Former NBA player, Nigeria’s Ben Uzoh became the first player to score in the newly-created Basketball Africa League (BAL), but the historic game belonged to the host Patriots Basketball Club of Rwanda who defeated Nigeria’s Rivers Hoopers 83-60 at the Kigali Arena.
Although the Hoopers had a promising start, they struggled to adjust to the Patriots’ aggressive defence.
And turning the ball over 20 times didn’t help.
Wilson Nshobozwabyosenumukiza, who came off the bench, and Prince Ibeh led the Patriots comeback, and the Nigerians couldn’t find any answers.
And to make matters worse for the Hoopers, they got in foul trouble early in the second quarter, and things were never the same.
Nshobozwabyosenumukiza, who established a record for most steals in a single game in the FIBA AfroBasket Qualifiers in February, proved crucial defensively on Sunday, making the Hoopers look helpless.
Trailing 18-17 at the end of the first quarter, Ibeh thought it was about time to turn things around.
Ibeh’s two thunderous dunks early in the second quarter ignited the Patriots to a 13-0 run as the hosts took absolute control of the game, and they never looked back, leading at one point by as many as 29 points.
Costner Brandon led all scorers with 20 points and Ibeh contributed 11 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots for the hosts.
Patriots guard Kenneth Gasana, who contributed seven points and four assists, paid tribute to his team.
“We played good inside, we limited a lot of inside points and we took advantage of the turnover that they had,” the Rwandan international said, adding that “it feels good to start the BAL with a victory.”
Talking about Ibeh’s performance, Gasana added: “He’s a beast, I loved the way he played. He really protected the paint.”
The Basketball Africa League (BAL) have unveiled the rosters of the 12 participating teams ahead of the league’s inaugural season, which tips off on Sunday, May 16 at 4:00 p.m. CAT / 10 a.m. ET at the Kigali Arena in Rwanda.
The BAL rosters, subject to change, feature 154 players from 24 countries across Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and the U.S.
Each of the 12 teams, which come from 12 African countries, will have up to 13 players (12 active and one inactive), at least nine of whom are citizens in their respective team’s home country and up to four of whom are from other countries, with no more than two players per team from outside of Africa.
Ben Uzoh, who joined Nigeria’s Rivers Hoopers, is poised to become the first former NBA player to play in the BAL, having played for the New Jersey Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Toronto Raptors from 2010-12. He was also a member of the Nigeria Senior Men’s National Team at the 2016 Olympics, FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019, and FIBA AfroBasket in 2013 and 2015.
Nine players bring NBA G League experience to the BAL’s first season: Brandon Jay Costner and Prince Ibeh (Rwanda’s Patriots BBC); Myck Kabongo and Demarcus Holland (Mozambique’s Ferroviàrio de Maputo), Ibrahima Thomas (Mali’s AS Police); Uzoh, Taren Sullivan and Robert Christopher Daniels (Rivers Hoopers); and Ater Majok (Tunisia’s US Monastir). Twenty-one BAL players have NCAA Division 1 experience, with 11 of the 12 teams featuring at least one former Division 1 player.
BAL teams feature a combined 19 players who previously participated in Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Africa, the NBA, and FIBA’s global basketball development and community outreach program for top prospects from across the continent, including Mohab Yasser Abdelaty Abdallatif (Egypt’s Zamalek). Abdullatif is poised to graduate from NBA Academy Africa this year and becomes the first NBA Academy prospect to play in the BAL.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Wednesday signalled he was ready for a new phase in ties with France after a landmark report acknowledged French responsibility over the 1994 genocide, as Paris ordered the opening of key archives.
The 27th anniversary of the start of the slaughter — an event that still casts a shadow over France — was marked by conciliatory moves on both sides to heal long-troubled relations.
The report, handed by French historians to President Emmanuel Macron last month, “marks an important step toward a common understanding of what took place,” Kagame said in Kigali.
“It also marks the change, it shows the desire, even for leaders in France, to move forward with a good understanding of what happened,” said Kagame in his first reaction to the report.
The archives to be opened by France concern the work of former president Francois Mitterrand between 1990 and 1994 when the genocide began, according to a statement by the French presidency.
Also to be opened are those of the prime minister at the time, Edouard Balladur, in accordance with his own wishes, it added.
Many of the documents — which include diplomatic telegrams and confidential notes — were sources for the long-awaited report by historians handed to Macron.
All the documents cited in the report will also be declassified and made public, the presidency said.
The decision is part of Macron’s “committment” to create conditions favourable to help better understand France’s role in Rwanda, it said.
– ‘Cover-up’ – The genocide saw around 800,000 people slaughtered, mainly from the ethnic Tutsi minority, between April and July of 1994.
The commission concluded that France bears overwhelming responsibilities over the genocide and was “blind” to preparations for the massacres.
It said there had been a “failure” on the part of France under Mitterrand, while adding there was no evidence Paris was complicit in the killings.
Macron ordered the report after years of accusations France did not do enough to halt the massacres and was even complicit in the crimes.
The issue has poisoned relations between France and Rwanda under Kagame, a former Tutsi rebel who has ruled the mountainous nation in Africa’s Great Lakes region since the aftermath of the genocide.
