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Surviving the Slaughter

The Ordeal of a Rwandan Refugee in Zaire

Marie Beatrice Umutesi

Publication Year: 2004

    Though the world was stunned by the horrific massacres of Tutsi by the Hutu majority in Rwanda beginning in April 1994, there has been little coverage of the reprisals that occurred after the Tutsi gained political power. During this time hundreds of thousands of Hutu were systematically hunted and killed.
    Surviving the Slaughter: The Ordeal of a Rwandan Refugee in Zaire is the eyewitness account of Marie Béatrice Umutesi. She tells of life in the refugee camps in Zaire and her flight across 2000 kilometers on foot. During this forced march, far from the world’s cameras, many Hutu refugees were trampled and murdered. Others died from hunger, exhaustion, and sickness, or simply vanished, ignored by the international community and betrayed by humanitarian organizations. Amidst this brutality, day-to-day suffering, and desperate survival, Umutesi managed to organize the camps to improve the quality of life for women and children.
    In this first-hand account of inexplicable brutality, day-to-day suffering, and survival, Marie Béatrice Umutesi sheds light on a backlash of violence that targeted the Hutu refugees of Rwanda after the victory of the Rwandan Patriotic Front in 1994.  Umutesi’s documentation of the flight and terror of these years provides the world a veritable account of a history that is still widely unknown. After translations from its original French into three other languages, this important book is available in English for the first time. It is more than a testimony to the lives and humanity lost; it is a call for those politicians, military personnel, and humanitarian organizations responsible for the atrocious crimes—and the devastating silence—to be held accountable.

“Umutesi’s tale, told with honesty and eloquence, is a tribute to the human spirit, a searing indictment of the agents who perpetrated these horrors, and a reproach to those who turned away.”—Catharine Newbury, African Studies Review

“Restores a human dimension that has been lacking in the history of the genocide and massacres in Rwanda.”—Danielle de Lame, African Studies Review

“A vivid account of the grueling nightmare experienced by tens of thousands of Rwandan civilians whom the world had deliberately forsaken. . . . An outstanding call for justice.”—Aloys Habimama, African Studies Review

 “A towering work. . . . An epic for our times, a tale to ponder for the lessons it conveys, testimony so powerful and moving that it reaches an unintended literary greatness.”—Jan Vansina, African Studies Review

“Of all the current books and films ten years after the Rwandan genocide, none is more effective than Surviving the Slaughter . . . . This book carries one along, often as if running with the refugees.”—Anne Serafin, Multicultural Review

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xvi

In the mid-1990s, the tragedies of Central Africa haunted the world. Many works have been published about the Rwanda genocide of 1994, depicting the horror of these atrocious events and exploring why they occurred. We have also seen much soul-searching about the failures of the international community ...

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Author's Acknowledgments

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pp. xvii

Hamuli Kabarhuza of the National Council of Development NGOs of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was the first to suggest that I write down the story of my experiences. When I arrived in Belgium in 1998, I was welcomed by Marie Goretti Nyirarukundo and ...

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Translator's Acknowledgments

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pp. xix

I would like to express my deep gratitude to Nobel Peace Prize nominee Juan Carrero Saralegui and the Fundació S'Olivar in Estellencs, Mallorca, for the grant that allowed me to begin the translation of this very important book. Juan Carrero and his organization have worked tirelessly and selflessly ...


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pp. xx-xxii

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pp. 3-5

I have no idea how much time I spent trapped in the middle of the crowd. I am rather small, and I had to use my elbows to make a little breathing room, or I would have fainted. Just as a small group of us neared the bridge, we heard shots. At first I wasn't alarmed, because I thought that soldiers from ...

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1 I Discover My Ethnic Identity

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pp. 6-16

The first time I heard talk of Tutsi refugees was in 1963. I was four years old. It was about six in the evening, and my father was behind the house with some neighbors, listening to the news on the radio. In the early sixties, very few people owned a radio, and neighbors used to come to our house ...

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2 Increasing Violence

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pp. 17-44

In the decades of silence after the first Tutsi rebellion was subdued in 1968, the entire world seemed to have forgotten the Tutsi refugees. Petitions to return to the country were examined on an individual basis by Habyarimana's regime, and this prevented any large-scale repatriation movement. For the hundreds of thousands ...

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3 Descent into Hell

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pp. 45-70

I spent the tragic evening of April 6, 1994, in the Hotel Méridien in Kigali with my roommate Goretti and a friend of hers, an officer from Ghana. He was a member of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), the force that had been created by the UN to implement the peace agreements ...

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4 Survival in the Camps at Kivu

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pp. 71-88

While these events were unfolding on the other side of the Ruzizi River, I was trying to survive with my family at Bukavu. We spent the first week at a primary school. There was no room in the classrooms, so we slept in the dust of the courtyard. During the night, those who slept inside urinated on us. ...

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5 A Difficult Choice

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pp. 89-102

In August 1995, the Forces Armées Zaïroises led an operation aimed at forcing the refugees in the areas of North and South Kivu to return to Rwanda. It lasted three days. The morning that the operation began, we noticed, without being unduly alarmed, an unusually large presence of well-armed soldiers in Bukavu. ...

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6 Pursued Westward

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pp. 103-121

After the beginning of October, Bukavu was in a state of siege. There were military roadblocks at every corner. The authorities feared that soldiers, who were running away fromthe fighting by the hundreds, would sack the town. In addition Banyamulenge rebels had opened hostilities a few weeks earlier in the ...

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7 Hunted by the Rebels and the RPF

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pp. 122-137

It was difficult to make much progress. Zairian soldiers had gone ahead of us, and provisions were practically impossible to find. The soldiers arrived in the villages shooting in the air, took women by force, and robbed the population of everything they had - clothes, bicycles, food, and money. People fled to the forest. ...

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8 The Death Camp at Tingi-Tingi

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pp. 138-163

I arrived at Tingi-Tingi during December 1996, with Bakunda, Assumpta, Virginie, Marcelline, my nephew Gisimba, and my cousin Mukunzi. We had nothing left to eat, but we had two sheetings, with which we built two blindés, one for the three boys and another for the three girls and me. The three unaccompanied ...

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9 Hunger on the Road

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pp. 164-195

At Lubutu we had no time to grieve for the children we had just lost.We had to keep on running. The rebels were less than ten kilometers away. After traveling about ten kilometers, we decided to stop and make some bouillie, since we hadn't eaten since the night before. Assumpta went to look for firewood, ...

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10 My Life for Ten Dollars

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pp. 196-232

After two days at Ingende I left, still sick and exhausted. I could no longer carry my bundle and I had to lean on a cane to walk. It took us three days to go from Ingende to the little town of Bonde. The day of our arrival we took our noonday rest in Bokatola, a village a dozen kilometers from there. After this pause, ...

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11 The End of the Ordeal

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pp. 233-248

We left Bonde the next morning with Ma Mundimi and Musa, to the complete indifference of the entire village. Musa went with us to the edge of town. Only Ma Mundimi wanted to go with us to Batsina, where she would leave us in the hands of Ya Pepe, whom she greatly respected. She was convinced that he would ...


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pp. 249-250

Personal Chronology

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pp. 251-254

Chronology of Political Events in Rwanda

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pp. 255-258

E-ISBN-13: 9780299204938
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299204945

Publication Year: 2004