Rwanda Genocide survivor: My mother and I were ordered to dig our own graves

Interview with Claude Gatebuke on eve of Paul Kagame’s genocide conference keynote address at Sacramento State, broadcast on KPFA’s Morning Mix Block Report

by Minister of Information JR

This interview was broadcast on KPFA’s Morning Mix Block Report on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 8-9 a.m., the morning before Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s scheduled appearance at the Third International Genocide Conference: Negationism, Revisionism, Survivors’ Testimonies, Eyewitness Accounts, Justice and Memory at Sacramento State University in Sacramento, Calif.

“At Sacramento State University, Kagame will be speaking, and the truth will be turned on its head by having a genocide perpetrator speak about genocide denial and genocide prevention.” – Claude Gatebuke, Rwanda Genocide survivor

Congo is one of the most mineral rich places in the world. This fact leads to horrible atrocities being committed by political, military and financial organizations in the name of doing whatever has to be done to keep control of vital resources that come from the area to keep the money flowing. Most of the top predators – aka business and political executives – in this food chain reside in Western countries; a large portion of the mercenary military required for this type of operation is hired in or around the country that is being robbed.

This is the best way I could describe the relationship between the American and European nations and their African, Latin American and Asian prey, whose resources they are sucking dry. This is the type of world that has created diabolic, African born, Western supported mercenary mis-leaders like Paul Kagame, the current president of the African nation of Rwanda.

It is one thing for me to give my opinion on Paul Kagame; it is better to hear from Claude Getabuke, a person who lived and damn near died because of the actions of this monster. Claude proposes non-military solutions to the current crisis in the Central East African region. He encourages ordinary citizens in the United States to take action and push the U.S. government to change its policies in the region and discontinue its support for Paul Kagame and other war criminals in that region as well as hold accountable U.S. based companies that are contributing to the growing death toll.

M.O.I. JR: Our next guest is Claude Gatebuke, a 1994 Rwandan survivor and human rights activist. How are you, Claude?

Claude: Doing good. How are you doing, Minister of Information?

M.O.I. JR: I’m good, I’m good. Claude, Paul Kagame is scheduled to be in Northern California this Thursday. Can you give the people a little bit of history about who Paul Kagame is?

Claude: Paul Kagame is the current Rwandan president. He was part of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a rebel group mostly made of Tutsis, members of the Tutsi ethnic group, who invaded Rwanda from Uganda in 1990, carried out a brutal civil war for four years and took control of the country at the end of the genocide in 1994.

M.O.I. JR: Who is Kagame to, say, Rwandans such as yourself who were in 1994 a Rwanda Genocide survivor as well as a human rights activist? Get more in depth. Many call Kagame a war criminal. Why?

Claude: Many call Kagame a war criminal because they know the facts. So asking Kagame to speak at a genocide convention is turning the truth on its head because Kagame carried out, as I said, a four year war where his troops and his military leaders took over large areas of the country and they would call people who lived in those villages to meetings and kill them, using hand weapons or throwing grenades into crowds of people. They buried people alive. There are mass graves all over the country in Rwanda from that civil war.

In 1994 Paul Kagame ordered the shooting of the Rwandan president at the time who was negotiating a peace deal with him. The Rwandan president at that time was Juvénal Habyarimana, and on that same plane was the president of Burundi. So this was an international act of terrorism that was carried out by Kagame in a period of war against somebody who was negotiating peace with him and that set off the genocide.

This information has come from people in his camp. His former bodyguards talked about the planning of the shooting of the plane, and now his former chief of staff just two weeks ago testified and said that Kagame bragged to him that he had ordered the shooting of the plane. And this is not the only thing that Kagame has bragged about as far as killing people. In April of last year, he bragged in a broadcast speech to his parliament that he went into the refugee camps and shot refugees. This is in Congo.

