

ROTH: The film shows how a decade later, more victims keep turning up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): But we continue to find the places were the bodies were thrown. We're still digging up the bodies of our people who died in the genocide. There is an open grave for the bodies of those people who still being found, because the search has not ended.

KABERA: The reason behind this film is it sort of comes to you, it speaks to you, rather than you watching a film for - for exploration or for the finding of the magnitude of the genocide.

ROTH: The murderers are heard from too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): And those who were not killed by the bullets were clobbered to death. Anybody who was still alive, we went back and killed them. I personally killed three people.

ROTH: The filmmaker, now a father of three, lost family in the genocide.

KABERA: I'm literally making it for the people and for myself. It was, you know, one of the way of exercising my -my frustration and my anger and my bitterness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was lying in the pool of blood. Because of my thirst, I started licking the pool of blood around me, so I drank the blood. That is why I will never forget my loved ones. That memory is heavy in my heart. Whenever I'm thirsty, I always reflect on that moment.

ROTH: I showed Kabera the Security Council, the U.N. peace and security wing, which withdrew peacekeepers from Rwanda when the violence started, despite pleas to come to the rescue.

KABERA: The world failed - failed Rwanda big time. That's the truth of it.

ROTH: But the director says Rwanda now needs help more than ever:

KABERA: Rwanda is gradually recovering. But of course, the physical and psychological scars -- I mean, are there to stay quite for a while. And at the end, the country needs to move on, but how much reparation, how much responsibility the world outside there is sort of giving to Rwanda? Especially to the survivors, literally, because most of these guys can hardly sort of afford their daily meal, can hardly afford medicine.

ROTH: Harder to capture on film a legacy of one of the last century's worst genocides.

Richard Roth, CNN, the United Nations.


OKE: When we return, a harrowing Rwanda survival story from a woman of great courage. She has relieved her experience in a new book called "Left to Tell." You won't want to miss the interview. See you in two minutes.


OKE: Hello again, you're watching INSIDE AFRICA.

Now, as we've seen, there are survival stories throughout Rwanda, but Immaculee Ilibagiza has put her story on paper. She is the author of the best-selling book, "Left to Tell". Ms. Ilibagiza and seven other women hid for 91 days in a secret bathroom in the home of a local minister. She came out alive only to learn her mother, father and two of her brothers were brutally killed. Earlier this week, she spoke to me about that horrific time in her life, first describing the conditions of her hiding place.


IMMACULEE ILIBAGIZA, AUTHOR, "LEFT TO TELL": Yeah, the first day, the pastor put us there to sit down in the bathroom. He told us not to make any noise and not to talk. He even told us not to flush the water until the other person in the next bathroom flushes the water. So he didn't even tell his children -- he was, you know, a person who had house boys, you know, cooking for him. He told us he won't tell anybody in the house.

So, it was very painful. It was a very small bathroom, three feet to four feet. So you know, eight people in that small bathroom - I can't even remember how we made it, but we did. We used to eat about, you know, like once a day in the night, when his children are sleeping. And he couldn't cook, because he would then tell anyone about us being in the house.

So he used to bring us the leftovers of the children, you know, sometimes food he got from the garbage. Sometimes he would even just bring us food like once in two days. So it was very horrible, and - but the worst thing was, when they have killed, you know, Tutsis in public places, you know, in stadiums, in churches and then they started to search - so during the 91 days, they came many times to search for us. Many people have seen me come in that -- in that house, but they never saw me going out. And the killers were used to say that. They have seen everyone in my family - their - their bodies, but they never saw mine. So they kept coming to the house.

But they were doing it to every house. They were really searching if there is any Tutsi hiding. So they came, it was horrible. I mean three months later, I have lost half of my body. You know, I was 65 pounds, and I'm 5'9''. So I was completely a skeleton. It's just funny, you know, and crazy, really. And I prayed for those three months, thank God. And that is how I can able to smile today, and, you know, take it easy and move on in my life.

OKE: Right now, because we're looking at the 12th anniversary of that genocide in Rwanda, a number of people -- many people will be aware of what happened after the fact. Can you explain why one tribe wanted to wipe out another tribe?

ILIBAGIZA: You know, I think to me the people lived together very well before the genocide. I think it was really the power of the media, the power of the authority. You know, when the authorities wanted - had planned that this genocide to happen, so they did everything. They had bought the machetes. They distributed to the average Rwandese person, to the Hutus.

So one time, every TV - I mean, we don't have many channels, but the TV, the radio - which everyone in Rwanda listened to, was talking about how Tutsis are enemies of the country, that every Hutu who likes the country, who is a good citizen, that they should go ahead and kill us.

So, many people, genuinely they believed that the Tutsis really are the enemies. They're out there to kill them, you know. They don't like the country. So many people just followed that kind of thinking. Because I don't think there was hatred in the country, you know, to the extent of what I saw. I mean, a million in three months.

OKE: When you read your memories and what happened to you, it also reads like a self help-book. Some of the things are so incredible, it is almost like a fairy story meets a horror story. So many times when you were saved, so many times when you were about to be murdered. So many great things happened to you amidst all of this horror.

Did you realize that was what you were doing, you were writing a very inspirational self-help book out of this terrible period of time for Rwanda?

ILIBAGIZA: I don't know if I - what can I say? I think what I wanted really, it was - my goal in writing the book, I wanted to tell the story, as it happened. But there were also those moments, you know, where God came to my help, where I was, you know, changing of my thoughts. For example, when I was angry and I was so bitter, I wish I can revenge -- I call revenge at that time, and when I changed my ways of thinking, you know, thinking, you know, in a way of loving those people, my anger left me.

