Many stories of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi will never be told for in some cases there was no one left to tell.
Not so for the latest story to be made into a documentary film; that of 600 ill-equipped soldiers, who, at the height of negotiations between the government of Juvenal Habyarimana and then RPF rebels, were allowed by the Arusha Accord to set up camp at the parliamentary building, to protect the RPF politicians who had come for negotiations.
The film, directed by Richard Hall, brings to life the tale of valour of the 600 soldiers, who were always minutes away from being killed by either marauding militia or government forces.
The 600 later undertook daredevil missions, conducting rescue of civilians trapped in the cycle of killings in several locations around the city. This story is told from the point of view of both the RPA soldiers and some of the survivors.
After the downing of Habyarimana’s plane on April 6, the RPA soldiers found themselves in the middle of a precarious situation—not only did they have to fight off enemy fire but they also had to save Tutsis.
Despite being fewer than and poorly-armed against the government soldiers, the 600 fought their way into capturing all the high grounds in Kigali in fierce counter-attacks. One of the story lines is that of Sgt Theogene Kayitakire.
After the soldiers reached high ground, Sgt Kayitakire got word that some of his relatives were still alive, hiding in Kigali. He sought permission to conduct a rescue mission.
Sgt Kayitakire and a few others disguised themselves as government troops by wearing army uniform seized from various points and were let through roadblocks manned by heavily armed Interahamwe militias.
“Still in our cover, we could even castigate Interahamwe we found on roadblocks for their reckless behaviour of smoking marijuana and drinking instead of doing the work well, which they fell for thinking we were government soldiers.”
He narrates that on their way from rescuing his relatives and other Tutsis, he told militias who were manning one roadblock, to give them some grenades to help in killing the Tutsis!
The survivors’ story allows the world into their thoughts, feelings and emotions as they awaited what they knew was their end.
The film brings to life not only the often untold ugliness that punctuated the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, but also the selflessness and sacrifice that made the difference in Rwanda’s darkest hour.
Richard Hall is married to a Rwandan, and he says the film’s concept began with the stories his wife’s uncles would tell him.
The film brings out the responsibility the soldiers had at the time, while fighting through the trauma of discovering that their families and relatives had been killed: They had to be soldiers, rescuers, social workers and mourners all at the same time, at risk of their own lives.
He believes their perspective on these events not only inspired the people they rescued, but can also inspire anyone who wants to build on the future of Rwanda.
At the end of the film, one of the veterans breaks down, saying how painful it was fighting so hard to save his family, and finding them all killed.
The film was scheduled for several commemoration screenings for this time, but they were all cancelled as per the Covid-19 safety precautions.