Rwanda: “Wa nterahamwe we!!”: Agony of being fathered by “interahamwe”
Kigali: Rejected, banished, deliberately isolated and even hidden from public view – is the indescribable agony of thousands of children born from women gruesomely raped by rampaging interahamwe militia during the 1994 Tutsi Genocide. In this special report, it is discovered for the first time how some 5,000 women raped by the interahamwe, and the children they gave birth, are reclusively living on – 16 years after the mass slaughter.
Alivera was already a widow and mother of five when the Genocide started. She conceived from gang rape by the militias. Amid an outpouring of emotion, Alivera narrates that the pregnancy started appearing after the war and killings had stopped. That would mark the beginning of her suffering, as the country was recovering.
The pain is so much and fresh that some of the women do not want to reveal the sex and names of the children so they are not noticed. Alivera often called her son “wa giterahamwe we”, out of anger whenever the boy messed up, even the slightest. The boy hated school, become hostile, and could at times flee from home just to stay away from the mother, family, age-mates and surroundings.
Alivera’s family banished her with her now six children, branding her a prostitute who was forgetting the existing children and continuing to make more babies. The societal rejection left the whole family with nowhere to live, leaving them wandering from place to another looking for even food.
For Claudine, in a rare posture, her daughter – who was actually her first birth, was apparently born with her hand touching the chick. Strange! But it happened, and that has haunted Claudine up to today. The still-youthful Claudine attempted suicide several times during the pregnancy she completely disliked. All the families she lived with forced her to abort, or abandon the daughter after she was born.
During the low moments in their relationship over the years, Claudine narrates how the daughter started demanding to know her father. Moved with grief because she had no answers for her daughter, Claudine became brutally hostile – at which point – the girl would flee to hide, and strangely still, put her hand on her chick – in the same style as she was born!
Claudine was so young when she got pregnant that she only knew about it after people started bombarding her with demeaning comments. At some point before birth, Claudine worked as a maid for a family which would make her carry up to 40kg of beans – which are almost her size. “All the families I lived with hated me, grabbed everything from me. I was their slave,” she softly narrates.
At the Kabgayi hospital (southern Rwanda) where Claudine gave birth, white nurses and visitors convinced her to let them take the baby away. She refused, preferring not to allow the baby go without even having developed full sight to notice her mother.
In the case of Mukeshimana, the only person in her whole family and friends who understood her plight was her brother – who was a soldier. He gave her money for all the child-birth necessities to flee from Kigali for Byumba (north eastern Rwanda).
Among the men who one-after-another raped Mukeshimana was a gendarme who actually called in others as the rape continued over time. What is so moving about her pregnancy and subsequent birth was that she was considered an outcast, as everybody wanted her to abort the baby.
Due to the hate the child went through, he became so violent, according the mother. By the age of 8, the boy would apparently fight to the point no family wanted him near their children. In school, he would beat up his classmates that no teacher wanted him in their class. Mukeshimana says she noticed the gendarme who raped her after the end of the conflict and is now in jail.
Indifferent from the other such women being supported by a local organization SEVOTA, who still have so much difficulty to come to terms with their painful past, Mukeshimana speaks joyfully – even referring to the son as her best friend.
SEVOTA was founded in December 1995 by Ms. Godelieve Mukasarasi – herself a Genocide widow. The idea arose following a research which showed that between 3000 and 5000 women were living with in silence and unspeakable pain. Mukasarasi says she was moved when the women complained that so much research has been done about them but nothing was coming back in form of support.
The widowed women and orphans wanted a place they could meet – where, at first, they came together to cry together. Sixteen years down the road, the organization – through counseling, material support and outright care, has reunited the widows with their unwanted children.
The children, all of who are now fifteen, are in school, but all share one common situation. At their age, they should be in high school, but are all still at the primary level – due to the fact that all have had learning difficulties; they could not stay in school; were often reminded by their peers how their fathers were interahamwe.
For example, Mukeshimana’s son would bitterly complain to the mother why people continued to call him “wa nterahamwe we” – an indication he did not know the history of his situation. He now knows it all and says so be it. At least all the women say they have used this description on their children out of spontaneous anger, calling the females as “wa nterahamwekazi we”.
Through what SEVOTA has termed the FORUM, the widows have a place to meet. Through outings to places like Kibuye – with the whole group, which took time to work out, the children came to realize they were not alone, and have accepted who they were.
For Uwera, 16, she has decided to forget everything about her past. “I don’t want to remember anything like that because that is how it is…so what?” she says.
In the midst of the grim picture, these children seem to want to look forward. They want to be considered like very other child at their age. And, as a show that they have moved on, they have dreams. Big dream!!
As for Didier, he loves English football club Manchester United, and is particularly fond of its forward Wayne Rooney. All Didier wants to be is a great footballer like Rooney.
But something still out there: some women have refused to come out with their ordeal because they are too frightened. Some have remarried, and cannot imagine their husbands knowing they were raped by interahamwe. Some widows have deliberately chosen not to live with their sons and daughters – hiding them far away.
And by the way, Jean Paul, 15, wants to be a journalist.
This story is based on a BBC radio documentary broadcast Saturday April 10, 2010, to mark the 16th Anniversary of the Tutsi massacres. The names in the story are not real, on the request of the people concerned. The documentary is in Kinyarwanda and can be found online on http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/check/greatlakes/meta/tx/greatlakes_0530?size=au&bgc=003399&lang=rw&nbram=1&nbwm=1