A survivor reflects on Rwandan genocide anniversary

As we mark the 15th anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide this week - examining the reeducation of former combatants and asking again why US president Bill Clinton failed to intervene on behalf of their victims - here in Atlanta, young Bill Clinton Hadam's mom Dawami has been sharing memories of fleeing that nation on a road clogged with bodies.

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    Remembering, and moving on: As the 15th anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide is marked this week, Dawami Lenguyanga recalls fleeing Rwanda for Tanzania in 1997.
    Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
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As we mark the 15th anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide this week - examining the reeducation of former combatants and asking again why US president Bill Clinton failed to intervene on behalf of their victims - here in Atlanta, young Bill Clinton Hadam's mom Dawami has been sharing memories of fleeing that nation on a road clogged with bodies.

In 1997, nearly three years after the 100-day massacre of some 800,000 of her countrymen and women, Dawami Lenguyanga, her husband Hamisi Hussen, their daughter Neema, and Hamisi's son Felicie, heeded president Paul Kagame's invitation to the Rwandan diaspora to come home to a new life in a nation free from ethnic killings. The young family embodied that vision: Dawami was Tutsi, the group primarily targeted during the genocide; her husband was Hutu, the group whose leaders organized most of the killing.

After 1994, though, the tables turned. The Rwandan Patriotic Front, the rebel army that had swept President Kagame to power and ended the genocide, then took part in revenge murders. (Allison Des Forges, the courageous Human Rights Watch Rwanda specialist who died last February in a plane crash in Buffalo, was a tireless voice demanding that they be held accountable for these killings. But few followed her lead.) During and after the genocide, the RPF was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 30,000 people - including, Dawami suspects, her first husband.

When men with guns came to their house in Kigali one evening in April 1997, Dawami and the children fled out the back door. Hamisi was shot dead in the front room. Killings were taking place all over the neighborhood, and Dawami and the kids found themselves in the middle of an hysterical, running crowd. In the chaos, 11-year-old Felicie was lost; to this day, Dawami says, she has no idea if he survived. She only knows that somehow, eating leaves and garbage, drinking stagnant water, she managed to get Neema safely to the Tanzanian border.

"We ran in a group," she says. "You get in a big group, and you go with them. On the road you find dead bodies, and you step over them. People lose kids, kids lose their parents, but whoever's moving on moves on."

For more on Rwanda and Central Africa today, check out Monitor contributor Jina Moore's excellent blog. Also, I'm leaving for Tanzania on Saturday, for a journey to meet Neema and visit refugee camps where some of Dawami's friends still live. To make sure you don't miss a step, join our Facebook blog network and Twitter feed.

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