In white or yellow T-shirts, some in short or trousers, and all donning ‘boda boda’ – a common footwear in rural Africa, they sang and danced. While many of them were oblivious of what was going on, it was visible on the faces of some that they are aware life isn’t the same as they knew it last year.
At makeshift transit camp in Rusizi district, this Tuesday, 1,886 people completed a reintegration program which began in December last year. At least 1,400 of them are minors and babies – with 11 of the children having no single parent.
The journey of these repatriatees back to Rwanda has been entangled in complex web of geopolitical forces that most may never understand.
On November 11, last year, exiled former prime minister Faustin Twagiramungu and “Hotel Rwanda” movie personality Paul Rusesabagina, issued heavily worded statement claiming “Rwandan troops” had encircled camps for Rwandan refugees in Kalehe region of South Kivu, DRC. They claimed the troops were bombarding the camps and there had been civilian casualties.
A week later, on November 21, a contingent of UN peacekeepers MONUSCO visited the area and actually held a meeting with the people. It remains unclear whether that area was a refugee camp or ordinary villages settled by Rwandans.
According to verifiable historical records, Rwandan people have left Rwanda and settled in that Kalehe region since the 1950s. Some were forcefully taken their by colonial administrators to work on farms. Some, like a woman genocide suspect identified among the repatriatees, moved to Kalehe as a hide away.
The DR Congo government of President Felix Tshisekedi has vehemently dismissed the notion that it was Rwandan troops which conducted military operations in that region. Tshisekedi says it was the work of the Congolese army or FARDC.
Twagiramungu and Rusesabagina got involved in the mix because they both led a Rwanda political group Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), with a military wing called FLN. Earlier, in mid 2018, and months that followed, the FLN had attacked several regions in southwestern Rwanda leaving a number of casualties.
The FLN attacked Rwandan territory and fled back to South Kivu, via access granted by Burundian intelligence, according to narrative provided by the government of Rwanda.
DRC President Tshisekedi announced in Parliament on December 13 that 1,712 members of CNRD had been captured in Kalehe territory – 245 as armed combatants and 10 political leaders. The rest were their dependants. They were all moved to Nyamunyunyi military camp, located more than 30km north of Bukavu.
The Chronicles has previously detailed the journey of these Kalehe people back to Rwanda.
Fast forward, more than 11 months later, Rwandan government officials put on a show today at the function to release the hundreds of mothers and fathers together with their children into Rwandan society.
More than 15,000 former combatants and their families have previously gone through a similar program in past 20 years.
For the lot who completed their reintegration program today, they get a specific package; each adult gets $250 (Rwf 250,000) cash and $150 (Rwf 150,000) for each child.
As to how people, who were born in Congo, others had been away for 26 years, would manage to start a new life with no land, house or property, Rwandan officials say; they will be resettled in communities to benefit from existing government programs targeted for the most vulnerable.
For the children without parents, the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commissioner (RDRC) says they will be taken care of by the government briefly, as the authorities search for blood relatives who are in Rwanda.
Meanwhile, the Rwanda Prosecutor General announced Monday that Rusesabagina and his 17 other FLN commanders would be tried together. They face a charge sheet including terrorism, murder, abduction and arson.