Between past and present, is time. While it connects the present to the past, time too, helps us break the present from the past. It is how one really chooses to look at it. Every year on April 7, we break further from the brutal past 24 years ago, yet no matter how far we go, we can’t forget.
Here is an historical anecdote. In 1347, a merchant ship travelling from Crimea docked at Messina in the Italian city of Sicily with a crew of desperately sick sailors. As they were taken ashore, rats also left the ship carrying with them fleas infected with the bacterium for bubonic plague.
That marked the arrival of the ‘Black Death’ in Europe. The plague would eventually kill nearly half of Europe’s population, initiating a catastrophic economic depression, peasant revolts and fierce power struggles among members of the ruling class.
But from this near disaster, a new spirit arose among the populace. The exhaustion of medieval society inspired intellectual curiosity across Europe to make a new start and create a new society through search for revival and rebirth that would come to be called the Renaissance.
For Europe, the Renaissance was a radical break from the past and it was just the beginning. It is within this context that I seek to build my commentary this Sunday, as the Nation commemorates the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
It is safe to assume that without the 14th century crisis, the European Renaissance would not have taken place in anything like the form it did. The Black Death Plague and other misfortunes that befell the Europeanswere important for its eventual rebirth.
The radical difference between the European and the Rwandan Renaissance stories is that while the former suffered natural disasters such as plagues, the Genocide against the Tutsi was a man-made tragedy deliberately designed, planned and executed to annihilate a section of society.
Rwanda as a nation ceased to exist as its members turned against each other with one party determined to exterminate theother. Rather than see themselves as a nation of Rwandans, the leaders or misleaders of the day chose to view it along ethnic lines.
A section of society was incited against another and just like the disastrous Black Death in Europe, on April 7, 1994, the Genocidal kill machine started across the country and within just 100 days, over a million people had been killed.
A million deaths, is a number not even time can erase. It is a number in history that will never be separated from any future present. It is a number that represents the price the nation has paid to have what we have in today’s present and potentially, the future present.
More than one million deaths, is a number to regret even as the country is grateful for today’s progress and countrywide transformation. We should be grateful for today’s unity of the people while remembering the regrettable impact of the past, 24-years ago, this month.
In a way, our past has become a clear benchmark of how far we have come. It is also a reality check and on many occasions, a constant reminder of how good/love and bad/hate, live on two extreme ends yet so easy to move from one end to the other, if not careful.
Legendary Chinese Philosopher Confucius taught us that, our glory as people is not, in never falling but in rising every time we fall. The same can be said of nations.
There is no glory in the fact that the nation fell, to its near death, 24 years ago and losing nearly everything. But there is glory in the fact that it has since risen from abyss and regenerated to its current status that is happily referenced as a model of national renaissance.
The word rise is only significant because of its antonym; fall. The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi will always be our most regrettable fall. But as we mark 24 years since that great fall, Rwandans and the world at large, are/should be grateful that it has since risen.
I say, we must continue being grateful to the ongoing rise while not forgetting the regrettable fall we suffered, no matter how time takes us far from that moment in the past; our history. Let’s Remember; Unite and Renew.
The views expressed in this article are of the authors.