KWIBUKA 30: The story of Ev. Mudenge, the Genocide survivor who lost 51 relatives but rose above bitterness to be a champion of unity

By Frederic Byumvuhore

April 7, 2024, Rwandans and friends of Rwanda all over the world commence the weeklong commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi that happened 30 years ago. More than a million people died in the massacre that lasted 100 days from April to July in 1994. Evangelist Boniface Mudenge, 59, miraculously survived the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

The Gospel Time’s writer Frederic Byumvuhore visited the survivor in Rubavu Town and had an exclusive interview where the interviewee recounted his horrible story.

Read more here about the story of Ev. Mudenge.

Introduction

Mudenge is a Genocide survivor from Bugeshi Sector, Rubavu District in the Western Province of Rwanda.

During the Genocide, he lost 51 members of his extended family.

Despite suffering such, he decided to forgive the people who massacred his friends and relatives.

Mudenge’s story starts from 1973, when the Coup d’ Etat that toppled former president Gregoire Kayibanda happened.

“I remember it was around 10 AM. We were in break time at school when the coup d’état happened,” he said.

“Immediately, things changed in our school.”

“I remember some children throwing sand at my face. I also saw a teacher being chased by his fellows. I immediately ran out of the school and went home.”

“At home, I could not find my parents. Rather, I found three men who were holding machetes in their hands. They asked me to join my parents where they were hiding. The three men were my father’s best friends and they had come home to protect our house from being set on fire.”

“Later, I found my parents at a neighbors’ house, hiding. We spent three days there before we returned home. I asked what had happened, and they told me that nothing expect a persistent discrimination against the Tutsi.”

After some days, life seemed to be normalized but I had already decided not to go back to school.

I started to take care of the cattle.

Though he had dropped out of school, he developed a desire to learn how to read.

“I saw an old man carrying Bibles and I liked the books. I prayed to God to teach me how to read so that I could ask my parents to buy one book for me. Finally, I was taught by a fellow herdsman who had dropped out of school after failing in national exams.”

The troubles continue

Some years before the Genocide against the Tutsi happened, Mudenge served as an evangelist in former Mutura Commune (in present-day Rubavu District) and in Kigali.

When the Liberation war was launched in 1990 by the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), the former Rwandan government hunted for him, suspecting him to be an informant of the rebel liberation movement.

In 1993, things became worse, forcing him to flee the country.

“I fled alone leaving my family behind. Consequently, the rest of the family were ‘punished’ for my departure. My wife was arrested and locked up with a two-month-old baby because she could not reveal where I was,” Mudenge narrates.

Returning home

The Genocide started in April 1994 and ended in July. During this time, Mudenge was out of Rwanda.

In July 1994, Mudenge returned home shortly after Rwanda Patriotic Army troops had arrived in the former Mutura Commune – Rubavu District.

His journey back home like others was difficult as on their way they were welcomed by lots of dead bodies and empty houses.

Mudenge cautioned some of his colleagues who returned with a heart of revenge, telling them that killing was a sin.

“My dreams were not to revenge but to forgive. After returning home alive I got this feeling that we had survived for a reason and that reason was to unite survivors and their former tormentors,” he noted.

Inyenyeri Itazima Association

Mudenge was appointed as the leader of Mutura Commune. Under the new responsibility, Mudenge would lead by example to convince survivors in Mutura commune to follow his mission of forgiveness.

In 2009, Mudenge founded Inyenyeri Itazima Association (loosely translated ‘the star that doesn’t burn out’), to reconcile families of Genocide survivors and perpetrators.

Under the association, he would organize public events to showcase the power of forgiveness and through this many embraced his message. Three years after its establishment, the association was rewarded nationally for its role in reconciliation efforts.

Mudenge’s work to sensitise Genocide survivors to forgive and perpetrators to apologise brought effective impact on the government’s programmes such as Gacaca, unity and reconciliation designed to promote peace among Rwandans after the Genocide.

In 2015, Mudenge was selected among the recipients of Abarinzi b’Igihango (protector of friendship pact) award.

Besides national awards he received for promoting peace, Mudenge’s continuous efforts to unite Rwandans led him to be selected among the champions of peace promoters at the international level.

On November 30, 2017, Search for Common Ground, a US-based organization, gave him a trophy for his reconciliation work.

Search for Common Ground awards are presented annually to honour outstanding accomplishments in conflict resolution, negotiation, community building, and peace building.

Despite the hardships like living with those who killed his family, Mudenge thanks God who gave him a heart of forgiveness.

 “In my association, we keep on educating people about the Genocide. We mainly focus on the young generation who are the future of the country. We tour schools to assist sustain what we have achieved,” he noted.

In 2015, Mudenge was selected among the recipients of Abarinzi b’Igihango (protector of friendship pact) award.