In hiding refugees in the church Nkanka and helping them flee, Father Busunyu knew he was risking his own life; nevertheless he embodied the sense of Christian duty.
Most of the survivors of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 owe their lives to some rare individuals that showed out of the ordinary courage to protect them. Defying the hate brainwashing and the pressure from everywhere, these people often acted alone and by their own initiative, within a situation of excessive violence.
In many Hutu families, there were heroes that saved the lives of Tutsi threatened by extermination. They didn’t act like this without any difficulties. Conflicts were frequent: some were in favour of the genocide while others were against. It’s the case of the family of Abbot Baudouin Busunyu whose portrait we are drawing. He hid and saved several Tutsi during the genocide, while his own father, Michel Busunyu, headed the Interahamwe of his commune1.
During the genocide, Abbot Baudouin Busunyu was the curate of the parish of Nkanka, in the commune of Kamembe, in the prefecture of Cyangugu, in the southwest of Rwanda. He was very concerned about the situation of hundreds of Tutsi refugees in his parish. He was ready to risk his own life to save them. He acted clandestinely and in all discretion, without counting on the help of parish priests, indifferent towards the refugees’ situation. He also managed to avoid his father knowing anything about these acts of bravery.
Abbot Baudouin displayed compassion and understanding towards the refugees and offered them practical help. He set up an escape network in collaboration with other priests so that some refugees could cross the border to Zaïre, (ex-Democratic Republic of Congo). He went with them by foot to the banks of lake Kivu and paid boatmen to take them to Zaïre. Sometimes he even stayed with some till their destination to guarantee their safety. One day, on his way back, a militia patrol captured Abbot Baudouin. He was beaten up but managed to bribe them so that they freed him. This incident only rekindled his determination; he continued his efforts to save Tutsi until the end of the genocide.
When the soldiers of Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)2 took the power in July 1994, Abbot Baudouin feared retaliation because of his father’s implication in the genocide – they had the same name. He reckoned then that it was necessary to flee the country and moved into the Hutu refugee camps in the east of Zaïre, where he was killed beginning of 1997.
The survivors of the Nkaka parish remember a courageous priest who did his best to rescue them, without the support and help of his parish priest. They regret his death and intend on maintaining his long-lasting heritage: a priest who will have contributed to redeeming the bad conscience of the church, from inaction well noticed during the genocide.
1 The Interahamwe are a militia created in 1992 by the MRND, the party of President Juvénal Habyarimana. Interahamwe means “those who fight together” in Kinyarwanda, the Rwandan language. They are responsible for most of the massacres during the genocide in 1994.
2 Political party set up in 1987 by exiled Tutsi, in power in Rwanda since July 1994.