Kagame and his wife Jeannette earlier lit a remembrance flame at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where every year commemorations are held to mourn the dead.
The genocide between April and July 1994 began after Rwanda’s Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana, with whom Paris had cultivated close ties, was killed when his plane was shot down over Kigali on April 6.
The report said France under Mitterrand adopted a “binary view” that set Habyarimana as a “Hutu ally” against an “enemy” of Tutsi forces backed by Uganda.
France had been “involved with a regime that encouraged racist massacres,” although there was no evidence that it had any “willingness” to join in the genocide itself.
Kagame said a parallel investigation carried out by Rwandan authorities would release its own findings this month, saying the conclusions “go in the same direction” as the French report.
But he criticised “the decades-long effort by certain French officials to cover up their responsibilities”, saying it had caused “significant damage”.
“The important thing is to continue working together to document the truth,” Kagame said.
– ‘Half measures’ no use – The historian Vincent Duclert who chaired the historial commission told the Mediapart news site that he believed France now needed to apologise for its policies in Rwanda, which were characterised by “great violence and a very colonialist superiority”.
The Elysee has said it hoped the report would mark an “irreversible” reconciliation process between France and Rwanda, which Macron has said he wants to visit this year.
Welcoming the Duclert report, the French foreign minister at the time, Alain Juppe, acknowledged it had highlighted the failures of the government.
“We did not act in the way we should have done,” he wrote in Le Monde, saying France had not understood that “half measures” were of no use in the face of a genocide.
“We lacked understanding of what genocide was and the need to act without delay to stop the massacres with all the determination that was possible,” he said.
Rwanda on Wednesday became the first African country to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, with around 100,000 doses delivered in what the pharmaceutical giant hailed as a “milestone” for the continent.
The East African country received nearly 103,000 doses of the vaccine at the capital Kigali through the UN-led Covax initiative, which aims to provide equitable access to Covid-19 jabs for poorer countries.
Pfizer said the first shipment to Africa of its vaccine represented “an important milestone for the region, for Rwanda, and for the global health partners working tirelessly to fight this pandemic”.
“Our goal is to make vaccines accessible worldwide and today’s delivery to Rwanda is a great step forward,” said Janine Small, Pfizer Global President for Emerging Markets, in a statement.
An official at Rwanda’s health ministry told AFP the vaccines — which must be kept at ultra-low temperatures — were “immediately transported to cold room freezers” upon arrival at Kigali aboard on a KLM flight at around 2015 local time (1815 GMT).
Earlier in the day, Rwanda took separate possession of 240,000 doses of the AstraZeneca jab, its first delivery under the Covax facility.
The health ministry said the collective 340,000 doses would be dispatched Thursday from a biomedical warehouse in Kigali to district hospitals and onward to hundreds of health centres dotted across Rwanda.
Vaccinations will begin Friday, with the country of 12 million planning to inoculate 30 percent of its population this year, and 60 percent by the end of 2022.
The ministry said the vaccine shipment should protect about 171,500 frontline personnel, as well as other priority citizens such as those over 65 or with underlying health conditions.
“We will immediately roll out our prepared vaccination plan, which will see target risk groups across Rwanda receive their first of two vaccine doses,” Health Minister Daniel Ngamije said in a statement.
In February, Rwanda became the first country in East Africa to begin vaccinating against the disease, targeting high-risk groups such as healthcare workers after acquiring around 1,000 doses of the Moderna jab.
Rwanda has carried out more than a million coronavirus tests and detected just over 19,100 cases. As of Wednesday, 265 people had lost their lives to the disease.
It imposed some of the strictest anti-coronavirus measures on the continent, including one of Africa’s first total shutdowns in March 2020. It put capital Kigali back under a full lockdown in January after a surge in cases.
Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine is based on different technology to AstraZeneca’s, and is expected to be much more effective in protecting against the onset of Covid-19 when transmitted through the South African variant.
The body of the Italian ambassador killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo arrived in Rome late Tuesday, as Rwandan Hutu rebels denied accusations they were behind the attack and instead blamed the armies of the DRC and Rwanda.
Luca Attanasio, 43, died on Monday after a World Food Programme (WFP) convoy was ambushed in a dangerous part of eastern DRC.
The envoy’s Italian bodyguard, Vittorio Iacovacci, and Congolese driver Moustapha Milambo also died on the field trip.
An Italian military plane carrying Attanasio and Iacovacci’s flag-draped coffins was met at Rome’s Ciampino airport by Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
Foreign minister Luigi Di Maio and defence minister Lorenzo Guerini joined him to meet Attanasio’s widow and three daughters, who flew home with the bodies.
DRC President Felix Tshisekedi and his wife had earlier made a “condolence visit” to the family at the Italian ambassador’s residence.
The DRC’s interior ministry on Monday blamed the killings on “members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR)” — a Rwandan Hutu rebel group that has plagued the region for more than a quarter of a century.
But the FDLR rejected the allegation, blaming the Rwandan army and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) in a statement received by AFP Tuesday.
It said the ambassador’s convoy was attacked near the Rwandan border, “not far from a position of the FARDC”.
“The responsibility for this despicable killing is to be found in the ranks of these two armies and their sponsors who have forged an unnatural alliance to perpetuate the pillaging of eastern DRC,” it said.
