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Muslims move into mainstream in Rwanda

By Heidi Kingstone - posted Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The controversy that surrounds him concerns a time when he was seen talking to the militia, It is not known what the conversation was about nor his motives, but the result means that he is a very controversial figure.

Despite this Ntihabose, himself a survivor, decided to make this film as he had been fascinated by the stories of human compassion, but he limits the narrative to the true stories of the people he met who had been helped by the Muslim community.

Antoine Rutayisire, senior pastor of St Etienne's Anglican Cathedral in Kigali, has lived his life in Rwanda. "I was in Kigali during and after the genocide and I have interacted with the Muslim community on many occasions. I have never heard of any of them or their leaders mentioning that their Mufti had hidden or protected Tutsis during the genocide. The Muslim community did help each other and did help people who were not part of their religious community, but that is common to all groups irrespective of their faiths. If that was the case, the Mufti would be a national hero, but he is not," says Rutayisire.


Ntihabose, then a 13-year old boy, was picked up on the street outside his house where he lived with his parents, and bundled into the back of a vehicle.At the first roadblock, one of the Interahamwe militia asked the driver, "why don't you just kill this boy?" recalls Ntihabose. The driver replied, "I want to kill him, but not just yet, and not on the road."

For two days Ntihabose was imprisoned in the back as they drove across the country. He had no food and no water, but he did have a grisly vantage point from where he could hear and see the massacre going on around him in the lush green undulating hills of Rwanda. Everyday he was threatened with death. At one roadblock an Interahamwe guard, 'a man acting like Rambo', asked the driver, 'why haven't you killed this cockroach?'

He said, 'I forgot, but I am going to,' recalls Ntihabose.

Close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, it occurred to Ntihabose that he could escape. One night he witnessed a silent column of people walking, and under cover of darkness, slipped out of the car and joined them. With a bribe to the border guard, money given to him as a precaution by his mother coincidentally on the morning he was abducted, he entered the DRC, and headed towards Burundi, where he knew he had family. "God protected me along the way," he says.

For Ntihabose one image lingers above all others. "I cannot get out of my mind the image of a cat eating a man's eyeballs. I can still see the Interahamwe cutting off a man's head. I can still hear the gurgling sound the dismembered head made. Then these people gouged out the dead man's eyes, and flung them on the road. A cat slunk up to the round balls and started licking them. To this day I cannot look at cats or get the sounds from the dead man out of my head."

Ntihabose, who made it back to Kigali to be reunited with his parents, has worked on two of the best films about the genocide, including Sometimes in April, and Shake Hands With The Devil.


Ntihabose found it difficult to get people to talk about their experiences, and many urged him to stop his project. "They were afraid, thinking something bad might happen to them. They worried if war broke out again, it would make their situation even worse."

Today about 400,000 Tutsis survive and make up about 15 percent of the population of this African nation. According to the 2002 census, the Muslim community made up less than two percent of the population. Poor and discriminated against, Muslims have been segregated, oppressed, stigmatized refused equal rights and shunned since Islam was first introduced in the 18th century by Muslim traders from East Africa.

According to Habimana, almost every ten years there is a slaughter. This was true in the 50s, 60s, 70s and early 90s. For Tutsis, says Habimana, referring to the small spike of conversions to Islam in the years following the genocide, "people believed if you were a Muslim you would never die in the genocide (Muslims were not a target of the Interahamwe). Islam acted like protection. In Africa anyone will join any faith for access to education and medicine," said Sheikh Habimana, "and we never had enough schools or hospitals. What you find is that once people convert, they often go back to their own faith."

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About the Author

Heidi Kingstone is a Canadian freelance journalist living in the United Kingdom.

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All articles by Heidi Kingstone

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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