So not only has he killed Rwandans, his own people inside Rwanda, he’s also killed Rwandans in Congo. But he has killed even a larger number of Congolese people inside Congo since the invasion of the Congo by Rwanda and Uganda in 1996, when Kagame invaded Congo. They went and burned villages. They killed old men and women. They killed children, babies and mothers and they pursued people who were running away from them, including Hutu refugees, but also Congolese people and separated members of the Hutu ethnic group who were both Rwandan and Congolese and killed them, which is an act of genocide – to kill a group of people in whole or in part where he was trying to exterminate all Hutus at the time in the Congo.

M.O.I. JR: Well, let’s back up a little bit, because when you started this you said that Paul Kagame was a Tutsi. Can you talk a little bit about the Tutsis and the Hutus and what happened during the massacre and what part he played, because as I understand he’s a member of the group that was murdered, right?

Claude: Yes. Paul Kagame is a descendent of former Rwandan refugees who fled Rwanda during a social revolution that took place in 1959 where the Hutus, who are the majority and make up between 80 percent and 85 percent of the population, and the Tutsis make up between 10 percent and 14 percent of the population and then there is a very small minority, the Twa, who make up about 1 percent of the population, and the Tutsis dominated Rwanda for hundreds of years and Hutus were their servants and in some cases people worked months and years for the Tutsi king without getting paid.

In 1959 the Hutu staged a revolution and the king was overthrown as part of the rush for independence in Africa. And when the king fled, Kagame’s parents also fled Rwanda and he was 3 years old. He grew up in Uganda a Tutsi Rwandan refugee. He joined Museveni, the president of Uganda in his rebellion from 1981 to 1986 and they won that war and took over Uganda. He then rose in the ranks of the Ugandan army and was chief of intelligence. He was the head of intelligence in Uganda, got trained here in the U.S. and then went back and led the rebellion in Rwanda.

Now there were a group of Tutsis who were exiled out of Rwanda and there’s also a group of Tutsis who were not exiled who lived in Rwanda. The Tutsis who were not exiled who lived in Rwanda are the ones who were targeted in 1994 during the genocide, because Kagame and his military leaders and other Tutsi refugees outside of the country did not have their families inside the country.

And for Kagame, the lives of Tutsis living inside the country were not as valuable as the lives of the Tutsis he lived with or his military. They weren’t as important – or important enough to stop his quest for power. So he sacrificed the Tutsis inside of Rwanda by shooting down the president’s plane and setting up the genocide.

For him, as long as he achieved taking over and winning power, that’s all that mattered to him. He’s a member of the Tutsi ethnic group, but he was not targeted in 1994 because for one he had a lot of weapons and he was waging a war against the government. But also the population that was targeted were the Tutsis who were inside of Rwanda at the time and he wasn’t.

M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us a little bit about his role in this war that is currently going on in the Congo that has already claimed more than 6 million African lives?

Claude: Paul Kagame is the main instigator in this whole war. This war in the Congo started in 1996 when Kagame led the Rwandan military at the time to invade Congo. As well, the Ugandan military invaded Congo in that year at that time.

If you have had a chance, and you may not have, there’s a U.N. mapping exercise report that came out last year, October of 2010, and it only documented the major crimes committed in Congo and it documented villages that were massacred and killed, people burnt, people killed with hand weapons – and for the most part Kagame’s troops are blamed for that. The reports of eye witnesses place Kagame right at the center of those massacres.

His troops pursued refugees across the country. There are instances where the Rwandan troops surrounded Rwandans and Congolese who were fleeing them around a bridge at the river and there were so many people at that bridge that the whole bridge collapsed and there were so many people at that bridge that the bodies formed a new bridge for everybody to cross.

Kagame has been waging a war and not only killing civilians, but especially children. As we know, more than 3 million of the victims in the Congo have been children under the age of 5.

He has also looted. There is plenty of documentation – U.N. documents and reports from 2001, 2002, 2003, 2008 – documenting how they went in, looted banks, took money, looted stocks of coffee, minerals and coltan, gold, diamonds. There was even an incident where Ugandan troops and Rwandan troops fought inside Congo in Kisangani over a mine, over a diamond mine, and that alone took like 3,000 lives after officially claiming that Rwandan troops had withdrawn from the Congo.