Authorities in both countries have not reported the presence of any regular Rwandan troops in the DRC.
An expert at the Kivu Security Tracker (KST), a US monitor, told AFP the Hutu rebel group, however, has a known presence in the region.
“The FDLR are near the place where the attack took place. It’s in the realm of possibility that the Rwandan rebels are responsible,” the expert said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Scores of militias roam the DRC’s four eastern provinces, many of them a legacy of wars in the 1990s that sucked in countries around central-southern Africa and claimed millions of lives.
Some of the FDLR’s founders were involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide during which the Hutu majority slaughtered 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis but also Hutu moderates.
The group is opposed to the current Rwandan government, but has not launched any large-scale attacks in Rwanda since 2001.
– Dangerous region – Monday’s attack occurred north of the North Kivu capital of Goma on National Highway 2 — a road that runs through thickly forested, mountainous terrain next to the porous border with Rwanda.
The world-renowned Virunga National Park, a UNESCO-listed wildlife reserve that is a haven for critically-endangered mountain gorillas, straddles the area.
Tshisekedi’s office said Attanasio had arrived in Goma on Friday morning aboard a MONUSCO plane.
He left on Monday morning in a two-vehicle WFP convoy heading for Kiwanja, in the Rutshuru area, accompanied by his bodyguard and WFP workers, it said.
The convoy was ambushed three kilometres (1.9 miles) from their destination by six assailants, armed with five AK-47 assault rifles and a machete.
“They proceeded by firing warning shots before forcing the people in the vehicles to get out and follow them into the depths of the (Virunga) park, which they did by shooting dead one of the drivers to create panic,” the president’s office said.
Park rangers and army troops nearby heard the noise and pursued the attackers.
“Five hundred metres (from the site of the ambush), the kidnappers fired point-blank at the bodyguard, who died on the spot, and at the ambassador, hitting him in the abdomen,” the presidency added.
– Security questions – After the Italian government expressed shock and outrage at the attack, newspapers in Rome on Tuesday raised questions about security preparations for the trip.
Foreign Minister Di Maio is scheduled to speak to lawmakers about the attack on Wednesday.
The DRC interior ministry said Monday that security services and provincial authorities had not been informed of the trip in advance.
“(They) were unable to provide special security for the convoy or come to its aid because of a lack of information about their presence in this part of the country, despite its reputation for instability,” it said.
But the WFP said the attack “occurred on a road that had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts”.
A UN humanitarian official in the DRC, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that this meant the convoy had to be a minimum of two vehicles.
A Rwandan opposition figure exiled in South Africa was on Sunday shot dead in Cape Town, his party said, calling the attack an “assassination”.
Seif Bamporiki, 49, who was the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) coordinator in South Africa, was killed as he delivered furniture in the crime-ridden township of Nyanga.
While the motive for his murder is still unclear, RNC spokesperson Etienne Mutabazi told AFP the method mirrored past politically-motivated attacks.
The killing “was executed in a similar modus operandi of luring the victim in a compromising and insecure environment for assassination,” he said.
Mutabazi was referring to past attacks on Rwandan dissidents in South Africa including ex-intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya, whose body was found strangled in his room in a luxury hotel on January 1, 2014.
Bamporiki and his colleague from a pawn shop were accosted by two gun-toting assailants as they waited for a client who had disembarked from their vehicle to collect money to pay for a bed he had bought.
The client had “been looking for him for quite a while”, Mutabazi said. “Even on Saturday, that particular individual came to the shop and said only Bamporiki could serve him.”
The attackers made off with the activist’s pick-up truck and money, leaving his body on the ground.
No arrests have been made so far.
Another Rwandan exile, former general Kayumba Nyamwasa, survived two assassination attempts.
Pretoria described one of those, in June 2010 in South Africa, as an attack by foreign security operatives.
Mukakamanzi appears embarrassed for breaking down at the sombre memorial, lined with coffins, torn and bloodstained clothes and rosaries.
“I don’t know what came over me, I never cry,” she says, gripping a railing on the memorial’s perimeter wall.
“I was looking to see if I could spot my mother’s clothes but I couldn’t see them,” she says bleakly.
The slaughter of Rwanda’s Tutsi minority was sparked by the assassination of president Juvenal Habyarimana — although the bloodbath had long been in preparation.
On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Habyarimana, from the Hutu majority, was shot down in Kigali.
The plane was struck by at least one missile as it came in to land at Kigali, also killing Burundi’s president Cyprien Ntaryamira, another Hutu, on board.
The attack shattered a fragile peace process, triggering government-orchestrated massacres by Hutus that also targeted moderates in their own community.
– Killing machine –
Mukakamanzi carries with her a past of almost indescribable suffering, a burden that she shoulders by a steely will to survive. Despite her ordeal, she is a bubbly and gutsy businesswoman.
During several hours of interviews with an AFP journalist at Kibuye near Lake Kivu in December, Mukakamanzi recounted the nightmare months of 1994.
In the first weeks of the genocide, her family’s home was burned down. The family fled, seeking refuge at the Gatwaro stadium like thousands of other Tutsis, who had been promised the gendarmes would protect them.
