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Homecoming ends Rwandan’s exile misery, but he’s wary about future

May 24, 1997

KIBUYE, Rwanda (AP) _ Jean-Claude Dusabe won a major battle in his 24-year life. He made it home alive after three years as a Rwandan refugee in neighboring Zaire.

His father, eldest brother and 10 other members of his extended Hutu family died of starvation, illness or attacks by Zairian rebels. Only Dusabe, his other brother and their mother survived.

Now, Dusabe, a former linguistics student, faces another battle: making it home, where Hutus are still looked on with suspicion for their role in the 1994 massacre of at least a half million Tutsis.

``Rwanda is like a prison. What kind of future is there for me?″ he said the day after returning with his brother and mother to their home in western Rwanda from the squalid Kasese refugee camp in Zaire, which has since been renamed Congo by the victorious rebels.

``Can I get a job, continue my education, travel freely without being stopped by soldiers?″ he asked.

Tutsi rebels who overthrew the Hutu government responsible for Rwanda’s genocide now run the small central African country. They control the movement of returning refugees very closely.


On the surface, Dusabe’s return was quite an improvement from his life as a refugee.

He changed his rags for a clean shirt, shaved and put a pair of red shoes on his bare feet _ for the first time in three years.

The spacious courtyard and house of his family’s compound in the commune of Kakinyoni signal a comfortable existence _ before the genocide.

Stepping gingerly through a thick grove of banana trees to avoid getting his new outfit dirty, Dusabe confessed the first thing he did after he got home was to stuff himself with bananas. ``I managed to eat 18,″ he said with a gentle smile, as though confessing to a sin.

``My father sold bananas. My brother was a driver in town. I was studying languages and African literature,″ he added.

But Dusabe’s comfortable past, and his education, are worth little now.

``Now, we’ve got nothing,″ he said. ``I lost my brother. I’ve got no money to buy food or continue my education. I don’t know what to do.″


Looking back, Dusabe said he found it difficult to understand what happened in Rwanda in 1994.

``Yes, Hutus killed Tutsis. But now, Tutsis are doing the same thing. We’re not free, and we’re the majority in the country,″ he said.

Hutus make up about 85 percent of Rwanda’s population of 7 million; Tutsis 14 percent.

The day he returned, Dusabe had to report to local authorities _ the Tutsis. ``They asked me what was I doing during 1994. I told them I was a student. They said they would check on me.″

``I don’t have an ID. It will take a long time before they give me an ID. Without it, I cannot travel outside Kakinyoni, unless I ask for a special pass, which sometimes they give, sometimes they don’t. If I want to go to university, the local authorities have to recommend me to higher authorities, and then to the university. I don’t think this will happen soon.″

Even going to Nyange, about an hour east of Kakinyoni, can be dangerous. Tutsi residents often report Hutus _ or arrest them themselves _ on charges of genocide.

Rwandan prisons are crammed full with more than 100,000 people awaiting trial. So far, two dozen have been convicted and sentenced to death in trials that lasted an average three days each. Defendants have been denied legal defense. So far, no one has been executed.

``Those who killed should be punished. But not all of Hutus killed,″ Dusabe said. ``Now, a Tutsi can say to a Hutu _ you stole my car. Pay me the damage, or you’ll go to jail. But that Tutsi never owned a car.″


Dusabe is the only single man in his village. He would like to marry and begin a family, but he also wants to continue his studies. He doubts he can do this in Rwanda. He says there is too much extremism.

``I like Hutus and Tutsis. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m a Banyarwanda,″ he said, using the word in Kinyarwanda that means ``a person from Rwanda.″

Back in April 1994, Dusabe was a freshman at Kigali University in the Rwandan capital. He returned to his home village that April 8, two days after a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down by unknown assailants. The attack was the pretext that set off a 90-day orgy of killing by extremist Hutus.

At home again in the green, rolling hills of Kibuye prefecture that are dotted by banana, tea and coffee fields, Dusabe said he witnessed the murder of his Tutsi neighbors.

``The Interahamwe (Hutu militia) were bad. They said they discovered weapons in the Tutsis’ house,″ he said. ``The entire family was killed. I think the weapons were planted. They were our friends. When I got home, I wept and wept.″

Before the genocide, Kibuye had the largest Tutsi population in Rwanda _ about 250,000 people. Ninety days later, there were 8,000 left.

A week into the slaughter, for instance, 2,000 Tutsis who had sought refuge in the Roman Catholic church at Nyange were crushed to death by bulldozers driven by ordinary Hutus.


After the first reports of mass killings, Tutsi rebels who had first entered the country in October 1990 from Uganda moved south toward Kigali.

Although they opposed the slaughter, Dusabe’s family didn’t wait for the rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Front to arrive.

``We were Hutu, and the RPF wanted to take revenge on Hutus for the killings. It didn’t matter if you had killed or not,″ Dusabe said.

So they joined 1.2 million other Hutus in an exodus to eastern Zaire, where they settled in a camp near Bukavu on the Rwandan border protected _ and controlled _ by former Rwandan government soldiers and militiamen.

Once in exile, Dusabe tried to continue his education _ but in vain.

``Once me and a group of students tried to cross over to Zambia. But (Zairian) soldiers stopped us,″ he said. ``They searched me and found the money I had for school. They took it all away from me.″

Late last year, Zairian rebels attacked all the camps along the border, scattering the refugees. About 700,000 people returned to Rwanda. But 300,000 _ including Dusabe and his family who were caught between attacking rebels and the Rwandan soldiers and militia _ headed farther west into Zaire.

They trudged 435 miles through savanna and jungle, and thousands died from starvation, disease and rebel attacks along the way.

``You cannot image how it is to be in the jungle. It’s so dark, you cannot see anything,″ Dusabe said. ``We had nothing to eat. We were scared of soldiers, and many people were so weak they couldn’t move.″

His father was one of those who could go no farther. His last words burn in Dusabe’s memory: ``I cannot run anymore. I’m sick and tired. You go with your mother and brother and save yourself.″ He never saw his father again.

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