This April will mark 24 years since the genocide against the Tutsi happened in Rwanda.
The 90-day massacre of the Tutsi was sparked off by the shooting down of the Rwandan presidential jet carrying then president Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart on April 6, 1994.
The plane was downed at Kanombe airport [now Kigali International Airport] near Kigali city at about 8.30pm. The two presidents and their entourage were coming from Arusha peace-talks with the RPF rebels. No one in the plane survived.
However, since October 1, 1990 when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) fighters attacked Rwanda at Kagitumba from Uganda; in a “coming home” military option, not only the Tutsi in Rwanda faced death, but even Ugandans in Rwanda were targeted and killed.
Having served in several government departments since 1977, in July 1990, James Luyimba Miti was posted to Rwanda as an administrative officer/public relations officer/interpreter of French and English for Kagera Basin Organisation, a regional organisation headquartered in Kigali. Its members were Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.
“The RPF invaded Rwanda on October 1, 1990, two months after I had lived in Rwanda. The RPF attacking from Uganda made life for Ugandans in Rwanda a living hell,” Miti says.
“They [Rwandese] said these Tutsi wouldn’t have attacked them if they had not been assisted by [President] Museveni in Uganda,” Miti recounts.
“So we [Ugandans] became Public Enemy Number 1. They started not so openly on radio Rwanda. They were saying some people attacked us from Uganda”.
Asked why he could not immediately return home having sensed danger, Miti responds: “We did not thinks things would take the extent they took in 1994. We knew Ugandans were hated, but we thought it was just public noise. The government never said it openly that Uganda was behind the RPF.
But in public, especially the Hutu youth, were saying ‘Abagande nibobatuteye’, meaning “it’s Ugandans who invaded us”. And because I was enjoying an international job, I couldn’t simply come back. I couldn’t leave a job like that because of street rumours.”
In early 1993, as the RPF got closer to Kigali, organisations and diplomat mission heads in Kigali told diplomats to repatriate their families to their home countries. Miti sent his wife and children back to Uganda. He stayed behind with his houseboy and the night watchman.
Habyarimana dies, genocide begins
On the evening of April 6, 1994, when the plane carrying Rwanda’s President Habyarimana was shot down, Miti and his Ugandan friend Fred Muwanga were watching the Africa Cup of Nations game on television at Miti’s residence in Kacyiru, an affluent Kigali suburb. Suddenly, power went off.
Miti called his friend Peter Kallage, the First Secretary at the Tanzanian Embassy residing at Kiyovu, another affluent suburb of Kigali, asking him if he had power. Miti and Muwanga rushed to Kiyovu to catch the remaining minutes of the game. Little did they knew that they would stay at Kallage’s for the next three months.
They had been at Kallage’s for less than an hour when his [Kallage’s] houseboy came running to the sitting room and said he had heard from radio RTLM that president Habyarimana’s plane had been shot down at Kanombe airport and that all the occupants were killed. Fear gripped the house.
On assessing the situation, Kallage decided to confine Miti and Muwanga at his home because they were Ugandans and the situation on the street was volatile.
The following week, heads of diplomatic missions and organisations in Rwanda, through telephone conversations, agreed to evacuate Kigali through Burundi in a long convoy headed by an American Embassy vehicle.
Meanwhile, Kallage had secured forged Tanzanian travel documents for Miti and Muwanga. While Miti and Muwanga had agreed to travel in the convoy disguised as Tanzanian nationals, on a second thought, Miti declined.
“I feared because I knew the killers knew me very well as a Ugandan. We would not have gone past the first road block,” Miti narrates.
On radio RTLM, a presenter called Kantano and others were blaring death instructions to the masses to kill Ugandans.
In his book, 90 days in Hell, Miti quotes Kantano saying in Kinyarwanda: “…the Ugandans are the cause of our woes.
Those Inyenzi (cockroaches) could not have dared attack us if it were not for Museveni’s assistance. Kill them, those Ugandan bastards”.
“On July 4, 1994, at around 7am, from Kallage’s house, we saw a long line of armed people moving so fast from Kimihurura going through the Industrial Area heading to Kiyovu. We were still wondering who they were when some of them pushed our gate open.
They were dressed in all sorts of attire, T-shirts, jeans, police and military uniforms and others in school uniforms. One of them shouted in Kinyarwanda; “Mulibande?”, meaning ‘who are you?’ We replied that we were Tanzanians trapped by the war.
Then one of them shouted in Luganda: “Mwe temuli Baganda?” meaning “Aren’t you Ugandans?” Miti, trembling, answered “Yes.”
The other man said in Luganda: “Babano abasajja tubazudde”, meaning: “Here are the men, we got them”. We were overjoyed. Now we knew that it was the RPF”. Miti remembers.
Their senior came inside the compound and told Miti and Muwanga that they were looking for other Ugandans trapped in Kigali City. Hours later, an RPF fighter came and told Miti and Muwanga that they had found Eric Mbabazi-Araali, a Ugandan working with the Ugandan Embassy, who had been trapped near Kanombe airport.
About two weeks after the capture of Kigali, the RPF gave Miti, Muwanga and Mbabazi documents and fueled Miti’s Nissan Bluebird and they drove to Kampala via Katuna.
While Miti returned to Rwanda and worked with the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda as an interpreter and translator, in June 2011, he retired and returned to Uganda.