Kagame continued to sponsor proxy militias and rebel groups that included the RCD that was devastating to the Eastern Congo regions of North and South Kivu that then turned into the CNDP that was led by Gen. Laurent Nkunda, who is currently living in Rwanda, supposedly arrested, but has not been extradited to the Congo or anywhere to face justice. They were devastating to where, in 2008 – at the end of 2008 – European countries such as Sweden and the Netherlands withheld their aid to the government of Rwanda because of the support of Gen. Nkunda and the CNDP, who were devastating the region, creating millions of refugees and killing thousands of people towards the end of 2008. And so his role has been very destructive. It’s been central.

Another thing is that when Mobutu, the Congolese dictator who ran Congo for 32 years, was removed in 1997 by the invasion of Rwanda and Uganda, many officials of the new Congolese government were also Rwandans, including Gen. James Kabarebe, who became the Congolese army chief of staff. Today, James Kabarebe is Rwanda’s minister of defense, and he was Rwanda’s army chief of staff for a while before he became the minister of defense.

So members of the Rwandan military and members of Kagame’s inner circle have been at the center of not only the killings and the destruction of the Congo but the looting and stealing of resources of the Congolese and of course the massive rapes that you’ve heard of as a weapon of war. All of that Kagame’s got his hands full with all of the dirty work.

M.O.I. JR: So basically I think there was a statistic given that over 250,000 women have been raped up to this point. There have been over 6 million deaths in the Congolese War and counting as well as there were a million people who were murdered in genocide by Kagame – or I should say because of Kagame’s actions – in Rwanda. How many deaths and how many displacements would you estimate are because of Paul Kagame?

Claude: It depends on when you want to start counting. If you start counting 30 years ago in Uganda, when Kagame was part of Museveni’s military, it’s countless. But let’s just start in Rwanda. In 1993, by the end of 1993, there were 1 million refugees inside of Rwanda, 1 million internally displaced people who had been removed from their homes by Kagame’s troops. Hundreds of thousands of people had been massacred and killed by Kagame’s troops by 1993.

Then Kagame ordered the shooting of the plane. The plane was shot, two presidents were assassinated and he set off the genocide. One million Tutsis were killed along with countless – I mean hundreds of thousands of – Hutus who were killed directly by Kagame’s military. I know survivors whose whole families were exterminated by Kagame’s troops. At this point, we’re somewhere near 2 million people already dead in Rwanda, plus more than 1 million internally displaced by the end of 1993.

Then in 1994 when Kagame won, more than 2 million people fled the country and left and went into Congo. At that time, two years later, he invaded Congo and killed 200,000 of those refugees. And the numbers continued to where they were killing Congolese whole villages.

Now we’re talking over 6 million people, more than 1.5 million in Rwanda and counting. So I estimate anywhere between 8 million and 10 million people have been killed as a result of Kagame’s actions and more than 2 million people have been displaced out of their homes as a result of Kagame’s actions.

M.O.I. JR: Who would you say is benefitting the most from the actions of Paul Kagame besides himself?

Claude: Besides himself, his inner circle is benefitting from impunity and enriching themselves.

We also have Western mining companies that are in the Congo today exploiting the Congolese people as a result of this war that started with the invasion of Congo by Rwanda and Uganda. But also, this is all a result of U.S. foreign policy, where the United States is supporting Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda at the expense of Africans and, in return, Kagame and Museveni provide troops for the U.S. to fight their wars. Especially Uganda is providing troops in Somalia, and I believe Uganda might be the only African country that’s sent troops to Iraq.

Kagame’s military is involved in U.N. missions both in Darfur and Sudan at large, but also as a police force in Haiti.

So the benefactors range from Kagame himself and his inner circle to mining corporations to the U.S. and the United Kingdom governments especially who are his backers and financiers who provide the funds and the protection.

M.O.I. JR: How does Obama sending 100 troops – or I should say reportedly 100, most likely more than that – into Uganda play into this situation?

