Desperation engulfed Agnès Uwimana back in 2007, the time she felt nobody paid any iota of attention to her dire situation; a situation of a mother of a rape-child, having no shelter and living with infirmity as a consequence of atrocious torture she went through during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi which took a toll on her being.
Guided by a counsellor familiar to the victim, we visit Uwimana in Kamonyi District, Musambira Sector, Mpushi Cell, Nyarurama Village, where she battles to meet the basic means of survival, swamped in worries of debts, including monthly house rent of Rwf4,000.
On Wednesday of last week, amidst the glowing radiance of the midday sunshine, we reach. Uwimana gets out of her house to see the visitors but her face creases into a solemn look. She lifts and places both her hands at the top of her head. She stands still in a distance not willing to talk even to the counsellor she had seen several times before. The counsellor notices the victim’s trauma that has resurfaced following another rape by one of the four night attackers who had stormed her home six days before and stole all 50kgs of beans she had harvested.
The attack is confirmed to IGIHE by the executive secretary of Musambira Sector, Etienne Muvunyi, who says the victim and three suspects were taken to Kacyiru Hospital for medical treatment and a DNA test respectively as police opened investigations into the case last week.
The counsellor comforts the victim who later admits us, provides a bench and opens up for a long talk from the house she had left to seek refuge from the neighbour since the previous week’s attack. Uwimana reveals she does not want to see any people because she feels all people are heartless and fierce as the recent rape reopened her wounds of the multiple rapes she was subjected to during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi which claimed over one million lives, an estimated 250,000 rapes, and, according to Foundation Rwanda, produced 20,000 rape-babies. .
Shunned by society
During the 1994 genocide, Uwimana, then 23-year old, was raped by Interahamwe (the genocide frontline hit-men), impregnated and gave birth to a baby boy in 1995. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Uwimana kept the dark secret of the circumstances of her son’s conception from him. In 2015, however, after receiving intensive counselling from Survivors Fund (SURF), a local charity, Uwimana opened up to her son.
Uwimana’s son is now a student in senior five at a boarding school far from home and the two have reconciled. Filled with abounding curiosity, the son pestered the mother for long with questions about his father. One day in 2015 the mother gave a partial but ambiguous answer; “Will you know who has beaten you if the entire multitude of Musambira market beat you?” Uwimana clarified to the son that she cannot identify who impregnated her from among the legion of her 1994 rapists.
Uwimana, like many other 1994 unmarried rape victims, faced excruciating life hardships after genocide because their status was not considered in any government special schemes for genocide survivors like the Association of Genocide Widows (AVEGA Agahozo) that helps widows and their dependents escape poverty, anguish and misery as well as the Fund for Neediest Survivors of Genocide (FARG) which promotes social welfare of the survivors.
During different selections of beneficiaries of different programmes which provided many genocide survivors with houses and more assistance, Uwimana has always been ignored and, she says, would hear participants in the selection process murmuring; “Don’t consider that one, she is raising a child of interahamwe (genocide perpetrators),” something that stigmatised her and abandoned appearing at public meetings.
“I also felt my son was the worst interahamwe I was living with and hated him for that. He used to irritate me and roughly rebuke him whenever he asked me to, at least, describe his father’s size and skin colour. I, later, realised he is innocent, I explained everything to him and he forgave me,” says Uwimana.
The assistance that never was
Uwimana says she submitted a letter to the presidency in April 2007 to seek support for a house and other means of survival. She was, later, called to the district office and told her financial support was deposited on the bank account of the sector. When she checked with sector offices, they gave her only Rwf5,000.
“And I wondered if five thousand was the support that the President of the Republic had sent me yet I asked for a house and other forms of support for survival. I kept complaining to the sector’s office but they all fooled me. They called me a mad woman and threatened me with jail. I stopped going there, up to now,” Uwimana sadly narrates.
The current Musambira sector executive secretary, Muvunyi, who ascended to office in November 2016, says he knew nothing about the Uwimana 2007 saga. Uwimana had not appeared in public until last month when she was called at the 23rd commemoration event to give account of her ordeal during the genocide. Muvunyi was present at the event and heard of Uwimana’s dire living conditions. All other survivors in the area have got decent houses and more support.
Muvunyi says his office has offered roof for the victim’s house, mobilised the community to contribute in building the house and promised advocacy for further support. During this visit, we found local leaders including Muvunyi, police officers and community members putting up the walls of the house.
Uwimana, now mother of three, lives in misery and depression but her eldest son, born out of rape, is getting education with the support of SURF and Foundation Rwanda, this support is delivered by Kinyarwanda, an international NGO partnering with SURF. Similar support is provided to youth born of rape in membership of AVEGA Agahozo and Solace Ministries. Her two other sons are aged seven and four but Uwimana never got officially married. She only followed a local myth that producing again would cure her unceasing menstrual bleeding, which, fortunately cured her as she testifies.
Emilienne Kambibi, works with SURF and Foundation Rwanda as a counsellor in charge of an educational program which supports youth born of genocide rape and manages a community counselling program which supports the mothers. She says SURF identified 1,250 rape-children in 2008 but the charity was able to help only 830 to complete secondary education while 296 are still receiving the support.
Kambibi adds that during the counselling programme dubbed “Healing for mothers and hope for children”, Foundation Rwanda and SURF discovered that rape victims who were unmarried in 1994 are infested with an aching stigma because they are neither considered as widows nor their children as orphans which have been the focus categories for special government support. As a result, most of them have not benefitted from the fund for supporting neediest survivors.
Kambibi says SURF and Foundation Rwanda keeps doing advocacy on these issues and supports the vulnerable with the available means “These rape victims and their children need assistance to feel accepted and understood. They experience extreme trauma which can be dealt with for recovery over time if they receive the right support,” she observes.