Norwich actor - from genocide baby to Bafta awards

Illuminee and Roger looking forward to a bright future in Norwich in 2007. Photo: Simon Finlay

Illuminee and Roger looking forward to a bright future in Norwich in 2007. Photo: Simon Finlay - Credit: Archant © 2007

The Norwich woman who brought her newborn son safely through a frenzy of slaughter 25 years ago traces his journey from Rwanan genocide to television star

Actor Roger Nsengiyumva will be at the Bafta awards in London this weekend, up for an award with the cast and crew of BBC thriller Informer.

Twenty five years ago he was born into murderous genocide. He was just days old when his father was hacked to death outside the home where his mother, Illuminee, was hiding from neighbours-turned-killers.

For 100 days Illuminée Nganemariya, woke in her native Rwanda expecting to be killed. Hours after she gave birth to her only son, the death squads came for her husband. Despite hiding in a pit for a week he was eventually caught and killed by men who had just months before been guests at his wedding.

For the next three months Illuminée lived in unimaginable terror, cowering in bullet-pocked ditches or the blood-stained rooms of abandoned buildings as machete-wielding murderers rampaged through her country.

Miracle in Kigali by Illuminee Nganemariya with Paul Dickson

Miracle in Kigali by Illuminee Nganemariya with Paul Dickson - Credit: supplied

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Once she escaped death when a gunman ran out of bullets; another day she left a hiding-place just as the building was raided and everyone sheltering inside was slaughtered. Every hour of every day, frantic with fear, assaulted, starving, she expected to be killed and still cannot fathom how she and Roger survived.

One of the countless tragedies of that time is the loss of David, her husband's toddler son by his first wife who had died in childbirth. Illuminee kept David safe through weeks of genocide, only to lose him in the mayhem of a forced march through mountains. Fellow refugees helped carry him across the border to safety, but he died of cholera in a refugee camp.

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After the outside world finally intervened to stop the killing, Illuminée and a group of other widows returned to her home city. The streets were strewn with dead bodies. Slowly she discovered what had happened to friends and family - terrible stories of the torture and massacre of men, women, children and babies.

For Roger, not a single relative on his father's side survived. Illuminée lost almost all her family.

But a cousin who worked for Oxfam had survived and was given the chance to study at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Esther's husband had also been murdered and she asked Illuminée to accompany her to help look after her children.

When Esther returned to Rwanda, Illuminée knew she wanted Roger to grow up in safety rather than alongside the people who had killed his family.

The roots of the genocide go back to the colonial era when Rwandans were divided into two groups - Hutu and Tutsi. Tutsis were given better education and jobs. Resentment grew among Hutus, who won control of the country at its independence in 1962. Then, 25 years ago, an aeroplane was shot down, killing the Hutu president and sparking the murder of a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Illuminee and Roger were given asylum in Norwich, and eventually became British citizens. Illuminée is hugely grateful to the people of Norwich who have helped her cope with the effects of the trauma she lived through. And she is hugely proud of Roger.

His acting career began after the publication of the first edition of Miracle in Kigale, Illuminée's account of the frenzy of violence which convulsed Rwanda in 1994, and of her escape, first on foot over mountains and eventually to Norfolk. A film producer came across the book as he was putting together the film Africa United about a group of children travelling to the World Cup in South Africa. He needed a child to play a football-obsessed Rwandan teenager. Roger, a keen footballer who once had trials for Norwich City, won the part.

Next came a documentary, Genocide Baby, following Roger's emotional return to Rwanda as a teenager. Roger, a pupil at City of Norwich School on Eaton Road, went on to win several more film and television roles - including a part in Tomb Raider and, last year, the dangerously ebullient Londoner Dadir Hassan in the BBC thriller Informer, which is now shortlisted for Best Drama in the BAFTAs.

"He was born I the most stressful conditions imaginable…I am so proud of what he has achieved," said Illuminée.

Miracle in Kigali, The Rwandan Genocide - a survivor's journey, by Illuminée Nganemariya with Paul Dickson, is republished on the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Price £12, with £2 from each sale donated to Glaven Valley Churches in north Norfolk for their work with Life in Abundance charity in Rwanda.

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