But the reality was the opposite.
Like the Home Saint Jean hotel or the Kibuye church — whose priest, Mukakamanzi’s uncle, was thrown off the bell tower — the stadium was attacked by the extremist Hutu militia, the Interahamwe.
The notorious group was a killing machine, created to torture and massacre Tutsis.
“We heard gunshots from far away and saw the Interahamwe brandishing machetes outside the stadium and shouting ‘Tomorrow it will be your turn’,” Mukakamanzi said.
“We quickly realised then that death was waiting for us.”
– 10,000 dead –
On the afternoon of April 18, they “kept on firing guns and throwing grenades, and returned in the evening with machetes and knives to kill people,” she said.
The family tried to regroup that night.
The elder brother had already been killed and her father and younger sister were seriously wounded by grenade shrapnel. Her other brother and two nephews had disappeared and were probably dead, she thought.
“I cried and told Mama ‘they are going to die… we are lucky to be alive, we must leave,'” Mukakamanzi says.
But her deeply devout mother refused.
She said she had sworn before God “never to leave Daddy, either in good times or bad.”
She relates slowly, with great emotion, the last moments with her mother, whom she left kneeling in prayer beside her injured husband and younger daughter.
“I told her: ‘Goodbye, Mama. We’ll meet in heaven’.”
The Interahamwe stormed the stadium that night.
By the time they had finished their work, ten thousand people who had been sheltering at the stadium the previous morning lay dead.
Emerging from the memorial, Mukakamanzi points to a thickly wooded mountainside through which she fled.
– Baby buried alive –
She lived like a hunted animal the next few weeks, hiding in the forest and only emerging at night.
One day she came across a hostile group. She was stripped and attacked. A woman then plunged a knife into her breast — a wound that caused a horrendous swelling, Mukakamanzi says.
She tried to go to the home of her godmother’s brother in a school in Kibuye but found no trace of him.
“There were bodies strewn all over the school,” she remembers.
Discovered by an Interahamwe group, Mukakamanzi — fatigued and famished — was asked to “dig a hole to bury a baby alive”.
“I refused… they were going to kill me anyway,” she says, recalling the incident with glassy eyes.
“The Interahamwe dug a hole and put the baby in it… I can still see it shaking its head trying to get the soil out of its mouth.”
She was then beaten with mallets and left there.
In these bleakest hours came a ray of hope. She was found by a young Hutu man who was deeply devout and promised to hide her in his house in a locked room.
But one day she was discovered by the man’s mother who raised a furore, shouting “There is a cockroach (a pejorative term for Tutsis) here.”
Mukakamanzi was attacked with machetes, for which she still bears ugly scars on her scalp. She was thrown in the school’s latrines, where corpses had been piled.
– ‘Dogs wanted to eat me’ –
Even so, “nothing can stop fate,” she says.
The young man who had sheltered her returned and used a rope to haul her out of the latrines. But an Interahamwe group arrived, and he fled.
“I was covered in filth, there were worms on my body and I smelt horrible. They said ‘Let her alone, she’s going to die anyway'”.
Then began “the longest journey of my life,” she recalls, describing how she staggered to the local hospital to try to get medical treatment.
“The big problem I had was that the dogs, which were feeding off corpses, wanted to eat me. I had to fight the dogs away with a branch.”
The only silver lining was that Mukakamanzi’s animal-like state prevented her from getting raped.
“I was 21 and looked like an old woman and stank like a corpse,” she says. Even passing militias would let her be, saying “Leave this bit of rubbish, she’s going to die.”
At the hospital in Kibuye “where treating Tutsis was strictly banned,” she succeeded in joining a group of young women who were able to hide in the morgue during daylight hours thanks to the help of a male nurse.
Some nurses would come in secret to treat her, throwing buckets of water over her body to clean her and “wash the insects out of my wounds.”
But one day, the morgue remained closed and the group of young women were found by the Interahamwe and then thrown into prison.
– Life after genocide –
All appeared lost until a Dutch nun from Mukakamanzi’s church turned up at the prison and secured her release by paying the police.
Mukakamanzi took shelter at the home of her elder brother’s friend and at the end of June learnt that French troops had arrived in the town.
She then managed to get to an aid camp run by the French.
Mukakamanzi, like many other survivors, carved out a new life for herself in the bustle and anonymity of the capital Kigali and never once returned to the forest of Rubengera where she had hidden.
But things were never easy for her, even then.
Many of those who escaped the genocide like her have borne numerous sufferings since, adding to the heavy cross they already have to bear.
She married a genocide survivor who suffered from trauma, but they divorced a few years later and she raised their two daughters, now 24 and 20, by herself.
Mukakamanzi joined the Rwandan police force, retiring after 18 years of service to become an entrepreneur. She also survived a serious road accident.
– Justice and survival –
For nearly 10 years now she has been helping a Franco-Rwandan couple, Dafroza and Alain Gauthier, in tracking down genocide suspects sheltering in France.
She has been asked to testify in a Paris court in the trial of Claude Muhayimana, a French-Rwandan accused of transporting the Interahamwe to western Rwanda to carry out massacres.
The trial was to start in February but has been postponed — the Covid pandemic has made it difficult for witnesses to travel to France and give their testimony.
