On April 6, 1994, the plane carrying Rwanda’s President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart was preparing to land when it suddenly exploded killing all crew and passengers on board.
Habyarimana was returning from Arusha, Tanzania where he had gone to hold mediated negotiations with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels that had been fighting his government since 1990.
Government-aligned Hutu power extremists were opposed to these negotiations and to their surprise, Habyarimana had agreed to form a transition government.
After the plane crash, there was panic in the country. Colonel Théoneste Bagosora who served as Habyarimana’s directeur du cabinet (chief of staff) in the Ministry of Defence, formed a Crisis Committee and was in charge of the country.
On April 7, the Prime Minister in Habyarimana’s government Agathe Uwilingiyimana was assassinated.
The Crisis Committee on April 9, installed Théodore Sindikubwabo as interim President. On the same day, Army agents grabbed Jean Kambanda from his home and whisked him to Ecole Supeirieot Militaire and informed him that he had been chosen as new Prime Minister.
At this point, the Arusha agreement signed on August 3, 1993 had become null and void. The Crisis Committee formed a caretaker government as the RPA rebels intensified their military campaign.
Faustin Twagiramungu of Mouvement Democratique Republique-MDR party was destined to become the Prime minister under the Arusha agreement had the transition government been implemented.
However, the Crisis Committee appointed Kambanda born 1955, to the position of Prime Minister. He holds a Bachelors degree in (banking) commercial Engineering.
By April 1994, he was vice president of the Butare section of opposition MDR party. He had for long worked at Union des Banques Populaires du Rwanda (BPR) bank where he rose to become chairman.
With his new powerful position as Prime Minister, Kambanda traversed the country mobilising youths to create a massive militia.
Genocide against Tutsi was openly discussed in cabinet meetings. For Kambanda, his government wanted to get rid of all Tutsi so that, according to him, all of Rwanda’s problems would be over.
Across the country, they were recruiting youths into a massive anti-Tutsi militia- Interahamwe which proceeded to set up roadblocks across Rwanda and slaughter every Tutsi.
Kambanda and Sindikubwabo remained in control for the entire 100-day genocide period that claimed more than a million lives.
Bringing Academicians on Board
On Saturday 14 May, 1994, Kambanda drove to the National University of Rwanda, in Butare in former Ngoma commune. His assignment was to recruit the academia into what he referred to as a massive army.
“We cannot allow a small group of Inyezi to remove us from our country and they occupy it when we are living outside,” Kambanda told the attentive gathering including university students and their lecturers.
When the RPF rebels attacked the Habyarimana’s regime in 1990, the Hutu extremists called them ‘Inyenzi’ including Tutsi inside the country. Inyenzi, a Rwandan word, refers to Cockroaches in English.
He assured them that he had been travelling across the country doing the same. ” It’s impossible to remove seven million people from the country by a small group of Inyenzi from Uganda.”
Kambanda challenged the academicians that it was their responsibility to protect themselves and the country from enemies. “The soldiers cannot fight this war alone. You the academicians should also mind your own security and security of the nation”.
At the start of the genocide in April, Kambanda was vice president of the Butare section of the opposition Democratic Republican Movement MDR. The region was a stronghold of his party. He expected massive mobilisation.
The government and his party had a already setup a detailed recruitment master plan. “We need to have millions of this new force,” he said.
“Here in Butare, Ngoma commune, we need at least 100 youth in every sector. They will go to commune and the burgomaster will ask commune police to begin training them. You don’t have to wait for instructors from Kigali. The instructors should arrive here when you already know how to use a gun.”
The premier said the new force in this region including Butare and Gikongoro would be commanded by Lt. Col. Aloys Simba who was also President of MRND party in Gikongoro prefecture. He later personally killed several Tutsi at Gikongoro town market and Kaduha trading centre.
According to Kambanda, his government had learnt that FPR Inkotanyi feared civil defense. “We heard that Inkotanyi are interested in capturing this city. Therefore we need to protect this city. Roadblocks need to be established along all roads in this area.”
Don’t fear the gun
After intense pressure from RPA rebels, Kambanda’s government shifted from the capital Kigali to Murambi, Muhanga district.
While there, Kambanda visited residents of Nyakabanda Commune (now Kibangu sector). He told them the enemy was a serious problem and they needed to defend themselves.
Kambanda encouraged the residents to learn how to use the gun, “Guns are not only for soldiers. Every person can own a gun. They shoot, you shoot back.”
Kambanda reminded residents that he was also a civilian but had a gun. He plucked out a pistol from his hip and waved it for all to see and cautioned them to carry their guns to gardens and when the enemy shoots, they can immediately fight back.
But Kambanda desperately wanted the academicians to also learn the gun. While at University of Rwanda, he told researchers and professors and students that a gun didn’t require allot of knowledge above what they had.
He challenged them to carefully think of how Inkotanyi (RPA rebel) agents were recruiting idlers, petty thieves and casual labourers that go and return from Uganda with ranks as Captains and Majors.
“How can you allow such to happen. Professors, researchers and students all need to understand that the enemy weapon is the gun. You all need to learn how to use it. This doesn’t require money.”
The chanting academicians were convinced and were ready for anything. For Kambanda, the argument was “there is no reason why we shouldn’t get our professors, researchers and students and we train them to become soldiers and also be Majors and Colonels”.
After portraying the gun as a simple weapon which can also be used by uneducated people he assured the academicians, “there should be no fear of shooting, or getting close to a gun. The gun does not operate itself. you need to learn how the gun is used.”
Kambanda was determined that his government wished to militarise everyone, “We wish to ensure that every person with energy including the elderly should have some knowledge on how to use a gun.”
