Hutus, the country’s majority ethnic group, with their extremist fringe, accused the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a Tutsi rebel group, of being responsible for the death of the head of state whose plane was shot down. Despite the declination of any responsibility by the RPF in this unfortunate event, the Hutu militias that had been formed well before and that already incited hatred through radio broadcasts, rose to carry out the reprisals. The latter came up with a list of members of the Tutsi ethnic group to be shot. In the early hours of April 6, 1994, under the blows of machetes and bullets of the Rwandan Armed Forces and Interahamwe (the youths of the ruling party), the Tutsis began to fall. In the midst of all these massacres, many people, at the risk of their lives, became protectors of Tutsis who were fleeing the massacres; among them, the American Carl Wilkens.
At the head of the International Development and Relief Agency of Rwanda, Carl Wilkens, born November 20, 1957 in Tokoma Park, Maryland, United States, was the only one among all the Americans present on the Rwandan territory who, despite the recommendations of his country, chose to stay with Rwandans to help Tutsis who were the victims of systematic massacres. Given the extent of the violence and the number of deaths that fell with the minutes, Wilkens, the humanitarian worker, refused to be evacuated to Burundi with the aim of helping his “friends and brothers”, including the two Tutsis Juan and Anita who were employed at home as a housekeepers. Twenty-five years after the genocide, his commitment to the cause of the Tutsi earned him, on Friday, October 25, 2019, the price of the “Pact of the Protectors of Friendship”, translated by Abarinzi b’Igihango in Kinyarwanda, the first official language of the country, which rewards him for his actions and his solidarity with the victims.
Third recipient of the Abarinzi b’Igihango Award
Third recipient of the Pact of the Protectors of Friendship Award, Wilkens refused to be evacuated during the Tutsi genocide in 1994, even when his family, relatives and expatriate colleagues had been evacuated. Tenacious and committed to his convictions, he had convinced his wife, Teresa, to evacuate to Burundi with their three children while he remained in Rwanda to fight for the cause that was right. Thomas Kayumba, one of his colleagues at the International Development and Relief Agency of Rwanda, who praised his pledge, said: “All foreigners are gone, but not Wilkens. He was still young. He took leave of his grandchildren and his wife, to give himself to the Rwandan people; I do not know how to explain it”.
During the first three weeks of the genocide, at the height of violence, when hundreds of murders and rapes had already been committed against Tutsis and moderate Hutus, and thousands more fled their homes in search safety, Wilkens made his first strong gesture. He discreetly transforms his house into a shelter for the needy. Subsequently, he will play a major role in the survival of more than 400 children from the Gisamba orphanage, in the survival of the children of Vatier orphanage and those who sought refuge in the Nyamirambo Adventist Church. . During this time, he arrived one day in front of the Gisamba orphanage, during one of his routine outings, and had found more than 50 people armed with machetes who were waiting for the right moment to eliminate all the children in the orphanage. To dissuade them from committing their crime, Wilkens decided to spend the night with the children of the orphanage to ensure their safety while waiting to use his connections with the city authorities to get them out of there. The next morning, he then went to seek help from the Government of the region. But except that once in his office, he fell on the Hutu Prime Minister Jean Kambanda with whom he had to carry out bitter discussions and negotiations so that these children could be taken to a safe place, under military escort, the St. Michael’s Cathedral.
The price of a friendship forged in pain
After the descent of the counter-offensive of the rebellion of the Rwandan Patriot Front (RPF) led by Paul Kagame on July 4, 1994, the one that the children nicknamed “ADRA SOS”, following his saving action at the Vatier orphanage did not stop there. At the request of the RPF, he continued to assist in the distribution of water, food, medical equipment and survival supplies to refugees at St. Andrew’s College in Nyamirambo and those at Kacyiru Camp. At the end of his mission and the genocide, he returned to the United States to find his family before some time later, he decided in 1995 to return to Rwanda with his wife Teresa and their three children. They stayed there for another 18 months.
Without Carl Wilkens’ commitment during the genocide that claimed the lives of around 800,000 people, the bill could have been even more salty. So, by awarding him the Protectors Pact Award, Rwanda undoubtedly wanted to make a point of honour to safeguard a friendship sealed in times of pain.
Article from AFRIC Editorial
Photo Credit :google images/illustration