‘Doctor Joseph Karekazi’ and ‘Jessica’: Two extracts from “Murambi: Book of Bones”

by Boubacar Boris Diop



I am stunned. Times like the ones we are living in will also give rise to incredible human beings. They’ve just informed me of the circumstances of the death of FélicitéNiyitageka, a Hutu from Gisenyi. An indomitable woman. “They can spin whatever tales they want,” she said, “but I will not kill anyone and I will do everything I can to save lives.” She helped Tutsis who were being chased by killers to cross the border to Zaïre. Her brother, who’s a colonel in the regular army at Ruhengeri, sent her a secret letter: “I’m begging, Félicité, you have to sto what you’re doing. The Interahamwe know about your activities, and they’re going to come to your house.” FélicitéNiyitageka replied: “Let them come. I will keep on saving human lives.” So the Interahamwe went to find her in Gisenyi. There were forty-three Tutsi there who she was getting ready to help cross to the other side of the border during the night.

“We’re going to kill them,” declared the leader of the Interahmawe.

“I want to die with them.”

“We won’t be doing that. Your bother is one of us. He pleaded with us to spare you.”

She repeated:

“I want to die with them.”

“We’ll give you some time to think. You’ll see that we’re not here for fun.”

In front of FélicitéNiyitageka’s eyes they slowly cut up each one of the forty-three refugees with their machetes, inflicting all kinds of tortures on them.

Then they asked her again:

“Do you still want to follow them where they’ve gone?”

“Yes,” she replied simply.

“Then pray for my soul,” said the Interahamwe militia-man to FélicitéNiyitageka. And he slaughtered her with a bullet straight through the heart.

Here is the letter that Félicité left for her brother. “Dear brother, thank you for wanting to help me. But instead of saving my life and abandoning my charges, these forty-three people, I choose to die with them. Pray for us, so that we may be delivered to god, and say goodbye to my old mother and to my brother. When I am with God, I will pray for you. Take care of yourself, and thank you very much for thinking of me.”

This interview with my informant – who insisted that everything he had related, including Félicité’s letter, was authentic – left me pensive. I didn’t know exactly what to think of it. At first I had a feeling of hope. “Not everything is lost,” I told myself, “in the end, we can still become a country like any other. Happy or overwhelmed by misery, I don’t know any more. A country like any other, that’s all.” But then I thought of the thousands of Rwandans, including occasional clergymen, who dipped their hands in the blood of innocents. Could Félicité’s gesture make us forget, tomorrow, the ignoble behaviour of so many others? After the victory, inevitably, the question will be asked: What is forgiveness worth without justice? The organizers of the genocide know all too well. They are fleeting, and their flight will shelter them from a trial that would heal our people of their trauma.

It will be difficult for those who suffered so much to make allowances for things, to forget the worst to remember only the best. It’s easy to calculate the distress of the person who says, “You want me to forgive, but do you know that Nyanza Hill my seven children were thrown live into a toilet pit?” If he adds: “Think of the few seconds and nothing else,” no one will know what to say to him. Will it be enough then, to calm this suffering, to think of the martyrdom of Sister FélicitéNiyitageka or the risks that other anonymous Rwandan citizens took? That, only the future will tell.

For now, the certainty of their defeat is making the killers crazy with hatred. They are becoming crueller and crueller. They often force mothers to crush their own babies before being executed themselves. Exactly three days ago, at the Murambi Polytechnic  School, in the southeast, Doctor Joseph Karekezi – sadly, the father of a childhood friend in exile in Djibouti – set his killers on thousands of people that he claimed to be protecting. Could it be that his wife and two children were among the victims, as I’ve been told? I’m waiting for confirmation without much hope: it would be quite in line with the abnormal order of things. Their new credo seems to be reduced to this; we can’t eliminate all of them, but the survivors can at least be dead with sorrow for the rest of their lives.

Not having succeeded in getting rid of all the Tutsis, now they’re saying that every Hutu must kill. It’s a second genocide, through the destruction of souls this time. Lots of ordinary citizens went to it joyfully. It makes for a more lively and colourful infamy, but not more tolerable. And it is not easy for everyone. You should see these decent family men at work. They were not at all prepared for what was expected of them. If they don’t yell out they’ll never succeed. I understand their strange furor. All their screams are meant to give vent to their innocence: “I’m not killing the Other in order to seize his possessions, no, I’m not so small-minded, I don’t even hate him, I’m killing the Other because I’m completely mad, and the proof is that the torture I inflict upon him is unique in the history of human suffering.”