The mission was a success as Maurice Ntahobari the national university rector grabbed the microphone from Kambanda and thanked him for the visit and promised him that the university would support the plan. Ntahobari is currently living in Norway.
“Because the late president Habyarimana was the University supreme leader and his Burundi counterpart who studied here, we wish to pledge our support to government agents in all their activities.”
Ntahobari is believed to be hiding in Scandinavian counties.
In the First two weeks of Genocide, Ntahobari’s wife Pauline Nyiramasuhuko a lawyer and Minister of Family and Women’s Affairs in Habyarimana’s government called for militias from the capital, Kigali, to come Butare to eliminate the Tutsi population.
She asked her son Arsene Shalom Ntahobali to organise militias to take part in the kidnap and rape of women and girls in Butare.
While at college Nyiramasuhuko became friends with Agathe Habyarimana, the future wife of President Juvenal Habyarimana. Her connections with Agathe influenced her appointment to a cabinet position. She became a fierce politician.
In 1982 Nyiramasuhuko’s husband, Ntahobari, would later become speaker of parliament (President of the National Development Council).
After the fall of Habyarimana regime, Nyiramasuhuko and her family fled the country. But on July 18, 1997 she was arrested by Kenyan and international authorities and taken to ICTR.
Nyiramasuhuko was the first woman to be charged with genocide in an international court, and specifically, the first woman to be charged with inciting rape as a form of genocide.
Laurence Kanayire a microbiology lab technician since January 1979 remembers so well that the situation at the university was tense. The Tutsi students and staff were targeted.
“In 1990 after inkotanyi attacked, the Tutsi didn’t have peace in the country. There were always secretive meeting at the university.” She was surprised that in those meetings, “kitchen workers, cleaners and night guards could also be invited into the meeting in the office of the Vice rector.”
Kanayire said, “it was difficult for Tutsi to leave Butare prefecture. one required a visa- Laissez-Passer to cross to another prefecture.” She said Tutsi feared to seek travel documents because they would be suspected of trying to escape.
On April 22, Kanayire and hundreds of others fled to Tumba about 15km away from Butare town.
She says a Hutu workmate always smuggled food for pigs and rats from the university and took it to Kanayire. It’s what she fed on until RPF rescued her. Her children also survived.
However, as the militia were contemplating on how to kill them, gun fire from advancing RPA rebels aborted their mission.
Extremists members at the university had been given small axes, Kanayire remembers “a workmate Anthere showed me. It’s what they used to kill Tutsi day and night every day. ”
According to Kanayire, on April 19, several Tutsi were brought into the stadium and were shot dead at night. In the morning there were alot of dead bodies piled in the stadium”.
Its estimated that over 220,000 Tutsi were killed in Butare prefecture alone. Most influential officials of the Hutu government were natives of Butare. They included President Sindikubwabo, Premeir Kambanda, Gen. Augustin Ndindiliyimana (head of the Gendarmie)
Kanayire survived the genocide against Tutsi and is still a lab technician in the faculty of Agriculture at the same university that changed to University of Rwanda.
Dominique Ndahimane a former Interahamwe in Huye district says that on April 12, burgomaster Jean Marie Vianne Habineza summoned residents to Isimbi church compound. He announced that because of the ongoing killings, the Tutsi in his area should take refugee at Isimbi church and be given protection.
However, Ndahimane says this was a secret plan to gather Tutsi in one place and kill them easily. Few days later many Tutsi started assembling at the place. But Ndahimane and his fellow militia began looting property left behind by the Tutsi.
On April 17, Col. Simba summoned for another meeting and told the militia that the following day, President Sindikubwabo would come to Isimbi to officially launch the killings of Tutsi. “He told us that we should come with traditional weapons.”
Ndahimane remembers well that on April 18, president Sindikubwabo arrived with massive escorts and he officially launched the killings by starting with the Tutsi at Isimbi church which went on for three days.
When RPF rebels stopped the genocide and established a new government. Ndahimane was arrested with others and jailed for eight years. He pleaded guilty and sought forgiveness and was set free in 2005.
RPF stops Genocide
Kananyire says on 3rd July 1994, she and others were hiding at Tumba when they heard heavy gunfire, “people started saying it was gunfire from the RPF rebels which pushed away Interahamwe.”
The RPF rebels had arrived to secure Butare prefecture in their protracted struggle to stop the genocide against Tutsi which claimed a million lives in 100 days.
At that time, the interim government had been dismantled and its army defeated. Most senior government officials had fled the country including Kambanda. The RPA rebels were in control of the a larger part of the country including the capital Kigali.
The RPF setup a unity government. Kananyire says today she lives side by side with the people who were killers. “We are in the same cooperative and sharing everything”.
On the 18th of July 1997, the exiled Prime Minister Kambanda was arrested in Kenya and flown to Arusha Tanzania at the International Criminal tribunal for Rwanda ICTR.
Later on May 1, 1998, Kambanda a father of two, pleaded guilty to six charges genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, complicity in genocide and two charges of crimes against humanity.
Kambanda told the tribunal; “Mr. President, in deciding to plead guilty I did so consciously. No one forced me to do it.”
He is the only head of government to plead guilty to genocide, in the first group of such convictions since the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide came into effect in 1951.
The tribunal sentenced Kambanda to life imprisonment and is serving his sentence at Koulikoro Prison in Mali.
Mali signed a deal with ICTR in 1999 to host Rwandan convicts. The tribunal funded an air-conditioned facility specifically built for them in Prison. The facility has separate showers, a dining room and a well-appointed library.
They receive $2 a day to buy newspapers and are entitled to receive visits. They are served better meals compared to other Mali prisoners.