Reflections on Abatabazi government’s relocation to Gitarama and its gruesome legacy

By Esther Muhozi
On 11 January 2024 at 06:35

The harrowing chronicle of the Abatabazi government’s relocation to Gitarama unfolds as a dark episode in Rwanda’s history, marked by betrayal, violence, and the execution of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Formerly situated in the Nyamabuye Commune, now part of Muhanga District, this government, self-styled as "rescuers," perpetrated atrocities that scarred the nation irreparably.

In the wake of President Habyarimana Juvénal’s death, the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi openly erupted across Rwanda. Mayors in various regions actively encouraged the erection of road blocks, branding Tutsis as enemies of the state. The then Nyamabuye Commune’s Mayor, Harerimana Thomas, however, took a different stance. He convened a meeting with cell and sector leaders, asserting that the Inkotanyi were not foreigners but Rwandans denied their rights, expelled, and now returning home.

Hatangimbabazi Augustin, head of cell Kirimahwa in Gatenzi Sector, implemented Harerimana’s directive to abstain from placing citizens at road blocks. Upon Harerimana’s resignation, Mayor Ruzigana Emmanuel assumed leadership, intensifying the encouragement of Hutus to kill Tutsis.

The cell committee members, including Hatangimbabazi, found themselves at the forefront of the genocide orchestrated by extremist Hutus.

On April 11, 1994, as the sun dipped below the horizon, the residents of Nyamabuye witnessed the ominous arrival of two tanks headed to the RIAM Center (now RMI), where government officials used to undergo training.

"The Abatabazi government arrived while we were at the road block, casting suspicion upon us. Gendarmes were immediately dispatched to inspect. People were dying horrendously, and we were falsely accused by a member of the Interahamwe militia, Diogène Twahirwa," lamented Hatangimbabazi.

Swiftly, the government organized a vehicle to transport cell leaders, converging gendarmes and militia to carry out mass killings across Nyamabuye Commune.

Renowned Rwandan politician Boniface Rucagu once posited that the Abatabazi government strategically established a base in Gitarama to mobilize residents for the systematic extermination of Tutsis. Genocide survivors in Kabgayi attest to the leaders’ insidious role in fomenting hatred and orchestrating mass killings.

The aftermath of April 12, 1994, witnessed the ruthless conduct of law enforcement and military personnel. Policemen consumed alcohol without payment, soldiers indulged in excess, and looting became rampant. Hatangimbabazi, a tailor, found himself coerced into sewing shorts for the fleeing elite using stolen fabrics.

As the Abatabazi government’s tenure in Gitarama unfolded, it revealed a callous disregard for its people. Delayed provisions, unpaid debts, and looting by gendarmes further exposed the leadership’s lack of empathy.

The government’s brief stay in Gitarama came to an end in late April 1994, with Radio Rwanda persistently misleading the public about their actual location. Fleeing the advancing RPF-Inkotanyi forces, the government sought refuge in Gisenyi, eventually escaping to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Hatangimbabazi vividly recalls the leaders urging the populace to continue fighting against the Inkotanyi, revealing a chilling mindset that viewed the people as expendable in the face of their imminent defeat.

Now, as a reformed individual who served more than ten years for his role in the genocide, Hatangimbabazi dedicates himself to educating others about Rwanda’s tragic history, fostering understanding and healing in the Macyera cell where he resides.

The interim government established on April 8, 1994 was led by President Théodore Sindikubwabo.