Nkundabanyanga Eugenie is battling forces hard to imagine. Her name ‘Nkundabanyanga’ can also be used to mean ‘I love those who detest me’.
A court in Kigali is due to decide whether this old woman is Nkundabanyanga Eugenie, which is her real name, or Nyirankundabanyanga Eugenie, whose name appears on a dossier brought by Prosecution.
Since 2018, the 75-year-old mother of five and granny, has been fighting to stay out of jail. The Rwanda Investigations Bureau (RIB) has kept her in detention for over month as state prosecutors look for whatever they can find, to send Nkundabanyanga to prison.
Her case is frightening for her, to say the least. The state says Nkundabanyanga was convicted of genocide, and has been hiding – yet she is supposed to be serving a 30-year conviction.
The elderly woman, traumatised by the experience, argues that the alleged genocide conviction has been fabricated as a ploy to take her land.
The case is complicated but we have attempted to break it down. This Friday May 21, Nkundabanyanga was to have appeared in a Kigali court to know whether she would be granted bail. No session took place, meaning she stays in RIB custody.
Sometime early last month, Nkundabanyanga was arrested from her home in Kinyinya, a rural Kigali suburb. RIB was acting on a warrant from the Prosecutor General seeking to arrest her to be taken to jail to serve a genocide conviction issued in 2007.
Upon arrest, the family of Nkundabanyanga acquired a lawyer Benoir Kanyabitaro who filed a bail application seeking to have the old granny’s case handled while she is out of custody.
During and after the first bail hearing on May 18 at the Kicukiro Primary Court, strange graphic details about the case exploded into the open. For the start, Nkundabanyanga’s lawyer asked court to release her because she has a heart ailment which could kill her if jailed. Prosecution was not ready to listen to any of that, saying her sickness isn’t unique.
Prosecution sought a 30-day preventive detention in jail to allow it file a substantive case as to why Nkundabanyanga must be in prison on genocide.
Court overruled both sides, ordering that the substantive case begins immediately to ascertain the identity of Nkundabanyanga Eugenie. It meant she remains in RIB custody awaiting the court proceedings, from which she could be sent to jail if the prosecution convinced the court.
According to Prosecution, while a resident of Gatenga, Kicukiro, Nkundabanyanga aided marauding interahamwe militia during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi to hunt and kill Tutsis.
As a consequence, the Gacaca traditional court in Gatenga sector convicted Nkundabanyanga to 30 years in prison. However, the said suspect was convicted in absentia.
Prosecution claims that as part of its efforts to search for Gacaca genocide convicts, it wrote to the National Commission against Genocide – CNLG, asking for the dossier of Nkundabanyanga Eugenie. However, CNLG provided a dossier with the names Nyirankundabanyanga Eugenie.
It is at this point that the case becomes more bizarre.
The old granny, through her lawyer, says the alleged Gacaca conviction never happened. There is no such a case involving Nkundabanyanga Eugenie, argues the lawyer.
In addition, the old woman says the person Prosecution is looking for goes by the names Nyirankundabanyanga, who is not her.
Prosecution, in response, says it conducted investigation from the former Byumba prefecture, the birth place of Nkundabanyanga, currently Gicumbi district. Investigators supposedly also visited Gatenga, Kicukiro – whereby it was confirmed the person they were looking for is Nkundabanyanga Eugenie. The different surname, says prosecution, is just an error, but it’s the same person.
Following the closure of the Gacaca courts in 2012, after it had handled nearly 2m genocide case files, all the data from the nationwide traditional courts were put under CNLG custody. Many of those convicted are nowhere to be found. Some are either in exile, living in communities far from their crime scene, or are probably dead.
It remained the responsibility of the National Public Prosecutions Authority (NPPA) to track down all the missing Gacaca convicts so they can serve their jail terms.
According to Nkundabanyanga’s lawyer and accused herself in their submission, the case file of Nyirankundabanyanga Eugenie for which the old woman is being mistaken, doesn’t exist in the Gacaca proceedings of Murambi-Gatenga sector. The lawyer actually alleges the Gacaca case file which CNLG supposedly gave Prosecution is a fabrication.
The defense lawyer goes even further – claiming that by Prosecution asking the Kicukiro Primary Court to make a judgement confirming that it is indeed the old woman who is being sought, is a scheme to affirm a fraudulent Gacaca conviction.
So why is Prosecution intent on sending Nkundabanyanga Eugenie to jail, as she pleads her innocence? Part of the defense lawyer’s submission, based on information provided by the accused’s family, is that there is a person they identified as Karangwa Charles who wants a big chunk of land located in Gatenga sector which belongs to the old woman. It is 3.5 hectares.
The family says it has been battling to stave off the said land grabber for years.
For now, Nkundabanyanga, as her name means, will continue to stay in RIB custody, hoping the court rules whether it is her that the state wants to send to jail, or an innocent person – a victim of persecution and mistaken identity.
During the last court appearance on May 18, Nkundabanyanga was brought in a RIB pickup van. She was seated in the back seat, with a heavily armed female police officer. The vehicle was being driven by a woman in civilian attire, while a man – also in civilian clothing occupied the front passenger seat.
She was taken back to RIB custody in same manner.