In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Marie Béatrice Umutesi's Truth:The Other Rwanda Genocide?
  • Aliko Songolo (bio)

Une tragédie n'exclut pas l'autre
et il n'existe aucune hiérarchie dans la souffrance.
(One tragedy does not cancel out the other,
and there is no hierarchy in suffering.)

Calixthe Beyala (2005)

There can be no reconciliation between Hutu and Tutsi without justice, and no justice without truth. This proposition holds true for all three states of former Belgian Africa.

René Lemarchand (1998)


The title of Marie Béatrice Umutesi's book, Fuir ou mourir au Zaïre: Le vécu d'une Réfugiée Rwandaise—or in its English version, Surviving the Slaughter: The Ordeal of a Rwandan Refugee in Zaïre—might prove confusing for some readers on at least two counts.1 Because the name Rwanda will forever be associated in our memory with the horror of the 1994 genocide, one might surmise that this is the story of a Tutsi survivor taking refuge in neighboring Zaire, as in previous massacres in 1959, 1963, and 1973. But then again, [End Page 107] considering the disastrous wars that have raged in that country for the last decade, one might conclude that Umutesi's book tells the story of a Rwandan refugee caught in the crossfire between competing forces, Rwanda versus Uganda and their proxies within the former Zaire. Both assumptions would be only half true. The missing half in both inferences is that the ordeal of this refugee and her cohort originated in the Rwandan conflict that began in 1990 and culminated in the genocide four years later. Shrewdly orchestrated and largely perpetrated by the Tutsi-dominated regime that took power in Rwanda in the aftermath of the genocide, the slaughter of these Hutu refugees has been concealed behind a curtain of silence on the part of the international community.2 In the drama that unfolds in Umutesi's book, Zairian territory is the unwitting, albeit highly significant, theater of the cynically suppressed story of the disappearance of nearly a quarter million Hutu refugees from Rwanda at the hands of shadowy "rebels."3

The book chronicles the author's forced, chaotic, and harrowing trek with hundreds of thousands of other refugees from their native Rwanda into Zaire, and then two years later, across the breadth of that vast country.4 By the time Umutesi reaches the capital, Kinshasa, the country has reverted to its former name, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Hers is a journey of more than two thousand kilometers on foot from Bukavu in the east to Mbandaka in the northwest. From the time she leaves her home in Byumba in northern Rwanda to the time she is able to board the plane that takes her out of Congo to Belgium, four years have elapsed. Typical of the book's style, the original subtitle belies the magnitude of the tragedy, for Umutesi's "lived experience" (le vécu) is hardly the stuff of life: it is an (under)statement of how she and the other refugees are stalked every minute by death from "rebel" guns, hunger, disease, accident, exhaustion, despair, and sometimes from natural causes.

The book comprises eleven chapters in addition to a prologue, an explanation of acronyms, a personal chronology, a chronology of political events in Rwanda, and a series of maps of Umutesi's movements in Rwanda and Congo. Although they represent less than one-third of the book, the first three chapters are crucial to understanding the dynamics that led to the explosion of violence in Rwanda, which in turn resulted in the Tutsi genocide and the exodus, massacre, and dispersion of so many Hutu refugees.

The Literary Imperative

Umutesi offers two reasons for writing her book, one personal, the other collective. She decided to start writing about her "lived experience" while taking care of a baby boy, Muhawe, whose mother had died in childbirth and who was dying himself of malnutrition in one of the many refugee [End Page 108] camps in eastern Congo. With her mind inundated with questions without viable answers, she took up a pen and began to write: "I made a habit of writing so that people...