Twenty-four years ago Rwanda descended to its darkest moment when more than a million of its citizens lost their lives in a killing frenzy never seen before. Today, as we have done every year since 1994, we remember all those who perished in that Genocide against the Tutsi.
In doing so, we are joined by friends and people of goodwill from around the world.
This is the least we can do. No one that did not experience the Genocide directly can ever completely understand the pain of loss of loved ones, the fear of being hunted, the horror of seeing your own hacked to death before your eyes, or the trauma that survivors live with.
We can only imagine it and yet we also feel the horror.
Which is why we should admire the way Rwandans in general, but survivors of the Genocide, in particular, carry themselves during this period, and indeed throughout their lives. They have demonstrated an exceptional sense of fortitude.
Any commemoration is a very emotional experience, more so that of genocide. All the poignant memories are relived. Unhealed wounds feel raw and pain afresh. The temptation to be angry, to hate, to be sorry for oneself or to display extravagant emotion is always present.
But Rwandans don’t fall for it. They show a remarkable restraint and go through this period with quiet dignity. You see it in their faces and in their general bearing. You hear it in their songs and testimonies.
It is evident in their determination to forge ahead and leave the past behind. The will to live and succeed in life is very strong.
Tragedy taught them to place great store on their dignity as Rwandans and as human beings, and that they alone can give it to themselves. It cannot be bestowed to them by some kind of benefactor from outside.
Reclaiming their dignity is a way of restoring it to those from whom it was forcibly removed – those who were killed and those who survived.
There is something about Rwandans that you can’t help but notice. It is that which made them survive the horrors of genocide and others to stop it. It is the refusal of their spirit to die, to be held down by tragedy, be ruled by emotion, or to court pity. This is what has enabled forgiveness and reconciliation.
In a way it is living these biblical words: Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul (Matthew 10:28).
Another noticeable quality is the sheer determination of Rwandans to make something of their lives and to succeed at whatever they do. The journey that they have made in the last twenty four years and the strides that they have made bear testimony to this resolve.
It is now a generation since 1994. Children born at that time are young adults. They are a generation born in freedom and grown up in an environment of unity and drive towards prosperity. They are proof of the regeneration of this country.
The words Jonathan Kariara, a Kenyan poet, wrote many decades ago pleading for strength and regeneration following adversity, hold true of Rwanda’s youth today. He wrote: If you should take my child, Lord/ give my hands strength to dig his grave/ cover him with earth/ send a little rain/ for grass will grow.
Looking at them, you see confidence about themselves and their country, and the future that was largely absent from their parents. That confidence arises from what they see around them – a country on the march to prosperity, that places human dignity at the fore, where a person is valued for who he is and not for a label tagged on them, a nation respected in the international arena.
This generation is the product of a spirit that refused to die. Yes, it is true: do not fear those who cannot kill the spirit.