The Kibuye memorial is located near a school. Life has returned to normal here now and the silence is sometimes pierced by the cries of shrieking children.
“My family perished but I am here to get justice, that’s what I can do for my family,” Mukakamanzi says softly.
“What I expect from a trial is relief if justice does its work.
“In all honesty, no survivor can spend a single day without thinking about that. Every gesture reminds you of a family member, a friend. But one shouldn’t think of that all the time, because one also has to live.”
The hills stretch into the distance, their shades of green capped by a gentle mist extending over Lake Kivu.
Gathered around him, the ageing, weather-beaten herders, clutching sticks and wearing trilby hats, talk of wives and children lost.
For weeks the Tutsis of Bisesero held off their local attackers until the extremist Hutu government had militiamen brought in from other regions to launch mass attacks.
An estimated 50,000 people were killed.
“Each time we hear that people on the run have been arrested, it gives us strength,” one of the herders, Narcisse Kabanda, 63, says.
Claude Muhayimana, a former hotel driver in Rwanda who took refuge in France and gained French nationality in 2010, was due to have gone on trial in Paris on February 2.
He is accused of having transported Hutu militiamen to sites in the west, including the Bisesero region, where massacres were carried out.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic making it difficult for witnesses to travel, the opening of the court case has been postponed.
– Race against time –
Aaron Kabogora lost 10 family members in the Bisesero massacres.
“My wife, my children… they were killed in different places, for some, we still haven’t found the bodies,” says the thin-faced 71-year-old, a bullet still lodged in his leg and scars visible on his shoulder.
Gauthier has come especially to see Kabogora. He wants to follow up on some strong testimony in the Muhayimana case that he gathered on a previous visit.
“I was born here, I lived through the genocide here, there are lots of Interahamwe (militia) who passed through here,” Kabogora says.
Gauthier decides on the spot to cite Kabogora in the case so at least one Bisesero survivor will testify.
A few days later proves even more fruitful when he meets for the first time a former close neighbour of Muhayimana, who he hopes will offer some “very precise facts” to the court case.
“It’s essential that those who have seen, and those who know, talk,” he says.
Some of the planners, sponsors and killers of the genocide have faced trial in Rwanda or other countries as well as before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
But many continue to evade justice.
“It’s a race against the clock,” Rwanda’s Prosecutor General Aimable Havugiyaremye told AFP in an interview in the capital, Kigali.
“As time passes, what’s more difficult is identifying these suspects, even physically,” he said, adding many change identity and nationality, making international cooperation crucial.
He hopes that that will be helped by efforts under way to move online all the witness accounts they have collected so far and by creating a database to share information.
For more than two decades, the Gauthiers have travelled to Rwanda about three times a year during their holidays and now retirement to search for evidence from ex-killers, prisoners and survivors.
They do it as volunteers and on behalf of all victims, they say.
Muhayimana was arrested in 2014 in the northwestern French city of Rouen.
A year earlier, an investigation had been opened due to a case brought by the Collective of Civil Parties for Rwanda (CPCR), an association co-founded by the Gauthiers.
– ‘Our life changed’ –
Nearly 27 years after the genocide, Gauthier still gets emotional talking about the day he had to tell Dafroza that her mother, Suzana, had been shot outside the church in a Kigali parish where she had taken refuge.
“April 6, 1994, that’s when our lives changed — a cataclysm in our lives, like all victims’ families,” he said.
Between 70 and 80 members of her family were killed, Dafroza told AFP, her eyes empty.
“On my mother’s side there were no survivors: my mother, my uncles, nephews were killed,” she said in an interview in their home town of Reims, northeastern France.
While the genocide was under way, Gauthier said the pair, despite their deep shock, fought to raise awareness of what was going on.
“We wrote to politicians, newspapers, we did demonstrations… and we went to work,” the retired teacher and school headmaster said.
Dafroza was employed as a chemical engineer and they had three young children; later, they took in victims’ children too.
Two things would prove decisive in making up their minds to campaign for the prosecution of genocide suspects.
First were the horrifying stories they heard on their initial trips back to Rwanda after the 1994 killings.
Then, in 2001, at the end of a court hearing they were attending in Brussels against four suspects, the founder of a Belgian victims’ association turned to them and said bluntly: “And you in France, what are you doing?”
That same year, the CPCR was set up.
Since then “we haven’t had a single day without talking about the genocide…” Gauthier said.
– ‘Too long’ –
While Rwanda was never a French colony, successive French governments cultivated close ties after the country’s independence in 1962, including training its top military leaders.
France also signed military deals with the Hutu strongman president Juvenal Habyarimana, whose death in 1994 sparked the massacres.
Against the backdrop of these ties, a number of genocide suspects have sought refuge in France.
Rwanda has made 48 extradition requests to France, more than to any other European country.
But France’s highest court has consistently opposed the extradition to Rwanda of suspects accused by Kigali of genocide, on the grounds that the crime was not in the Rwandan statute books at the time of the massacre.
The Gauthiers believe that it has taken the French justice system “too long” to start honing in on suspects, even if things have improved since 2012.
They welcomed the creation of both the position of a special prosecutor in France and a central office for combating crimes against humanity, known by its initials as the OCLCH.