Claude: It plays into this situation because lately what’s happening since Rwanda and Uganda have “left the Congo,” there has to be some justification for their incursion into the Congo. And the recent invasion of Congo by Rwanda and Uganda has been in pursuit of rebel groups that are opposed to these governments. Rwanda pursues the FDLR, and Uganda pursues the LRA. Neither one of these groups, neither one of these fighting armies, are a match for either Rwanda or Uganda. This is a rag-tag group of fighters that side with Rwanda. The FDLR commanders are always welcome to go back to Rwanda. They always go back after years in the bush, and the Rwanda military and Kagame promotes them into his military, so today I’m sure that this is a weak military threat.

Now, the LRA have been around for 25 years fighting against Museveni, mostly in Northern Uganda. Today the group has been almost decimated. They almost don’t exist. It’s hundreds of fighters and they’re no longer even in Uganda. They are no longer a true military threat to Uganda, but for one there has been a recent discovery of resources, especially oil, at the border of Congo and Uganda and Sudan, Southern Sudan. And part of it I suspect is to secure the oil fields but also to boost Museveni, who is facing a strong challenge from Ugandans who are demanding freedom and democracy to be able to choose their own leaders because they’re tired of his dictatorship.

They provide training because, again, Museveni troops are used as proxy militias to fight against the Al Shabaab group in Somalia who are on the U.S. list of terrorists. But also Ugandans have been used as militias to fight in Uganda and Iraq, so there are a lot of reasons for the U.S. to go there – none that are really legitimate and none that are in favor of Africans – mostly to advance just the military industrial complex of the U.S. and to boost Museveni and Kagame, and it’s a show of support. It’s a vote of confidence, saying, Museveni, you are still our man in spite of the atrocities you and your mentee, Paul Kagame, have committed both in Congo and in Rwanda and also in Uganda.

And then there is also the advance of the Chinese in Africa that are becoming a bigger and bigger investment threat to the U.S. and Western interests. All of that, I believe – the continuing conflicts – will work in favor of Western interests, but less in African interests, because every time there is a conflict, every time there is a fight, every time there is a pursuit of the LRA or the FDLR, the collateral damage is a whole lot higher than the result that is achieved by using military means to pursue these groups. I and the people of the region would like to see no military means used to resolve the current crisis.

M.O.I. JR: For those that are tuning in, we are talking to Claude Gatebuke, a 1994 Rwanda Genocide survivor and human rights activist. Claude, before we let you go, tell us a little bit about what it was like to survive the genocide. What were the first days like? What was going through your mind and what were you seeing when you were one of the few survivors of this genocide in 1994?

Claude: The genocide was a terrible, terrible event and it was horrifying to me and my family. We spent most of that time hiding and fortunately we only survived because we have neighbors that put their lives in danger to keep us safe. And the very first day of the genocide after the shooting of the plane, we heard gunshots. It was like gunfire everywhere – a big storm of bullets and bombs. The whole city was being shelled, it seemed. It seemed like we were getting shot at every second or every hour. At night, we would actually see the gunfire and the blasts. At night the militias that were carrying out the genocide would come to our house and we just couldn’t find a hiding place. Neighbors rounded us up and went and hid us in another neighbors’ house, who arranged for us to leave the city.

Before we left the city, the very second day of the genocide, I saw a friend of mine, a guy that I grew up with, running down the street, running from these militia men who had set up in front of his house and was beating Tutsi women and men and throwing them into his house and killing them at night.

He chased this kid, ran after this kid and chopped him up with a machete right in front of everybody. I saw this through my eyes. I heard people screaming for help, I saw pools of blood and I saw where every time a Tutsi person was discovered, the militia, the extremist Hutus, would go after him like an animal that’s being hunted.

As we were leaving the city, we got stopped and the militia pulled me and my mother out of this little truck that we were all riding in and they got ready to kill us. They had machetes and guns and all kinds of weapons and they ordered us to dig our own graves and they ordered us to borrow shovels from the neighbors and said, you need to go to those neighbors, get their shovels, dig right here and this is where we’re going to bury you after we chop you up and throw you in here.