So those are the moments that changed my life. I mean, there was a time where I was feeling my skin was burning me, and all of a sudden, it's changed in a joy. So I wanted, of course, for sure, to - you know - to put across that message of, you know, you know, doing - being good and being able to forgive. Somehow it has helped me to change my life forever.

OKE: You said it changed your life forever. You now live in New York. You don't live in Rwanda anymore. How would you describe your life right now?

ILIBAGIZA: Yes, OK, I was saying that, it's changed my life forever. For example, when I came here in New York and I put it in the book, I went to look for a job, you know. And I remember, when my husband - I'm married, I have two children -- my husband was telling me, how can you go to look for a job? Your English is not too good. It is your third language. And, you know, you're just new here. How can you think that you can get the job?

And in my mind I wasn't - you know, I knew that. I trust God, you know. This is about me being strong, and go to - to try. It doesn't hurt to try. I know now, the world belongs to God.

So I went there, and I got the job. And he was - you know, he was of course very amazed. And I don't tend to get stressed, you know. I retake (ph) every day, I'm so grateful for every moment in my life. I try to forgive people as they do anything wrong, you know, because I know we can all make mistakes. I have seen the worst happen, so I tend to take life easy, and I just want to enjoy my life as long as I live. I want to do as much good as I can.

I think like now I'm -- I want to be a good citizen of the world, of America, you know. I just want to accomplish as much as I can, as much good. This is really what you remember when you have been -- you know, you're dead. For example, when my friends left, I couldn't remember about the cars they have bought, about the nice house they - they - they, you know, they constructed and which destroyed after. But I remember the love. They loved -- they loved me, you know. The lessons they gave me that carries me up today, you know, to today.

So I - definitely, I forgive, I live much lightly, I have a better life. I teach that to my friends, to my children. I think yeah, definitely, I have learned a lot.

OKE: Immaculee, I have to say thank you for - for writing this book, so that many people can read it. Your father gave you a very beautiful name, shining and beautiful in body and soul. Couldn't put it better myself. Thank you for joining us on INSIDE AFRICA. Thank you.

ILIBAGIZA: Thank you so much.



OKE: Hello again. You're watching INSIDE AFRICA. Now, located near the Egyptian-Libyan border, the oasis of Siwa is home to a unique ecosystem of organic farming. This natural environment has attracted many visitors, including Prince Charles during his recent visit to Egypt. Sylvia Smith reports from the patch of green that needs all the help it can get from the outside world in order to survive.


SYLVIA SMITH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, takes time to meet the tribal leaders of the oasis of Siwa. Although these men administer many of the internal affairs of the oasis, their power is limited, because the oasis is part of Egypt. And being near the border with Libya, Siwa is strategically important to the government of Egypt.

Even these dancers entertaining the prince and duchess are Egyptian, not Siwan. But the oasis has a special significance for the royal visitor because of its unique environment, and its concern to maintain its pure organic status.

MOUNIR NEAMATALLA, ENVIRONMENTALIST: The whole purpose was to go into an area on this planet where the ecological balances were very sensitive, and work with the community and engage them in a series of business initiatives.

SMITH: One of the success stories is this embroidery project, which has revived a traditional skill. The stylishly embellished jeans catch the eye of the duchess of Cornwall. She wants to buy a pair for her daughter back in London. More than 300 girls are employed in the project.

LAILA NEAMATALLA, DESIGNER: It was dying out when we started the embroidery program. All the young girls didn't know how to embroider. So it's given - there's a whole new generation that embroiders now, and that is proud of the work of the grandmothers.

SMITH: Embroidery has also linked the oasis to Europe and to the exclusive world of couture. Top Italian design duo, Armano Shervino (ph), gets fresh inspiration from visiting the workshop. Armano says that he sees a special quality in the hand embroidery that you just cannot achieve with a machine.

And Siwa is hoping that the royal visit will bring attention to its natural environment and its struggle to preserve a delicate balance.

NEAMATALLA: The local authorities, the tribal leaders and the people are working together very closely. We have seen the emergence of two civil society organizations, where - which are taking interest in the future of Siwa, both from a heritage conservation standpoint and an environmental protection standpoint.

SMITH: But levels in the salt lakes that surround the oasis are rising, and measures to keep the water within bounds are causing other problems.

NEAMATALLA: The Siwans depend on this pure salt to - to produce unique agroculinary product, which is olives -- in this case organic olives, pickled in natural salt. The salt runs the risk of being polluted by these pumps.

SMITH: Farmers in the oasis are beginning to feel the pinch:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My palm trees are dying because this salty water has killed the roots. The more the lake increases in size, the more trees will disappear. We depend on (inaudible) these palm trees produce for our living.

SMITH: And so, as the Siwan girls' nimble fingers bring the taste of traditional oasis craft to the outside world, the visit of the heir to the British throne is seen as bringing the attention of the world to a potential catastrophe, one that could see a lush green oasis disappearing forever.

For CNN's INSIDE AFRICA, I'm Sylvia Smith, in the oasis of Siwa, Egypt.


OKE: I just have time before we leave to leave you with some homework: "Left to Tell," Immaculee Ilibagiza, you won't regret reading it. If you do, I'll buy you all a cup of tea.

I'm Femi Oke. That's it for this week on INSIDE AFRICA. Until the next time, take care.



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