The result is tens of thousands of putrefying bodies strewn all over the streets, places of worship, and public buildings. A few passerby carry home some armchairs or televisions stolen from the victims. Youths drive around at breakneck speed in cars that don’t belong to them. Armed gangs are more and more numerous and anarchical, but the fervor of the first few days had diminished. It’s no longer like the beginning when they didn’t want to understand anything. Back then, at the barricades, only the very luckiest ones could negotiate their death with an Interahamwe. They would tell him: I’ll give you such and such a sum of money and in exchange, you’ll kill me with a gun and not a machete. This care for dignity had a big price then. Now, the Interahamwe are easily corrupted. For almost nothing they’ll let you off with life. They know that it’s finished. The leaders think only of leaving the country. The barricades that they haven’t had time to take down yet are almost deserted. But from time to time, on a street corner, you hear laughter and a joyful clapping of hands. A Tutsi that they’ve discovered by chance. Who came out from his hiding place too soon. They liquidate him as they go. Like a cockroach adventuring out into the middle of the courtyard and blinded by the light. They crush him under the heel of their shoe without paying any attention to him.

Doctor Joseph Karekazi

Come what may, I’ll have done my duty.


A simple word that I’m fond of.

It wasn’t an easy day. To gather all the man that I needed for the job I had to go to Butare and then from there on up toward Murico and Rusenge a bit further north.

Thank God, everywhere I go people immediately say with respect, “Ah! It’s Doctor Joseph Karekazi,” and everything goes quite well. I also had to make contact with the most conscientious groups of MurambiInterahamwe. It’s just that there are more and more people showing up at the Polytechnic. As of tomorrow, we’ll be needing a hand there. Time is short.

Unfortunately, several times it’s become clear that our Interahamwe need t be taken into hand very quickly. The first few days they were full of drive but – why hide the numerous scenes I’ve witnessed by chance during my visits to the barricades, one of them strikes me as particularly edifying. I saw with my own eyes a middle-aged man begging the Interahamwe to have done with him. Nothing very complicated: he wanted to join his son in death. Our men, sitting on piles of corpses that were still warm, were drinking their beer and passing around cigarettes, laughing at his face. They were completely drunk. I couldn’t stop myself from smiling when one of them said to him mockingly: “Hey! Don’t bother us, you over there, baldy, you talk too much, the death office is closed, come back this afternoon.” The man kept insisting. A hard-headed fellow. They chased him away but he would be back the next minute. Weary of the battle, they decided to get rid of the irksome man. The one who looked to me to be the leader of the Interahamwe made a sign to one of his men to take of him. His subordinate then got into a rage as violent as it was sudden. He screamed: “Me again! It’s always me! Why? The others are here drinking beer and you don’t tell them anything! I’ve been killing all day, I’m tired!” At that moment a dog suddenly surfaced from a pile of corpses, a child’s foot clenched in its jaws. The man, who had obviously gone crazy a long time ago, muttered as he crept softly towards the animal: “Ah! Ah! What is this I see? But what is it that I’m seeing? It’s my Damien, I recognize his shoe!” He started giving all the details about the shop where he had bought the shoe, explaining the way that he had had to bargain very hardd because the seller was an absolute crook. He also talked about how happy his little Damien had been when he got these brand new shoes, about his wife who had grumbled once again because he spoiled the child, the good grades that the kid had always made at school, and everything. Yes he was completely cracked. While he was running after the dog, the dog, thinking it was a game, frisked about all over the place, waited for him, then ran off to the cheers of the Interahamwe.

Of course I didn’t like that scene. I’m neither a monster nor an idiot. But I would be lying if I were to say that it affected me very much. If you’re a determined person, it’s a question of knowing what you want. We are at war, period. The sadistic way that things sometimes happen is just a detail. The ends justify the means. Nothing else counts. And in any case, we can’t go back now.

When the Interahamwe finally saw me, they stopped the joking and word spread, “Papa’s here.” That’s their nickname for me. They like me because I’ve always helped them. They were told that the doctor who has the factory secretly gave a lot of money to the cause! I’ve been on the ground constantly since the beginning of the war and they know too, too, that I don’t joke about work. And naturally, when I’m in the vicinity they show zeal. One of them went at the poor man with the violent axe blows, dealing with him loudly, calling him a dirty Inyenzi.