Nevertheless, procedures are slow and time is lost which only helps the perpetrators, they bemoan.
“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to put together cases because many witnesses have died,” Gauthier said.
“Others have failing memories or no longer want to talk” encouraged by the Rwandan authorities to favour reconciliation.
The accused are elderly and “risk never being put on trial,” he said.
And in some areas with few survivors where perpetrators return home after serving lengthy prison sentences, witnesses feel afraid and alone, he added.
In France, conducting a legal case against a Rwandan genocide suspect takes on average 10 years at a cost of a million euros ($1.2 million), said Eric Emeraux, the former OCLCH head.
“The NGOs which do this tracing work are indispensable, because the French state’s resources are not up to the challenge,” he said in Paris.
The Gauthiers have funded their work themselves and thanks to donations made to the association.
– ‘Must hold to account’ –
For his latest trip across Rwanda, Gauthier focussed on gathering evidence for five cases, scattered over 11 areas.
Travelling around Rwanda on roads crowded with motorcycle taxis, women with goods piled high on their heads, dusty trucks and bikes carrying live chickens, Gauthier passes the hours humming along to the latest album by his son-in-law Gael Faye.
Faye is a musician and writer who authored “Small Country” (“Petit Pays”), a hugely successful novel set in the 1990s during the war in Burundi and genocide in Rwanda.
Gauthier is a dual French-Rwandan national, an attachment that dates to when he taught in Rwanda in the early 1970s, in a town where Dafroza was also studying.
Despite nights blighted by insomnia and chronic back pain, he is up at dawn for an invigorating milky ginger tea, before hitting the road again.
In the evening back at his modest hotel, he reads through his notes again, deep in concentration and often consternation, lost in survivors’ accounts.
“For the victims, it’s essential that those who killed their loved ones are held to account, it’s a way for them to rebuild their lives,” Gauthier says.
– Working through the list –
Searches often begin with a tipoff.
One came as an anonymous letter from students about a suspect in western France; another from a friend alerting them to a hospital co-worker.
When the Gauthiers have gathered evidence, they submit a lawsuit to judges in Paris.
On the ground in Rwanda, a network of survivors helps out, as well as Gauthier’s former students, who look for witnesses, translate and draw up lists.
On his December visit, Gauthier had a list of witnesses in the case of a priest under investigation by French authorities since the end of 2019.
He gathered accounts about the suspect’s alleged actions in his church in April 1994, talking discreetly to people away from the public gaze.
In floods of tears, one of them, a woman who said she’d been just 10 years old at the time, told AFP how she had stayed in the church for two weeks, hidden and terrified, among her family’s corpses.
She only came out when bulldozers arrived to put the bodies in a communal grave, she said.
Appalled at what he hears, Gauthier asks two women to put their accounts into writing.
The following week he travels to the southern town of Nyanza to see around 15 people in a case against a former Rwandan policeman.
Philippe Hategekimana has been in provisional detention in France since 2019, suspected of involvement in the genocide.
This time, the task at hand is laborious but crucial — the filling in of documents necessary for submission to the French justice authorities.
To ensure they are accepted, he must check names, ages, witnesses’ relationships to victims — and the correct addresses, no easy matter faced with the reality of rural Rwanda.
Phone calls swiftly follow from hesitant husbands to their wives, checking on children’s ages.
And after a few hours, it’s all wrapped up over beers and goat meat kebabs.
– For critics, they’re too close –
“So, how’s the work going?” a well-known musician calls out to Gauthier in Kigali where he is often recognised in the street.
He regularly goes to the Rwandan public prosecutor’s offices and is in contact with Theoneste Karenzi, who heads the unit in charge of protecting victims and witnesses.
At the age of 16, Karenzi survived alone after his family’s massacre in the western city of Kibuye.
Describing the Gauthiers as “courageous people”, Karenzi said their “contribution is major” in initiating cases against suspects.
But the husband-and-wife team has critics, too.
Detractors claim they are a “network of informers” and criticise their ties with the Rwandan government, which is often accused of clamping down on dissent.
In 2017, President Paul Kagame awarded the couple the National Order for Exceptional Friendship in recognition of their work.
Philippe Meilhac, defence lawyer for about 10 Rwandans in the crosshairs of French justice including Muhayimana, condemns their closeness to the Kigali regime.
He claims that the Gauthiers’ association is “to a certain extent, a technical and political instrument for the Rwandan authorities”.
Canadian journalist Judi Rever, who wrote the controversial book “In Praise of Blood” about alleged crimes by forces of Rwanda’s ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) party, is similarly critical.
Rever, who is accused by Kigali of promoting a revisionist version of the genocide, claims the Gauthiers are working for the RPF.
“In several cases of inquiry, it’s opponents of the RPF or witnesses of RPF crimes who are targeted,” she said in comments to AFP.
But Gauthier says their part is just to get the ball rolling. “We originate the proceedings, but it’s not us who convict, it’s juries made up of citizens,” he said.
“A legal truth emerges from it which corresponds to our expectations but which is not ours,” he added.
For now though, the couple are busy preparing for Muhayimana’s court case, for which no new date has yet been announced.
