Reports from Kenya
The Worst and Best of Human Nature
When politically induced ethnic violence breaks out the media reports
the atrocities--the worst aspect of human nature--, but rarely reports
attempts by people to save others from the opposite side--the best of
human nature. This is a report on the best side of human nature. In some
cases the rescuers were able to save the intended victim, in others they
failed, in another example the rescuer was killed for his attempt, and
another the successful rescuer was saved by those he rescued. These incidences
all occurred in a span of a few days in two communities in Burundi where
AGLI and the HROC program are active.
On October 21, 1993, President Ndadaye, the Hutu democratically elected
president of Burundi, was assassinated by the Tutsi military. This led
to countrywide chaos as Hutu attacked Tutsi in their communities and
then the Tutsi military retaliated by killing Hutu. One of the worse
massacres occurred at the gas station on the road below Kibimba, the
first and largest Quaker mission station in Burundi. A hundred Tutsi
students from Kibimba Secondary School and other Tutsi were herded into
the gas station office which was then set on fire. Sixty people died
and forty escaped. The next day the Tutsi military arrived and killed
Hutu at the gas station and looted the small community. I read about
this massacre in the media!
Three weeks later, my great friend, Alison Des Forges, who died in the
airline crash in Buffalo last February, was at the site of the massacre
doing an investigation for a consortium of American and European human
rights groups including Human Rights Watch. She later returned in January
to continue the investigation. Her report was published in French, but
because of the Rwandan genocide in April, she never got time to translate
it into English.
I always wondered
what was in her report. I asked Sarah Jackson who had worked for Human
Rights Watch in Rwanda (and later with Quaker Peace
and Social Witness (Biritish) with the American Friends Service Committee
in Burundi) and is now in Uganda and helping AGLI with the training for
our latest project to use cell phones for grassroot reporting on the
upcoming Burundi elections, if she could send me a copy of that part
of the report. She sent it to me along with the next section which included
Mutaho where AGLI and HROC is doing a lot of work. I then sent the French
version to Sheila Havard (Canada) to make a rough translation. This she
did. In her email she wrote, "There are a lot of references to people
saving or trying to save others."
True. In only 8 pages of the report there are 14 incidents of people
trying to save others. I quote them all here:
1. "There was even a Hutu teacher who tried to save some of the
Tutsi, and he was killed. He was a biology teacher. His nickname was
Kavyimabuhiye." Testimony by Magnifique Bizimana, a 21 Tutsi student.
to other testimony, the principal [of Kibimba Secondary School] did
all he could to save the hostages."
3. Mutoya Parish: " A
lot of Hutu families hid and kept neighbouring Tutsi families in their
4. Mutaho Commune: "A
Hutu ?priest/church staff member? from the parish said that some parish
workers had come to get him to save a Tutsi
on Thursday 21st at 9 p.m.. He said: 'We went to tell the people who
were all worked up not to shed any blood. '"
5. "A Hutu ?nun/church staff member? recounted that she had hidden
an UPRONA ?member/supporter? and his family on Friday morning. He already
had a head wound. In the afternoon a gang armed with lances came to get
him but the ?nun/church staff member? managed to thwart them." UPRONA
was the Tutsi party at that time.
6. The same nun said, " Then
an old woman came to seek refuge. Her husband and son had been captured.
She only had a blanket left."
7. She continues, " Then, with the priest, we rescued a young man
who was being ?arrested/stopped? on the road. There was a crowd on the
road going to Mutaho, shouting: ‘We’ve been told that people
are dying on the road.'"
8. "In the Mutaho trading centre, on Friday morning, a group of
Hutu armed with pangas and clubs went round the houses inviting everyone
to come and demonstrate against the assassination of President Ndadaye.
Those who refused were threatened with death. So an UPRONA ?member/supporter?
had to seek refuge in the house of a neighbour who was a Hutu shopkeeper,
a ?member/supporter? of FRODEBU and of the Muslim faith." FRODEBU
was the Hutu party of President Ndadaye. Please note that contrary to
the depiction of Muslims in the US media, in both Rwanda and Burundi,
Muslims were frequently noted from not participating in the killings
and helping to save people.
9. " Somewhat
later, this same shopkeeper intervened to prevent a rich Tutsi shopkeeper
from being killed. He was hit with a stick and
had to flee without being able to save the Tutsi."
10. The same Muslim
shopkeeper, " Later on he hid the principal
of the commune college and an English teacher in his home, both Tutsi,
as well as a Hutu ?member/supporter? of UPRONA and the wife of the rich
shopkeeper who had just been killed. He hid them for two days until the
military came on Monday morning and took them to an IDP camp."
11. Again the same
shopkeeper, "The Hutu Muslim shopkeeper risked
being killed at this time but the people he had saved pleaded for him
and saved him in turn."
12. "A 53-year-old
Tutsi, a ?member/supporter? of UPRONA living on Nyakero Hill explained
how he had fled from the killers: 'They wanted
to exterminate only the ?ethnic group of UPRONA Tutsi?. We fled into
the bush. When the soldiers arrived, most were dead. ?sic? Three of us
escaped out of a group of eighteen. I fled when I saw that my brothers
and neighbours were being killed. I was saved by a Hutu from my hill,
who hid me. Then I went to my Muslim boss, who hid me in his ceiling
until the military arrived.'"
13. "On Wednesday, after the 7 a.m. mass, the parishioners again
went to clear the road near Mubarazi River. After the road had been cleared,
the soldiers fired on the people who had helped them, killing about fifteen
or twenty of them. A student was able to escape, as was a young teacher
from Muyange, called Félix, who had a bayonet wound. We thought
he was going to die. But the Tutsi nurses who had been hidden in the
parish cared for this young Hutu. The priest recommended that they not
say anything to the soldiers. Félix was transported to the Kibuye
Hospital by the Red Cross."
14. ??Church staff?
from the parish stated that they were aware of numerous cases of solidarity
where Hutu had risked their lives to save, hide and
I, like so many others, miss Alison Des Forges. She had to go to Burundi
to get these testimonies. Let this be a living tribute to her work.
Report: 1 | 10 | 20 | 30 | 40 | 50 |60
80 | 90
107 | 108 | 109 |
110 |115 |120