Interahamwe wanted to kill me in 1994 - American Missionary Carl Wilkens recounts (Video)

By Wycliffe Nyamasege
On 20 May 2024 at 12:56

American missionary Carl Wilkens says his life was in danger after he chose to remain in Rwanda during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, as the American government evacuated its citizens.

Speaking on Sanny Ntayombya’s podcast, Long Form, Wilkens disclosed that he learned of a plot to have him killed from a leader of the Interahamwe killer squad he met at 1930 Prison.

According to Wilkens, the convict intimated that the Interahamwe killers had resolved to kill him for witnessing their crimes. However, they were stopped by Tharcisse Renzaho, the then-Governor of Kigali-Ville prefecture, who is now serving a life sentence for his role in the killing of more than one million people during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Wilkens alleges that Renzaho opposed his killing, fearing repercussions from the American government.

“This guy, when I talked to him last July, did say we planned to kill you. We told Renzaho our plans. We told him where and when we were going to do it. And Renzaho said no, don’t kill him. If you kill him, the Americans will be all over us,” Wilkens said, adding, “I don’t think the American government could have lifted a finger, but perception is so powerful.”

Talking about the trauma and his battle with anger in the aftermath of the 1994 atrocities, Wilkens said he felt like vomiting when he first met the leader of the killer squad at 1930 Prison in 2015.

“I stumbled on the leader of the killer squad at 1930 Prison in 2015. It was a horrible experience. I felt like vomiting, to be honest,” he said.

The 66-year-old noted that he had resolved to embrace forgiveness to free himself from anger and bitterness about what he witnessed in Rwanda 30 years ago.

“I worked for years to try to reframe that man and to see him as more than a mass murderer—not because he deserved it, but because I deserve to be free from anger and bitterness,” he added.

Saved over 400 people

Wilkens was the only American left in the country during the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.

At the time of the Genocide against the Tutsi, Wilkens was the Head of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency International in Rwanda. He was living in the country with his wife and three children when President Juvénal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down.

Wilkens chose to remain behind with two domestic Tutsi workers after the American Embassy made it clear to them not to bring any Rwandans with them. He sent his wife and children with an American convoy to Burundi and stayed at his home in Kigali with the two workers for about three weeks over fears that they would be harmed.

"The American embassy was ordering us all out but they were also ordering us not to bring any Rwandans. So it’s like they were ordering to leave a part of our family behind," he recounted.

Over the next 100 horrific days of the genocide, Wilkens managed to save the lives of 400 Tutsis, including orphans from Gisimba Orphanage, whom he moved to safety through deadly roadblocks, thanks to his influence and networks.

He recounted that on the day he rescued the orphans, more than 50 killers had surrounded the orphanage, waiting to kill everyone. But the children’s lives were spared after he reached out to Renzaho and Prime Minister Jean Kambanda.