But afterwards, the Frenchman has promised to return to tell the Bisesero survivors all about the hearing half a world away.
The Central African Republic said Monday that Russia and Rwanda had sent in hundreds of troops after an alleged attempted coup ahead of upcoming elections.
The government in CAR, one of the world’s poorest and most unstable countries, accused former president Francois Bozize on Saturday of fomenting a would-be putsch by three rebel groups.
The groups on Friday started to advance on the capital Bangui along key highways after declaring an alliance, the government said. The UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA announced on Sunday that the rebels had been stopped or pushed back and the situation was “under control”.
“Russia has sent several hundred soldiers and heavy weapons” under a bilateral cooperation agreement, government spokesman Ange Maxime Kazagui said.
“The Rwandans have also sent several hundred men who are on the ground and have started fighting.”
Rwanda’s defence ministry confirmed the deployment.
It said the move was in response to the targeting of its troops in the 11,500-strong MINUSCA by rebels supported by Bozize, who ruled the CAR from 2003 to 2013.
No details were given about the deployment, but the ministry said it would “also contribute to ensure a peaceful and secure general elections scheduled on Sunday”.
MINUSCA’s Rwandan contingent is notably in charge of the security of CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadera and the presidential palace.
– Russian role –
There was no immediate confirmation from Moscow about the Russian deployment although the Kremlin said the situation in the country was of “serious concern”.
Moscow has been leading a vast diplomatic and financial offensive in the former French colony since 2018 in return for concessions to Russian firms to exploit minerals, particularly gold and diamonds.
Private security guards employed by Russian companies also provide protection for Touadera and are involved in training of local armed forces.
The alleged coup was mounted by three of the country’s most powerful militias.
They said they had merged into a single entity called “the Coalition for Patriots for Change” and invited all other groups to join.
MINUSCA spokesman Vladimir Monteiro said late Sunday they had been pushed back in several locations or blocked, and “the situation is under control.”
But security and humanitarian sources said some members of the armed groups were still on the ground around Bossembele, around 150 kilometres (90 miles) from Bangui.
The so-called G5+ group — France, Russia, the US, the EU and the World Bank — urged Bozize and allied armed groups to lay down their arms and called for Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections to go ahead.
A source at the French presidency said the priority “in the coming days is to stick to the date” for the elections and avoid fuelling dangerous uncertainty.
The source refused to comment on the dispatch of Russian and Rwandan troops, saying only that MINUSCA “has successfully carried out its mission in the last few days.”
– Shadow of Bozize –
Bozize, 74, who denies the coup plot allegations, has been a major figure in the country’s decades-long history of war and misery.
He slipped back into the country in December 2019 after years in exile, sparking fears of a comeback.
He retains a large following, especially among the Gbaya ethnic group, the country’s largest, and has many supporters in the army.
The former general came to power in a coup in 2003 before he himself was overthrown in 2013 by the Seleka, a rebel coalition drawn largely from the Muslim majority.
Christian and animist groups forged a so-called self-defence force called the anti-Balaka, and the country spiralled into conflict along largely sectarian lines before France intervened militarily.
After a transitional period, elections were staged in 2016 and won by Touadera.
Bozize has been barred from contesting the next elections by the CAR’s top court as he is the target of a 2014 arrest warrant for alleged murder and torture and is under UN sanctions.
– Weak government –
His absence from the poll has left Touadera the clear frontrunner in the 17-strong field of candidates.
But his government holds sway over only around a third of the CAR’s territory.
The rest is in the hands of militia groups that typically claim to defend the interests of a given ethnic group, and often fight with each other over resources.
The CAR has known little stability since gaining independence from France in 1960.
Thousands of people have died since the 2013 coup, and nearly a quarter of the population of 4.7 million have fled their homes.
A top French appeals court is to rule Wednesday on whether alleged Rwandan genocide financier Felicien Kabuga will stand trial in France or face a UN tribunal in Tanzania.
Kabuga, who is 84 according to officials but claims to be 87, was arrested in May at his home outside Paris after 25 years on the run.
The 1994 Rwanda genocide of some 800,000 people by Hutu extremists targeted rival Tutsis as well as also moderate Hutus.
Once one of Rwanda’s richest men, Kabuga is alleged to have funnelled money to militia groups as chairman of the national defence fund.
He is also accused of setting up the Interahamwe militia that carried out massacres as well as the Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines whose broadcasts incited people to murder.
A French court ruled in June that Kabuga should stand trial at the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) based in Arusha, Tanzania.
But his lawyers appealed, citing frail health and fears the UN tribunal in Africa would be biased.
During a hearing at France’s supreme court for criminal cases, the Cour de Cassation, Kabuga’s lawyer Louis Bore also argued that his client could not receive proper medical treatment in Tanzania.
Kabuga has diabetes, high blood pressure and leukoaraiosis, an incurable illness that erodes physical and cognitive abilities, Bore said.
Kabuga was moved from his cell at the end of last week for “medical reasons,” several sources told AFP.
If the appeals court endorses his transfer, Kabuga would have one month to appear before the MICT, which took over the duties of the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) when it formally closed in 2015.
The ICTR handed down dozens of prison sentences over the years on genocide and other charges, including life sentences. It also acquitted some suspects.