I said to them, “I need your entire unit tomorrow in Murambi.” The leader promised men that he would make his men rest during the night. I gave him money for the team’s transportation and I left.

I haven’t been this uneasy since the beginning of these events. The fact of the matter is: our men are tired. It was easy to read on the faces of those I saw. Fatigue and weariness. Our Interahmawe had certainly received good training, but maybe we underestimated the physical effort it takes to kill so many people with knives. The ones they want to eliminate don’t make things easy for them, understandably. They run, they scream, they hold on to the Interahamwe’s arms, try different ways to bribe them, in short they’ll do anything to proving their existence by two or three miserable minutes. It’s absurd, and even mysterious, in a way, this determination to live, but that’s how it is. Our enemies refuse to understand the situation: we’re not joking and they don’t stand a chance. What it boils down to is that they’re setting our lads on edge, and every day they diminish their physical potential. They should be getting their strength back at night, but that’s exactly when they insist on organizing these huge drinking binges and taking advantage of the girls they put aside during the day. These frustrated souls maybe thought that everything would be over in a very short while. On the contrary, they now have the impression that they have to start all over again with each new day. For some of them the situation is simple: they’ve killed the Tutsis who, for one reason or another, they hated, and, without daring to say it openly, they’d like to go home. Unless…Yes, we have given them the exhilaration of being alive. And they’re nobody’s dupe. Instinctively, they know that if everything turns out alright, they’ll go back to their hovels and we certainly won’t be coming over to drink banana beer with them. The friendly familiarity, the camaraderie between poor and powerful, that will soon be forgotten. A vicious circle. It’s no small matter, chaos.

I also got in touch with Colonel Musoni. He had his moment of glory during the Second Republic. Then, having wanted to take everyone for a ride, he found himself relegated to the sidelines. A real piece of trash, Colonel Musoni.A bitter man. He bet on his life, he lost, and now he accuses others of cheating. But the colonel was waiting for his moment. Since the death of President Habyarimana he has put his officer’s uniform back on to go and tell the peasants in the hills: “As you all know, I was in retirement and didn’t want to be involved in politics any more, because I’m too honest. But here: I’m the only one that the young people in the government trust to kill the Tutsis. I have come back to put my experience at the service of the country.” And it worked. Very quickly, he had made himself indispensable.

Straight away, Colonel Musoni had started to get involved, with a despicable frenzy, in all kinds of trafficking.

He was on the phone when I got there. His feet perched nonchalantly on top of the desk, he was twirling his moustache as he listened. As soon as he saw me through the windowpane, he asked the person he was talking to to call back later. At the same time he leapt from his chair to come and open the door for me. You measure your own power by this kind of detail. Colonel Musoni has heard that somewhere in Paris they think I should be promoted. The colonel, like so many others, I believe already sees me at the head of the country. It makes him crazy.

I asked him in a deliberately familiar tone to stop this annoying lackey’s behaviour:

“What can an old fried do for me? I need men for tomorrow.”

“I’ve already given the order, doctor. We’re being assailed from all sides, but your situation is serious.”

He knew what was going on at the Murambi Polytechnic.

“I won’t keep them long,” I said. “I know that your soldiers also have to go to war.”

I found him more tense than usual. Ostensibly, he wanted to tell me something. He knew that people in high school listened to me and wanted to confide in me. I pushed him to unburden himself:

“It’s not going too well now, Colonel, it seems to me.”

“No, Doctor. Revolt is brewing among the troops, if one can put it that way. Even some of the officers are declaring  that the Interahamwe will just have to fend for themselves, that our men have enough to do with the RPF.”

“They could’ve thought of that earlier, couldn’t they?”

Colonel Musoni made up his mind:

“We’re heading towards total defeat, Doctor…I’m a military man and I know what I’m saying.”

I had just understood, at last, what he was getting at.

Playfully, I slowly added:


He raised his eyes towards me.

“Unless our foreign friends intervene.”

“You mean the French?”

“Who else can we count on?”

“Hmmm…they’ve already saved us twice.”

“I know,” said Colonel Musoni. June 1992. February 1993.”

“And you want to count on them again in 1994? The French have better things to do….”

“Not even to force the RPF into power-sharing?”

“As it says in the Arusha accord?”

“It seems like a good idea to me.”

“Arusha was taken down in mid-flight, my friend.”

“The politicians should be able to handle the affair,” insisted the colonel.

The message was clear.

