Prince Charles visits Rwanda amid government’s controversial migrant scheme
When Prince Charles landed on Rwanda’s red soil last night, he was the first member of the royal family to do so.
But even though it’s his first visit to the land of a thousand hills, he and the beautiful land have bonded in an uneasy way over the past few weeks.
His reported criticism of the UK government’s controversial plan to fly migrants there as “appalling”, now delayed by a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights, sparked a constitutional row.
When he finally starts his completely random job there today, as the Queen’s representative at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit, eyebrows are likely to rise.
But behind the excitement, one man is hoping the prince will turn his spotlight on values any government could learn from: tolerance, reconciliation, unity.
Behind the scenes, Eric Murangwa, a survivor of the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, has channeled key elements of the Prince’s visit through a chance conversation.
It all started with a tree planted at Dumfries House in Ayrshire, Scotland, in April to commemorate the 28th anniversary of the genocide with the prince.
Across the earth and branches, Eric advised him to take time to study during his visit to the African country and to visit a memorial site that buries some 50,000 victims who were slaughtered amid civil unrest that has left the Hutu majority in Rwanda Tutsi killed only because of their ethnic minority.
Above all, he advised him to speak to Tutsi survivors and Hutu perpetrators in special reconciliation villages.
Here they live, against all human instinct, side by side. Eric wanted Prince Charles to see firsthand what tolerance can look like in the most unimaginable of circumstances. “He seemed immediately touched,” says Eric, 46. “He didn’t think it was possible.”
What the prince doesn’t know is that while Eric is studying on Eric’s advice, he will also be in Rwanda on his own mission of understanding.
As Prince Charles learns about forgiveness, Eric plans to exercise it.
He lost 85 members of his extended family in the genocide, including 30 who were close to him.
These included his youngest brother Irankunda Jean Paul.
Kind, thoughtful, close to his mother, he was just seven years old. Eric’s own survival story, amazing and chilling, was decided by his job at the time as goalkeeper and captain of the national soccer team.
Despite being Tutsi, his life was saved because his would-be killers turned out to be football fans.
He later survived because his Hutu teammates protected him, and finally he survived because his football club’s director, Jean-Marie Vianney Mudahinyuka, protected him because he was his favorite player.
Inappropriately, the Hutu militia leader still killed and raped many, many others and remains in prison for his crimes.
With his foundation, the Ishami Foundation, which uses youth football to promote unity, Eric plans to collect comprehensive testimonies from survivors and perpetrators as part of a project for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.
He will also attempt to reach a meeting with some of those directly involved in the murders of his own family, as well as Mudahinyuka, who had previously declined to see him.
Calmly but firmly he explains: “I have not met anyone involved in the murders of my family – it may be the first time. I’m ready for this, I’m prepared. I have already forgiven them. You cannot encourage others to forgive and join in reconciliation unless you have done so yourself.”
Andy Commins/Daily Mirror)
When it comes to Mudahinyuka, he wants to understand.
“What he did for me counts for very little given the terrible things he was found guilty of,” he says. “Why did he protect me when he went out and killed other people?”
An estimated 800,000 people were slaughtered in just 100 days by Hutu extremists trying to wipe out the Tutsi ethnic minority here, after the country’s Hutu president was assassinated, which extremists blamed on Rwandan Tutsi
Years of discrimination and distrust had sown the seeds.
Eric vividly remembers the day the Hutus first came to him on April 7, 1994, the day after the assassination. All hell broke loose in the capital Kigali.
It was afternoon, he was at home. They came in, heavily armed, they screamed, screamed, and then one of them realized who I was,” Eric recalls. “A photo album fell wide open in front of him, he looked at the picture and stared at me.
“In that moment everything changed. We talked football for the next 10 minutes… It was crazy, but it happened.”
The next day, Eric fled to Hutu teammates for safety. They protected him, and because he, a celebrity who was considered the head of the family, was spared, his parents were spared as well.
But when that protection finally faltered the following month, they turned to Mudahinyuka for assistance.
After giving him a home for a few days, he arranged for Eric to be transported to the International Red Cross, from where he took refuge with hundreds of others at the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali.
The story was later dramatized in the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda.
Returning from a World Cup, Eric finally escaped Rwanda during a stopover with his team in Paris
qualification in Tunisia.
After applying for asylum in Belgium, he flew to the UK in 1997. Here he established his foundation and received an MBE. But his celebrity couldn’t protect his whole family.
When the murders began, Eric’s little brother had been sent on Easter vacation to an uncle who worked at a hospital across town.
The hospital became a haven for Tutsis, but Hutu militias stormed it. The little boy was killed.
Eric slowly admits that there is only one existing picture of his brother.
The hospital had European doctors on staff, and France and Belgium sent soldiers to rescue them – just them. A Belgian documentary filmmaker also came.
The resulting film Ghosts From Rwanda includes an image of his brother in the midst of a distraught crowd, lost, frightened. He looks like Eric.
“It’s a horrible sight, but it’s the only picture we have of him,” says Eric. This week Eric will visit a memorial at this hospital.
* VISIT ishamifoundation.org online.
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/prince-charles-visits-rwanda-amid-27296167 Prince Charles visits Rwanda amid government's controversial migrant scheme