WHILE IN HIS LATE 20s, Eric Namahoro was elected by village-mates in the rural Nyamiyaga Village in Huye District of Southern Province to be their leader.
After his election, about five years ago, he found himself in a challenging situation: as the head of the village. He found himself being asked to follow up on cases of Genocide convicts who were asked to pay reparations for damages they had caused during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
But as a son of a Genocide convict, he found himself being asked to lead by example and atone for his father’s evil deeds.
Namahoro’s father was a Genocide perpetrator who was among the militia that rummaged the village killing Tutsi.
Namahoro, who at the time of Genocide was a pupil, ignored the scale of the damages his father was helping to cause.
“I was ignorant about what was going on,” he recalls. “I didn’t understand how my father’s acts were evil and how he was destroying our nation. I ignored why he was engaging in the killings and how his deeds would later impact on my life and my relationships with others.”
It is in mid-2000s, at the time of the grassroots Gacaca courts that were initiated to try Genocide suspects, that Namahoro came face to face with reality.
For the first time Namahoro came to learn of the real ‘evil’ deeds committed by his father.
“That is the negative legacy I inherited from my father,” he says.
“But I had to face it courageously if I was to move on with life and live amicably with those my father caused unbearable pain. I was really stunned.”
When the Genocide ended, Namahoro’s father was detained on Genocide-related charges.
And to make things worse, Namahoro’s father died of natural causes in 1998 when he was still in prison. Namahoro was then 16 years old and had barely met or discussed with him.
“I didn’t really find time to discuss with him,” Namahoro says. “I don’t know what he really thought after committing such atrocities.”
The moral shame that his father’s acts caused to him coupled with his responsibilities as a village leader were to later push Namahoro to take a decision to seek forgiveness on his father’s behalf and make efforts to mend the damage caused.
“I didn’t personally take part in the killing but my father did. So I felt that moral responsibility to try and repair our torn relationships with Genocide survivors after his death,” Namahoro adds.
“It is something I believe was important for the future of our community.”
Around 2008, Namahoro embarked on a journey to pay reparations to those whose property his father had destroyed.
“Because I couldn’t afford to pay with money, I have agreed with survivors to work for them,” he says.
To make the initiative successful, Namahoro teamed up with some ex-convicts and together are compensating for the Genocide crimes with manual labour.
Twice a week, the residents work in a designated survivor’s farm and then their labour is ‘monetised’ to cover for the reparations.
The exercise continues until their compensation is fully covered.
“It was not an easy decision but after thorough reflection I realised it was necessary for my life. It shows that we are sincere in our apologies,” he says.
The 32-year-old peasant has so far paid a large chunk of the estimated Rwf300,000 that he had to pay in reparations.
“I remain with less than Rwf50,000 to pay and I hope by the end of this year I will be done,” he says as he rests in a cassava plantation after a tiring day’s labour.
“If I have devoted to paying the reparations of crimes I did not commit, it is because I believe reparations are exceptionally important for our community to regain its unity and enjoy the best relationship we enjoyed before some individuals, including my father, decided to destroy our bonds.”
Unfortunately, since 2008 when he started his initiative, things have not rolled into Namahoro’s favour.
In the beginning, he faced harsh criticism from some members of his community and a number of relatives who were pushing him to abandon the initiative on grounds that he doesn’t have to pay for crimes he didn’t commit.
But he later managed to convince them of the necessity to compensate those who had suffered the blunt effects of his father’s crimes.
But for Namahoro, the unforgettable shock emanating from his initiative remains the loss of his ‘bride’–a tragic incident in 2011.
At the time, Namahoro had just formalised his marriage to a woman he only prefers to identify as a “beautiful yound lady” and were waiting for a priest to bless their union before they could move in together as a husband and wife.
But when his fiancée learnt that Namahoro’s father was a génocidaire and that the young man had been involved in efforts to repair his father’s damages, the woman called off the engagement.
“When she informed me that she had decided to end the marriage, I felt extremely heartbroken,” Namahoro says. “All along our journey, I believed she knew my story”.
“Although her abrupt decision left me heartbroken, it didn’t really stop me from continuing with my initiative,” he adds.
Namahoro remains single but believes he will find a woman who understands him to settle down with.
“Although these activities [to compensate Genocide survivors] might have impacted on my own growth and development, I know they were really worth doing for my future life. At least they have eased the burden of guilt that weighed on me,” he adds.
“I also enjoy a wonderful relationship with those who considered us as their enemies two decades ago, thanks to this initiative that allowed us to once again come together.”
Source: The New Times