When Assoumpt Kampororo first heard news of the death of President Habyarimana on the morning of April7, 1994, it was received with mixed feelings from her siblings but her mother cautioned the family that horror would follow.
In the small village of Samuduha, former commune of Mushubati in the southern Rwanda on this fateful morning life was a bit slow people attending to their work sluggishly, Kampororo who was in her fifth year at a nearby Secondary school was encouraged by her brother to go school but her mother advised against it until they could have an inkling of the situation.
The following days were to change her life completely. The news of the demise of the president would mark the start of genocide against Tutsi that would wipe out over a million lives in a span of 100 days.
Growing in well-off family, Kampororo’s father was a local magistrate but had died from an accident prior to events leading up to the Genocide against the Tutsiand her brother was a director of a local school. The success of this family was the envy of some in this village and the magistrate never wielded any influence or power to repulse harassment and intimidation.
The Interahamwe militias in her village were weaker which explained the sluggishness in this village and unmediated start of killings. Relatives from Kibuye in the west started arriving at Kampororo’s home on April8 with stories of massacres that were taking place elsewhere, the local authorities came to warn them not to harbour any refugees to which they adamantly refused and the men went on to install defences to protect against Interahamwe.
Two weeks after, the fighting withInterahamwe intensified and self-protection defence at their home was broken on the April20 after the Interahamwe had mobilised support from other militias from the neighbouring villages and prison guards who were armed with guns and attacked every Tutsi home.Everyone flee after this attack but Kampororo failed to convince her mother to come with them and had to carry her young nephew and hide at neighbour who was said to be mentally unstable.
“The Interahamwe ransacked our home and what they could not take they destroyed, my mother hide out near my home, while she could not go further from home she was later killed,” Kampororo narrates. She also kept near the home because of her mother who had refused to flee and could not leave her that way.
As Kampororo recalls, her voice starts to crack. News of her mother’s death reached her in her hide out and she wanted at least to give her a proper burial. “I went back home and found my mother’s body, her chest severely shattered with bullets, I tied her body together and she was later buried and thereafter I realised that I had to run before the same fate could befall me.”
“I was sheltered by some orphans who were living nearby and they helped me, my nephew and an old woman until I heard that my uncle Michel who could not also flee because of an accident he had sustained had been killed which forced me to flee to Kabgayi where I heard people were taking refugee.”
A man named Rugero who used to help those who wanted to go to Kabgayi, came in the night to escort Kampororo and they used back roads through bushes and swamps, arriving at Kabgayi at around 3am. They got there safely but the suffering they found at Kabgayi was too much, the first camp they got to was more like a swamp that her nephew could not survive and sought support to relocate inside the compound of St Joseph where refugees could at least shelter in the classrooms.
“I relieved and surprised to find a lot of people I knew at Kabgayi previously thought to be dead, I even found my brother still alive but was taken the next morning by his former schoolmate and we never heard about him again.”
Kabgayi Roman Catholic Church centre with the oldest cathedral in the country, seminaries, schools and a hospital was a living hell during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. The courage of a few priests saved lives at this place while some powerful clergy ordered the felling of Tutsis from Kabgayi to be killed.
Kampororo arrived at Kabgayi sometime in May, as she considersherself lucky to have never visibly seen any physical killing until this time it was here that she saw a man hacked to death at Kabgayi hospital entrance where she had taken her seriously ill nephew, a life and death decision she took because the hospital was then used by the military. Coming back from the hospital that day she was stopped at a road block which she had not left there and spent hours hopelessly waiting to be killed but was yet to survive that day.
Everyday people were taken by the Interahamwe to be killed, everyone who could stand, women, and girls were raped and those who barely walk died from disease. Thousands of Tutsis who had taken refuge lived in crowded conditions with little food or water, many suffering diseases due to these poor conditions and died horribly.
Telling her story means reliving the dreadful experience, Kampororobreaks at the thought of Kabgayi, she takes a moment to wipe tears and cracking voice, but the Kabgayi dreadful events in May twenty-four years ago you cannot tell it all, she says.
Relief came on June2 when RPA liberated them. The first signs were continuous sound of gunfire which many thought was finally their end. The refugees in Kabgayi could not bulge out until people in another camp who had been liberated by RPA soldiers told them that they were safe.
Finally, safe from the hands of the killers, many especially old women could barely stand on their feet but the soldiers helped them provided medicine, food and stated trekking all to areas they had captured.
Clutching to her 5-year old nephew, Kampororo could only wonder how she was still alive, the young boy could not talk but she managed to carry him and walked slowly with others from Muhanga to Ruhango then Bugeseraand finally to Kigali. The journey was slow but they were aided by the RPA soldiers.
At this point of herstory, Kampororo shares it with a mixture of laughs and sorrow. “The Inkotanyi helped us, they saved us and during this journey I finally saw my long lost brother who had left home many years to join RPA.”
After reuniting with her brother, she was told that her other brother, who was said to have died before the start of the genocide was still alive and living in Kigali.
Kampororo, 46, is now married mother of three, she works with SEVOTA, a local NGO known from its French abbreviation meaning Solidarity for Blossoming of Widows and Orphans aimed at Self-Promotion and Work.
SEVOTA which was established shortly after 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, supports women victims of rape. Kampororo joined the organisation in 2005 and SEVOTA was very instrumental in helping her and her son born in 1995 to restore her relations with her family and society.
She now heads the organisation’s Muhanga District programme, as SEVOTA was born out of the need to restore the destroyed human relations during the Genocide against the Tutsi, Kampororo currently works with SEVOTA and passionately supports women and orphans who were raped and children born out of rape.