“Yes,” I said, vaguely, “the French supported us against the whole world in this business. They should see it through to the end. So where are they then, those politicians that you’re talking about?”

“The colonel shook his head:

“They’ve almost all fled, you’re right, Doctor…”

The game of cat and mouse was getting more and more exciting.

“So…you understand, my friend?”

The colonel took the plunge. “I know how modest you are, Doctor. But there are some others and…and…you yourself, Doctor.”

I grimaced, purely for appearances. I was no dupe. The colonel was positioning himself. Tomorrow, he would be able to say: at the moment when all anyone was thinking about was saying his own skin, I was at President Karekezi’s side, we stood alone in the middle of the storm, we faced the enemies of the Rwandwan nation, it’s the two of us and no-one else who have saved the country. His big patriotic pipe-dream. It could be very profitable for those who know how to play it.

President Karekezi…Hmm…An interesting idea after all. Why not?

I felt the greatest scorn for this officer, an opportunist even in the midst of this disaster. The handsome ageing type.Salt-and-pepper hair.Straight, neatly shaven, well-groomed moustache. It seems that he has a parcel of virgins delivered to him every night.   I tried to make the suspense last:

“To be frank, Colonel Musoni, I may very well leave for Zaïre myself. Why wait for the RPF here? Think about it. You yourself say that everything has gone to hell.”

I saw him search me with his cunning eyes to figure out the best thing to reply without getting himself too mixed up in things.

“Yes, uuh…Yes, why agree to be the sacrificial lamb, right? He declared with the air of a wily old devil who has already taken his precautions.

Then he added, for my information:

“In any case, it would be best to go and take up combat again elsewhere.”

He should be in politics, this Colonel Musoni. A very gifted fellow, in my opinion.

“Thank you for agreeing to help me,” I said, getting up, “I’ve got to go back to the Murambi Polytechnic.”

I went there last night at around eight o’clock. It’s funny how confident our friends seemed.”

“The colonel knew that Nathalie and my two children, Julienne and François, were among the refuges. Nevertheless, we didn’t say a word about it.

On the way to the Polytechnic I thought about Julienne and François, and about their mother. It is no-one’s fault. At the last minute she’ll curse me, thinking that I never loved her. That isn’t true. It’s just history that wants blood. And why would I only spill other peoples? Theirs is just as rotten.

At Murambi I found all my charges in great form. I insisted that they be well fed during these ten days. The Polytechnic had ended up with an excellent reputation. It seemed so safe that some fugitives who were already near the Burundian opted to come back and settle in there. And because at least you could eat when you were hungry, quite a few Hutu pretended to be the presidential guards stationed at the entry that they were Tutsis. I ordered them to be let in. Those bastards should die too. It’ll be their punishment for having left the others to do the work. And I, having made a youthful mistake that destroyed my entire life, I will never forgive anyone again for spoiling our blood.

The refugees crowd around me, like they do every time I arrive at the school, and welcome me warmly. They all want to thank me. I went to see Nathalie. A room has been made up for her and the children. The refuges treat her like a queen. The good Doctor Karekezi’s wife. And they practically piled on top of each other in the classrooms, but also in the courtyard and even on the steps of the staircases. I told Nathalie again that all this business would soon be over. I kissed Julienne and François.

I will not see them again.

According to a ritual as immutable as it is mysterious, it’s right at the moment that I get back to my car that the refugees present me with their complaints. In general, it’s a question of little disagreements due to the overcrowding. This morning something rather strange actually happened: a tall young man took me aside. It was so unexpected that I became uneasy. Did he suspect something? In an acerbic tone he complained about the lack of running water at certain times of the day. The other refugees were scandalised by such a lack of gratitude. The young bearded man was just like a union man publicly defying the evil factory owner. People never change. I was really beside myself. Our eyes met. There was a strange glow in his gaze. I told him that I would try my best and that everyone should try to be understanding of certain little difficulties which were inevitable in such a situation.

At the moment my driver started, I gazed longingly at the Murambi hill. Tomorrow I will be there. Shadows in the dawn mist, facing the motionless trees. Screams will go upward toward the heavens. I will feel neither sadness nor remorse. There will be atrocious pain, of course, but only the weak-hearted confuse crime with punishment. Among those vulgar cries, the pure heart of the truth will beat. I am not the kind of person who fears the shadows in his own soul. My sole faith is truth. I have no other God. The moaning of the victims is only the devil’s ruse to block the breath of justice and prevent its will to be carried out.

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