Neighbors resisted and they came and they screamed at these guys and told them to stop killing people, leave these people alone. The driver of the truck went and got two young men that came and negotiated for us and we were threatened to be killed, but they wouldn’t give up until the militia just got tired of negotiating and left us alone and let us go. Then we crossed the border from Rwanda, Congo and went onto Uganda and Kenya and ended up here in the U.S.

They had machetes and guns and all kinds of weapons and they ordered us to dig our own graves. Two young men came and negotiated for us; they wouldn’t give up until the militia just got tired of negotiating and left us alone and let us go.

But the days of the genocide we were thinking every single day, every single minute that somebody was going to discover us, somebody is going to come and they are going to chop – I felt like I was going to get chopped up into pieces and killed like everybody else that I had seen. I mean I felt like I was going to be one of those people screaming for help with no hope of getting help and I felt like my life was in somebody else’s hands and definitely not in my hands. But good people came to our rescue and I was fortunate enough to survive with my mother and my two sisters. My father wasn’t in the country at the time.

M.O.I. JR: How old were you?

Claude: I was 14.

M.O.I. JR: How old was the guy that you seen chopped with the machete?

Claude: He was a little older than me. He was maybe 16 or 17.

I was 14. I felt like I was going to get chopped up into pieces. I felt like I was going to be one of those people screaming for help with no hope of getting help. But good people came to our rescue.

Another thing I should probably mention is that while our neighbors were targeting us and coming at us to kill us, another set of neighbors, young boys my age, had left the country to join Kagame and the RPF to become soldiers and they were also coming in the neighborhood and raiding and killed people at night. So the rebels were doing the same things and they were using child soldiers to do these things and I know at least six – some my classmates, some my teammates from soccer and others were just neighbors that I knew, some were brothers and sisters. And it was just a terrible time when you wondered who is it that I can look at and say, you know, I can trust this person not to kill me. I felt like every person around me was a threat to kill me.

M.O.I. JR: What made some of your classmates sign up with Kagame rather than feeling in solidarity and in comradery with the people who was also in the class that were being murdered? What was the incentive?

Claude: Those who joined Kagame and the RPF, most of them joined early before the killings, before the genocide started. They joined during the war. Between 1990 and April 1994, a lot of young men went to join the RPF. The country was divided and even if you felt like you wanted to be in solidarity with those that were being killed, number one is you were powerless.

You were one against 50 extremist Hutu militiamen. It was like a 1-to-50 ratio so it was easy to be targeted and be killed. When these militias came, they came in gangs; dozens of people attacked one house. But also you weren’t guaranteed to even survive. If you weren’t killed by the Hutu militias, you also weren’t guaranteed not to be killed by the RPF – by the Tutsi soldiers who were taking over the country. They bombed the whole country. They bombed the whole city. Hutus and Tutsis were killed.

I know friends here in the U.S. who are survivors whose Tutsi parents and siblings were killed by the RPF – rounded up, not a random bomb or random bullet that came and hit them, but who were targeted. And they came, took them out of the house, put them on trucks with countless other victims and went and killed them. So there was never really a guarantee of being in safety, and there was not much anyone could do to be in solidarity with those who were being killed. People who were in solidarity with those who were being killed were usually Hutu neighbors who saved their Tutsi neighbors, which was our case, where friends and neighbors put their lives on the line to save us.

Also during the genocide, both Hutus and Tutsis were targeted. It wasn’t just Tutsis being targeted; Hutus were targeted too.

M.O.I. JR: What I’m not understanding, at least from how it’s come to me, is that it was a tribal rivalry that was further exploited by Western interests through Paul Kagame. Now what you’re telling me is that Hutus and Tutsis were targeted. So was this a tribal war, or was this something different?

Claude: One thing for sure, there were many people who were killed because they were Tutsis and there were many people who were killed because they were Hutus. So yes, there were tribal elements to the killing and there was genocide. People were killed on the basis of their ethnicity, but there were many Hutus and Tutsis who were opposed.

