WEDNESDAY, 11 APRIL 2012 09:42 BY EUGENE KWIBUKA
Rwanda genocide survivor has found a business niche in Ottawa
In Vanier, a suburb in the eastern neighborhood of Ottawa known for its large francophone population, Bon Marché, which just opened last year, has become the place to go shopping for exotic groundnut flour, cassava, sweet potatoes, dried red or black beans, and many other products imported from East and West Africa and the Caribbean.
“The community of people from East Africa is growing,” says Alain Ntwali, one of the owners of the shop, in his vernacular Kinyarwanda. “Since we know that people from Uganda like matoke from their own country and Kenyans like maize flour from Kenya, what about providing them with what they need?”
The 29-year-old merchant recounts how he came to Canada in 2005 after surviving the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. “There are many opportunities in Canada and there aren’t many people who get a chance to live here and enjoy those opportunities,” he says standing in front of a black cloth on one of the store’s shelves that reads ‘Never again 1994.’
Ntwali survived the genocide by first hiding in Nyamirambo, a suburb of Kigali. He then went to Hotel des Mille Colline, a high profile hotel in the city, where he stayed until the United Nations mission in the country facilitated for him and many other Tutsi survivors to escape the danger.
Although his siblings—two sisters and three brothers—survived as well, the subsequent violence didn’t spare his father Anselme Sakumi, his mother Immaculée Gasibirege, and his many aunts, cousins and other relatives who died in the same horror that killed an estimated 800,000 to one million ethnic Tutsis and some moderate Hutus over the course of 100 days from April 6 to July 16, 1994.
It is during this period that Ntwali spends a fair amount of time grieving and ensuring that survivors in Ottawa will commemorate the genocide with their families, members of the Rwandan community in Canada and their Canadian friends. He leads the activities through Humura, an association representing Tutsi Genocide Survivors in Canada’s National Capital Region.
Ntwali is also involved with activities that seek to ensure that Canada doesn’t become a safe haven for those who committed the genocide, and was among the people who prepared a letter that urged the Canadian government to urgently deport Leon Mugesera back to Rwanda before it finally did.
Ntwali, one of more than 100 Rwandan genocide survivors who live in Ottawa, says the city has proved to be a fairly good place for the survivors to live. The area’s proximity to some federal government jobs and both big and small private businesses in the capital is very useful.
It also helps, he says, having some distance between his new life and the tragedy of the past, a finding that has been confirmed Emmanuel Habimana, a Rwandan psychology professor at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Québec. According to research conducted by Habimana, Rwandan genocide survivors in Canada are better able to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder than their counterparts in Rwanda.
But home is still home and although Ntwali enjoys his Canadian life, which he shares with his wife and their soon to be born baby, the possibility of returning one day still enters his mind.“It all depends on how life treats you,” he says. “You may find opportunities in other places and go there, but for the moment my life is here in Canada.”