Kabuga was indicted by the tribunal in 1997 on seven counts, including genocide. He denies all the charges.
Rwanda has said it wants to see Kabuga tried by its own courts, but transferring jurisdiction away from the UN tribunal in Tanzania would require a decision by the UN Security Council, according to Serge Brammertz, a prosecutor for the MICT.
Rwanda itself carried out 22 executions of people convicted for their role in the conflict before abolishing the death penalty in 2007, a move that facilitated the extradition of suspects from other countries to Rwanda.
Between 2005 and 2012, some 12,000 popular tribunals know as “gacaca” tried close to two million people, convicting two-thirds of them.
European courts have also tried and sentenced Rwandan genocide suspects, notably Belgium and France.
Paul Rusesabagina, the polarising hero of the “Hotel Rwanda” film who was arrested last month in Kigali, was duped into boarding a jet he thought was flying to Burundi, a New York Times report said.
“How I got here — now that is a surprise,” he told the US daily in a jailhouse interview with two Rwandan officials in the room. “I was actually not coming here.”
Rusesabagina, a Hutu, became famous after the Hollywood film in which he is credited with saving the lives of more than 1,200 people as they sheltered in the hotel he ran during the country’s 1994 genocide.
Some 800,000 mostly Tutsi but also moderate Hutu were killed in the genocide.
The 66-year-old has lived in exile since 1996 and holds both Belgian citizenship and a US “green card”.
Over the years, he has become a staunch critic of leader Paul Kagame’s Tutsi-dominated government, accusing his ruling party of authoritarianism and anti-Hutu sentiment.
According to the NYT’s Friday report, Rusesabagina flew from the US to Dubai on August 26, before boarding a private jet he thought was heading to Bujumbura in Burundi which neighbours Rwanda.
The plane was operated by GainJet, a charter company based in Greece that is often used by Kagame, the report said.
But it landed in Kigali where Rusesabagina was arrested. The NYT quoted Rwanda’s spy chief as saying “he delivered himself here.”
He has since been charged with terrorism, financing and founding militant groups, murder, arson and conspiracy to involve children in armed groups.
Rusesabagina says he was heading to Burundi at the invitation of a pastor, to speak in his churches.
But the NYT was not able to speak to the pastor and says Rwandan officials believe he was actually heading there to coordinate with armed groups based in Burundi and Congo.
In 2018, Rusesabagina co-founded an opposition group, the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), which is said to have an armed wing called the National Liberation Front (FLN).
In multiple speeches, Rusesabagina has expressed support for the FLN — which has carried out armed attacks and is described as a terrorist organisation by Rwanda — but the extent of his involvement in its actions is unclear.
America’s top diplomat for Africa has urged a fair trial for “Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina, as concern mounts over the mysterious circumstances of his arrest and return to his home country.
Rusesabagina, who saved more than 1,200 Rwandans during the 1994 genocide by sheltering them in a hotel, appeared in handcuffs in Kigali this week accused of serious charges including terrorism after a quarter century in exile abroad.
It remains unclear how the strident opponent of long-ruling President Paul Kagame, who had been living in the US and Belgium since leaving Rwanda in 1996, was extradited to his homeland.
Tibor Nagy, US assistant secretary for African Affairs, said he met Wednesday with Rwandan ambassador Mathilde Mukantabana to discuss the circumstances around Rusesabagina’s arrest.
“The United States expects the Rwandan government to provide humane treatment, adhere to the rule of law, and provide a fair and transparent legal process for Mr. Rusesabagina,” Nagy said in a statement.
Rwandan investigators say Rusesabagina, who was played by US actor Don Cheadle in the 2004 Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda”, was arrested “through international cooperation” but have refused to elaborate.
Rusesabagina’s family have said they cannot understand why their father, a high-profile regime target, would return by his own free will to Rwanda where almost certain prosecution would await.
“We believe he was kidnapped and taken by extraordinary rendition to Rwanda,” a spokesman for the family said in a statement Wednesday.
He “is being held by President Paul Kagame’s government on false charges”, added the statement shared by the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, a charity in his name.
Rusesabagina was hailed a hero over his actions during the genocide that killed some 800,000 Rwandans and he was awarded, among other global accolades, a US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 by then president George W Bush.
But inside Rwanda, the ruling party began to attack his motives and character in the years since as Rusesabagina’s attacks on Kagame hardened in exile.
Investigators say Rusesabagina was suspected of creating and financing “extremist terror outfits” in East Africa, including the FLN, the armed wing of a movement he founded abroad to bring about political change in Rwanda.
The Rwanda Investigation Bureau said Rusesabagina was the subject of an international arrest warrant over alleged crimes of terrorism, arson, kidnap and murder.
Supporters of the government in Kigali — including Ambassador Mukantabana — have been sharing videos on social media of Rusesabagina vowing to use “any means possible” to “liberate” Rwanda from Kagame’s rule.
The former military leader whose troops drove the genocidal regime from Rwanda in 1994 was once championed in Western capitals as a visionary reformer, lifting his country out of the devastation of the killings.
But he has ruled ever since and critics say he shows signs of autocratic leadership, overseeing constitutional changes to prolong his rule and targeting opponents both inside Rwanda and abroad.