The majority of Rwandans were against the fighting. They were opposed to the war, whether it be by Hutus or by Tutsis. And what basically happened was two groups – one was dominated by Tutsis and the other was dominated by Hutus – were fighting for power over the country. And you were right that Western interests exploited the situation through Kagame. But the basis of it, Kagame himself and his military were mostly Tutsis and the government at the time was mostly Hutu, and so there was a tribal element to it. But that was not all that there was to it.

The majority of Rwandans were against the fighting. They were opposed to the war, whether it be by Hutus or by Tutsis.

M.O.I. JR: For those that are tuning in, you are listening to the voice of the Claude Gatebuke, a 1994 Rwanda Genocide survivor and human rights activist, on the Block Report. For people who would like to further their education on the 1994 genocide or the current war in the Congo or if they would like to learn more about Paul Kagame – be it that he will be in Northern California at Sacramento State this Thursday – where do you recommend that they get that information?

Claude: I recommend if you would like to learn about starting with the Congo – since it’s an ongoing conflict and it’s happening today – start with going to friendsofthecongo.org and get more information. Go to africaafjn.org, Africa Faith and Justice Network, and you’ll find information both on Congo and Rwanda. And also if you would like to contact me, you can reach me at cgatebuke@gmail.com, and I’ll be glad to share resources with you and more information with you.

There is also a lot of information on various human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch (hrw.org) and Amnesty International (amnesty.org).

If you would like to learn more about what’s going on in Rwanda today, what happened in 1994 and what is happening in Congo, I recommend those sites and those organizations, but also you can reach me by e-mail and I will point you to the right information.

In Sacramento on Thursday, the third (of November), we are mobilizing communities of survivors of Kagame’s massacres – especially in Congo, but also in Rwanda – to demonstrate at Sacramento State University, where Kagame will be speaking and the truth will be turned on its head by having a genocide perpetrator speak about genocide denial and genocide prevention.

If you would like to join us, please be at Sacramento State University at 9 a.m. That’s what time the demonstration starts, 9 a.m. on Thursday, Sacramento State University, there will be a demonstration against a genocide perpetrator, Paul Kagame, speaking at a genocide conference.

M.O.I. JR: Well, thank you again, Claude Gatebuke. Thank you for being with us. Thank you for sharing your story recollecting the horrific time that you had to spend and along with your family under the regime of the Western supported Paul Kagame. Thank you, man.

Claude: Thank you, Minister of Information.

The People’s Minister of Information JR is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’“ and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe,” both available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He also hosts two weekly shows on KPFA 94.1 FM and kpfa.org: The Morning Mix every Wednesday, 8-9 a.m., and The Block Report every Friday night-Saturday morning, midnight-2 a.m. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.

Claude Gatebuke is a Rwandan Genocide and civil war survivor and human rights advocate. He is the executive director and co-founder of African Great Lakes Action Network (AGLAN), an organization focused on justice, peace and prosperity in the African Great Lakes Region, and a member of the African Great Lakes Advocacy Coalition that brings together over a dozen advocacy organizations with a common vision for a peaceful Great Lakes Region of Africa. He is a regular guest at campuses, churches, community organizations and conferences around the U.S. and has appeared on local, national and international radio and television stations. He can be reached at cgatebuke@gmail.com.

Listen above to the interview, broadcast on KPFA’s Morning Mix Wednesday, Nov. 2, 8-9 a.m., the morning before Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s scheduled appearance at the Third International Genocide Conference: Negationism, Revisionism, Survivors’ Testimonies, Eyewitness Accounts, Justice and Memory at Sacramento State University in Sacramento, Calif. As it turned out, President Kagame did not appear in person. He made his remarks, instead, from a Youtube post projected on an auditorium screen. For further information, see “His Academic Excellency Paul Kagame at Sacramento State University?” “Rwanda’s Kagame, keynote speaker at a Sac State genocide conference?” “Rwandan president’s visit to Sac State met with criticism” and “Rwandan president spoke at Sac State via YouTube.”

This explanation and audio editing are courtesy of journalist Ann Garrison, who attended the Sacramento conference, and the transcription is courtesy of Friends of the Congo.