Dieudonne Munyanshoza needs no introduction when it comes to the commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Mibirizi, a song he composed in 1995, defines him. Released in dedication and commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis, it was one of the first songs to be embraced by audiences and has since then continuously sunk deeper into the lives of many Rwandans locally and in the Diaspora.
Born in Mibirizi, a village at Rusizi district, in a family of nine children, the 46-year-old musician pursued his higher studies at Centre de formation de Ecoles au Tasminare, for a course in building and construction.
After completion, in 1990 Munyanshoza was among the people who were arrested during Inkotanyi raid former President Habyarimana government.
The raid was aimed at weeding out suspected people in support of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) , “I was at home when military lorries showed up in the morning,” Munyanshoza recalls, “I was at home, then they raided,” he explains, “They took us based on the fact that we were Tutsis,” he recalled.
Whisked away to Gitarama prison, at the age of 14, Munyanshoza was the youngest among the prisoners then, “We were locked in a cave for six months, under unhealthy conditions,” he recalls.
Conditions in the prison weren’t anything Munyanshoza and other inmates had witnessed before. The cold, filthy conditions, poor feeding caused sickness and deaths.
Back home, Munyanshoza’s family had no clue of where he had been taken, so they counted him among the dead, “I was later told how they staged a special send-omass in commemoration of my soul,” he narrates in sorrowful ponder, as he mildly tears.
Four months into their prison sentence, they were visited by a Red Cross inspection team which was then carrying a survey on the condition in prisons.
The Red Cross team convinced prison authorities to permit prisoners to write letters addressed to their families, with the hope of hearing from them, “I wrote a brief hello letter, and it was taken,” he narrates. The letter was later received, which restored the hope once lost by his family. Following a negotiation that the DRC, RPF, and the government to see the RPF seize fi re, in return for all prisoners arrested as RPF allies, Munyanshoza and colleagues were released.
But, he never returned home, not immediately, but sought and joined the RPF army, where he became a soldier, “It was riskier going back home since the Tutsis were being hunted back and killed,” Munyanshoza said.
Trailing through lands, through shifts they were not only fighting the Interahamwe but also securing and offering treatment to the injured too, “What happened in Rwandan was beyond anything!” he exclaims, “Butchering a baby, people taking refuge in a church, killing a pregnant mother! Torching to flames families in houses! were all gross acts unbearable!” he recounts horrible scenes, some he had witnessed.
Ending the Genocide, he embarked on searching for his family, “Two of my brothers had been killed, our house burnt,” he states. His mother had survived, but with deeper injuries due to torture, “We both burst out in tears at the sight of each other,” Munyanshoza recounts. She later passed on in 1996.
But his giving back to the country wasn’t one that stopped at putting an end to the 1994 Genocide, but he further settled for singing as a means of sensitizing, and self-healing the wounded, shattered society of victims and perpetrators.
His trail during his movement with the RPF was another eye-opening experience, which later inspired more works. Backed up with requests to record more songs specifically dedicated to places he had visited, that had suffered the same fate, Munyanshoza released more songs like Twarabakundaga, Ntibizongera kubaho, to Bigogwe, Bene Gihanga, Nyabarongo and Kimoronko.